John Kerry’s rocky tour of the Sunday talk show circuit capped a tumultuous week around the world

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Secretary of State John Kerry was overheard talking on the phone about the crisis in the Middle East as he was getting ready for a "Fox News Sunday" interview. Kerry made the rounds Sunday, commenting on Russia's possible role in the Malaysia Airlines crash and the rising death toll in the Gaza conflict. (Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

As soon as Fox News' Chris Wallace told John Kerry that he was going to play a clip that the network had recorded while he was off-air, Kerry's face dropped. Literally. You can see Kerry's composition change entirely over the course of about 10 seconds.

The snippet Wallace presented showed Kerry on the phone with an aide saying, "It's a hell of a pinpoint operation" — a comment that appears to be ironically disparaging Israel's claims that its military incursion into Gaza was tightly tailored. When Fox returned to Kerry to get his response, he seemed flustered.

The interview had already gone poorly. Wallace challenged Kerry on the administration's response to Russia after the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. He accused Kerry and President Obama of having backtracked on a pledge to impose new sanctions on Iran if an existing deal expired before a new one could be reached (the deadline expired Sunday). At one point, Wallace interrupted one of Kerry's answers, prompting the secretary to angrily accuse the host of wanting to ask questions but not hear answers. And then Wallace played that clip.

Kerry appeared on ABC, NBC, CBS, and CNN as well, but none of the other appearances went as poorly as the one with Wallace, perhaps predictably. (Kerry, as part of his answer to Wallace on Iran: "I know you and others don't ever want to give the Obama administration credit for almost anything.") But in each case, Kerry was asked to explain how the administration was responding to the Flight 17 crash and how it planned to help bring fighting in the Gaza Strip to an end.

To each host, Kerry repeated similar, if not always satisfactory, responses. In the first case, the administration would continue to enforce sanctions on Russia, given its support for the insurrection in Ukraine and apparent culpability in the attack on the Malaysian jet. It would also call on Europe to impose harsher restrictions on Russia, with Kerry calling the attack a "wake-up call" for Europeans who have much stronger economic ties with Russia.

As for Israel, Kerry suggested that the United States would continue to work for a cease-fire to end hostilities in the Gaza Strip. With the exception of Wallace's hot-mike surprise, Kerry was in sync with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu told CNN and ABC that the increasing death toll among civilians in Gaza was the fault of Hamas and that his forces would end operations in the area once it had destroyed all of what he called Hamas's "terror tunnels," — which run from Gaza into Israel.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had free rein to blast Kerry's responses. "The Europeans are never going to lead on this issue," he said, criticizing Kerry's suggestion that Europe play a larger role. Overall, Graham said, Kerry "gave the most ridiculous and delusional summary of American foreign policy I could imagine. It scares me that he believes the world is in such good shape. ... Leading from behind is not working. The world is adrift. And President Obama has become the king of indecision."

Kerry, as the face of the administration's efforts to exert American influence internationally, was never likely to have had an easy go of it this morning, given the complexity of what's happening in Ukraine and Israel. Iran, a critical administration priority, barely warranted a mention in most discussions, given the urgency of events in the other two countries. But Kerry, to his visibly apparent dismay, ended up inadvertently making his day much worse.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He is based in New York City.
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Philip Bump · July 19