If you don’t want to be depressed, stay away from State Department briefings. Bordering on hilarity, they exemplify the double-talk and willful avoidance of reality that have come to typify this president’s approach to the world. Consider this on Ukraine:
QUESTION: First, you mentioned many times and it was mentioned that the de-escalation of the crisis. In meantime, there is a movement of more troops or more equipment, military equipment, in the Eastern Europe. How you justify or how you explain to regular people what that’s – that’s not a de-escalation or escalation?
MS. [MARIE] HARF: Well, it’s a response to escalatory moves that Russia has already taken, and a response to the fact that they haven’t taken moves to de-escalate. So obviously one of the cornerstones of our NATO alliance is the goal of a Euro-Atlantic region whole, free, and at peace. And what the Russians have done with their actions is threaten that. And we have been very clear that if the Russians don’t de-escalate, we will take steps in response to their escalation. So that’s what we’ve done. They’re the ones who sent troops into another country and attempted to annex it. They’re the ones who’ve undertaken actions that are in contravention of international law. The actions we’ve taken are fully consistent with our NATO alliance and partnerships.
The administration is so intent on “de-escalating” that it is unable to acknowledge its failure to push back against Russian aggression. The “de-escalation” mantra serves only to downplay the important of the Russian military intimidation. Soon it becomes fodder for a comedy routine:
QUESTION: Is sending a warship to the Black Sea escalating the force in the area?
MS. HARF: Well, I think I just addressed that. It’s not. It’s a response to Russia’s escalatory action. We said we would take steps to respond to the escalatory action, and alternatively, if they de-escalated, we would take steps in response to that as well. So this is fully in line with our commitment to defend our NATO allies, fully in line with those commitments we all signed up for, and Russia’s the one who has taken steps that are not in line with their international obligations.
Got that? Moving onto the failed “peace process,” we again see determination to avoid unpleasant reality:
MS. HARF: Well, our team remains on the ground. Ambassador Indyk and the team remains on the ground, in touch with both parties. As I said, the secretary spoke today with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas.
What we’ve said is this is one of those points in the negotiations where each side has to make tough choices. We’ve been clear that they’ve made courageous decisions throughout this process, but we can’t make the hard choices for them. And throughout this process, we have been engaged with both sides because it has been, it continues to be, and it will in the future be the right thing for the United States to do. I think it’s an easy story to write – to say that making Middle East peace is hard. That’s not a tough story to write. But what we’re focused on right now is working with the two sides, again, because it’s the right thing to do, to see if they can make some more tough choices and to see if we can make some progress here going forward.
And again, the team remains on the ground. The secretary is in touch with the team.
QUESTION: So the talks are not at a dead end at this point?
MS. HARF: Not at all.
QUESTION: Okay. Are you aware of any meetings between Palestinian negotiator Erekat and Israeli negotiator Livni today, this evening?
MS. HARF: I can check on that. I can get the latest update from our team on the ground.
QUESTION: Okay. And as far as you’re concerned, you’re not assigning – since you are not calling the talks to be over, you are not assigning any blame to any one particular party?
MS. HARF: Absolutely not. Look, to be clear, over the last 24 hours, there have been unhelpful actions taken on both sides here. And we didn’t think it was a productive time for the secretary to return to the region. That’s why he didn’t go today.
QUESTION: Right, right.
MS. HARF: But we’re not playing the blame game.
MS. HARF: Again, what we’re focused on is seeing if we can make progress. There is a chance to move this process forward. There is still a chance for this. That will require tough decisions by both of the parties. They’ve made tough decisions up until this point, but we can’t make them for them. They need to make them now.
QUESTION: Now, the agencies, the type of agencies that Abbas announced and so on were, in fact, as articulated by the secretary himself, they are not really that important in terms of shifting or doing any —
MS. HARF: I don’t think he said they were unimportant.
QUESTION: Well, they’re important, but they’re not the kind of agencies that would threaten or would actually go contrary to Palestinian promises. He said that the Palestinians adhered to their promises, didn’t he?
MS. HARF: Well, what I just said, without going into more details, is that we’ve seen both sides take some unhelpful actions over the past 24 hours and didn’t think it was a conducive environment in which the secretary should travel there right now. But again, what we’re focused on is how to move this process forward. It’s up to the two parties to determine what the path forward looks like. As we go forward, obviously, our team will continue working with them. I don’t have anything to add to what the secretary said yesterday in terms of the specific announcements yesterday.
Yes, the last thing we want to do is assign blame for the break-off to the party that broke off talks, violated the Oslo Accords, undertook unilateral action by signing up with international organizations and embarrassing the secretary and his boss, right? The lesson the Palestinians learn is there is no downside to their obstructionist behavior. Perhaps the president might want to rethink his assessment that Abbas is a man of peace.
You can’t look at this and not be concerned about the self-delusion at the heart of American foreign policy. Will this crew realize when the Iran talks fail? Will it understand that it’s been wasting its time and prestige on the PA, which has no intention of making a deal? Puh-leez. We can’t escalate things by recognizing reality.