Secretary of State John Kerry seems to be terribly confused. Yesterday, in the wake of the forced resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (a direct snub to Kerry and the president, who had urged Fayyad stay) he proclaimed at the House Foreign Affairs Committee: “I’m committed to this because I believe the window for a two-state solution is shutting. I think we have some period of time: a year, a year and a half to two years — or it’s over.
This is daft on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to begin. Fayyad just quit. The United States has no leverage with the Palestinian Authority. There is no successor to Fayyad, who has the confidence of the EU and the West. Fatah and Hamas are still joined in a unity government. And Kerry thinks this can all get wrapped up in a year or two? Moreover, the “year or two” formula has been in vogue since the 1990s. The parties have never been all that close (contrary to Clinton officials’ insistence after Camp David collapsed); and there is no evidence anything significant can be accomplished anytime soon. Kerry is repeating the exact same error of his predecessor and so many secretaries of state in setting expectations that can’t be met.
More importantly, there is a bunch of other stuff that really needs his attention right away.
For starters, Iran, the Associated Press reports:
Iranian nuclear chief Fereidoun Abbasi was quoted Sunday by the semiofficial Fars news agency as saying that more than 3,000 high-tech centrifuges have already been produced and will soon phase out the more than 12,000 older-generation enriching machines at Natanz.
If accurate, those numbers show that Iran has managed to outperform expectations published just two years ago. Back then David Albright of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security cited unnamed U.S. government sources estimating that raw-material shortages would likely limit production of the advanced machines to no more than 1,000.
Albright on Wednesday said Iran’s apparent ability to mass-produce the machines reflects its success in evading sanctions.
“At this point you have to concede that Iran probably has the material to make up to 3,000 IR2-ms,” he said.
Cliff May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, tells me that this “reflects the fact that there has been no diplomatic progress and that Iran continues to develop the capabilities necessary for making nuclear weapons.”
Yet Kerry and the president keep insisting that there is time for “negotiations to work.” Really? The sanctions have not slowed the nuclear weapons program; in fact, Iran’s weapons progress has improved faster than we imagined. And perhaps the only negotiations less productive than the “peace process” are the P5+1 with Iran. We need an effective policy. We don’t have one. The clock is ticking.
Meanwhile, Syria is becoming more nightmarish with each passing day. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reminds us: “The main areas of concern to us are the arms that are already in Syria — these are anti-aircraft weapons, these are chemical weapons and other very, very dangerous weapons that could be game-changers. They will change the conditions, the balance of power in the Middle East. They could present a terrorist threat on a worldwide scale. It is definitely our interest to defend ourselves, but we also think it is in the interest of other countries.” Yet why isn’t the U.S. administration showing the same sense of urgency? Our policy now consists of wishful thinking that Bashar al-Assad will fall at precisely the point at which non-jihadi actors (whom we’ve refused to arm) can grab power so the jihadis (who have rushed into Syria while we were dawdling for over two years) don’t seize power and get these weapons.
Kerry actually was partially right. We have very limited time. But the time frame does not apply to the moribund “peace process.” It is applicable to the race for WMDs in the Middle East, the threat to the West and to Israel from a nuclear-armed Iran (or terrorists with access to chemical, nuclear and other WMDs), and the resulting arms race in the region if Iran actually does reach a nuclear weapons capability. That is what is urgent; not Kerry’s fantastical vision of a revitalized peace process.
He sounds immensely unserious when he spouts off like this, all the while showing no signs of coherent thinking on the things that really should be at the top of his list. And the president? Rather than pursuing fruitless anti-gun legislation, he might turn his focus to creating a robust, effective foreign policy. That might be the avenue to reviving his second term. More to the point, it might prevent a set of nuclear dominos from falling that will make North Korea the least of our worries.