As unsuccessful and tumultuous as Hillary Clinton’s stewardship of Middle East policy was, her successor at the State Department seems to be doing a worse job.
That’s the take of the left-leaning, pro-peace process Israeli paper Ha’aretz:
About one thing, there’s no disagreement between Jerusalem and Ramallah: Kerry has a lot of good intentions and a real sense of mission; he truly wants to make peace in the Middle East. But despite his good intentions, Kerry so far looks like a naive and ham-handed diplomat who has been acting like a bull in the china shop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Or as former Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan once put it, he’s a good chap in the worst sense of the term.
Over the last two months, Kerry has managed to upset both sides and make both more suspicious of him by a series of misguided moves and statements. In early April, for instance, at the end of a visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah, he said that within a few weeks, he would launch a plan to rescue the Palestinian economy. But an Israeli source said the enthusiastic Kerry forgot one small thing − to coordinate the statement in advance with the Israelis and Palestinians.
The biggest embarrassment – the forced resignation of Salam Fayyad despite Kerry’s direct appeals – suggests he’s got no feel for the job. According to one Palestinian source quoted by Ha’aretz, “This was Kerry’s biggest mistake. If he hadn’t intervened, Fayyad wouldn’t have resigned.”
Much of this was entirely foreseeable. John Kerry never ran anything larger than his Senate office. And a senior aide of a former Democratic senator described Kerry as the senator with the least amount of self-awareness, a remarkable distinction in a body of blowhards and egomaniacs. He simply doesn’t pick up on signals that he is behaving foolishly. The Israelis and Palestinians are now learning what U.S. senators had to put up with for decades. (“Sometimes there’s a feeling that Kerry thinks the only reason his predecessors in the job didn’t bring about a peace agreement is that they weren’t John Kerry.”)
This article created such a stir, and was apparently so devastating, that the Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, felt obliged to tweet late Sunday afternoon: “We sincerely appreciate Sec. Kerry’s efforts to reanimate the peace process and welcome him, once again, to Israel.”
It is understandable that the Israelis don’t want to incur the Obama administration’s ire. But it is no secret that whether it is Syria, the Palestinian conflict or Iran, the players neither fear or respect the United States. There is a buffoonish quality to our behavior, typified by President Obama’s erasable red line for use of Syrian WMDs and his repeated, empty pronouncements that Bashar al-Assad must go.
The Ha’aretz article is important not because it reminds us of how clueless Kerry can be, but because it highlights the vacuum where competent, resolute U.S. policy used to reside. We see, as a result, Assad’s success in surviving (with help from Iran and Russia), Iran’s accelerating nuclear weapons program, chaos in Egypt, heightened persecution of religious minorities and deterioration in the Palestinian Authority’s relationship with the United States and its civil institutions (championed by former prime minister Salam Fayyad).
Moreover, Kerry’s belly flop reminds us there is no other respected national security policy figure in this administration. We face the weakest national security team and the most disengaged president in memory at a time when our challenges have never been greater.