Secretary of State John Kerry’s interview on CNN with Jake Tapper evidenced the three handicaps the United States has with Kerry at the helm: He is working for President Obama; he is not forthcoming; and he seems not to have figured out some basics about players on the world stage. Let’s take them in order.
The best one can say about him is that he is obliged to follow his boss’s lead, even when he stumbles upon the truth and tries to persuade Obama to change course. Take this exchange on Syria when Tapper asked if the policy had failed. He initially said, well, it’s “very challenging and very difficult.” Then he fessed up:
KERRY: No, I agree, since the deal, there has been a, um, because of the IRGC, Hezbollah principally, because of some of the fighting between — the infighting between the opposition, it’s fair to say that Assad has improved his position a little bit, yes. . . .
TAPPER: Let’s talk about recalibrating and figuring out if there’s more that — that can be done to — to encourage Assad to actually abide by the agreement and to stop slaughtering and torturing children.
You, it’s no secret, were advocating for — for want of a better term, a — a more muscular way of dealing with this, providing different kinds of aid to the rebels, providing weapons, in some cases, to the rebels. And your advocacy, ultimately was not what President Obama decided to do. . . .
KERRY: I don’t want to go into details. I’m not free to go into all the details. . . .
TAPPER: I understand you’re the nation’s top diplomat and so you’re being diplomatic and that’s not a surprise. But — but it’s not a secret that you have told members of Congress behind closed doors that you have grave concerns that maybe more needs to be done.
KERRY: Well, I — but . . . you know, the president has said the same thing. I mean this is not a divergence. And we have testified, the administration has testified on the Hill to that effect. There’s no secret that we’re looking for ways to continue to have a — a decisive impact on Assad’s thinking about what his future is and also on other people’s thinking about how they can contribute, particularly the Russians and Iranians.
Actually, in the State of the Union the president suggested we’re very much on track in Syria. But what is Kerry to do — he works for Obama, right?
Then there are times when he just isn’t being honest. On Iran for example:
TAPPER: Let’s talk about the Iranians. The Iranians are telling their public that this deal is not that big a deal, what they’ve agreed to do, that they could undo it within a day. Rouhani went to Davos and basically said, we’re open for business in Iran. The French, the Turks, they have been sending — it’s not trade missions, but they have almost been sending trade missions looking to do more business. Have we been played?
KERRY: Not in the least. Not even by a close margin. In fact, you know, look, I think the Iranians naturally are going to go home
and say what you’ve just said.
TAPPER: Sure, but to the world and the Turks and the French?
KERRY: Iran is not open for business. And Iran knows it’s not open for business. We have announced increased sanctions
against particular companies since this agreement was reached. We have the sanctions. And we have made it clear to every other country that the sanctions regime remains in place. So while the French may send some businesspeople over there, they’re not able to contravene the sanctions. They will be sanctioned if they do and they know it. And we’ve put them on notice.
But there are countries that are allowed to do certain kinds of business. There’s a list of items where you can’t do business, but there are some places where you can do business.
Actually billions are to be released into Iran’s economy and those business people aren’t there to drink tea. There are industries that are now open that were previously not. As for the Turks and Russians, they are figuring all kinds of arrangements to get around the sanctions.
And then there are times when he appears sincere, but entirely oblivious: “I believe it’s a mistake now to break faith with a negotiating process when you’re in the middle of the process. The United States of America agreed, together with our P5-plus-1 allies, with Russia, China, France, Great Britain, Germany, all of
them agreed that during the time we’re negotiating, we would not increase sanctions. Now, our word has to mean something, too. If we’re going to negotiate, we
don’t want to be responsible for now creating a dynamic where we destroy the negotiations.”
Well, first of all, the sanctions Congress is discussing would go into effect only if talks failed, and, moreover, the idea that no damage is being done or Iran’s mindset has not been changed belies their public comments and negotiating positions.
Kerry certainly is earnest and well-meaning. But he’s trapped in an administration dedicated to avoiding all conflict, forced to shade the truth and caught up in his own unreal assessment of the Iranians and other foes. You understand, then, why the foreign policy wheels are coming off the bus.