Secretary of State John Kerry appears to be totally sincere in his Q and A with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) today:

Secretary of State Kerry testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 8, 2014, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to discuss his budget and the status of diplomatic hot spots. Lawmakers' questions focused on Russia, Ukraine, Iran and Syria. Kerry, a former chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, threatened Russia with tougher economic sanctions if it fails to back down from its chaotic involvement in Ukraine. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Secretary of State John Kerry testifies on Capitol Hill on Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to discuss his budget and the status of diplomatic hot spots. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Kerry honestly thinks the “peace process” hasn’t failed, although in fact the talks on the major issues have broken off. He honestly thinks the talks in Geneva on Syria haven’t failed — they’ll just take a few years. And he’s going to exhaust all diplomatic avenues (How will he tell when he has?) in the “P5+1” talks even though he doesn’t think they’ll be successful. It’s frightening, really, the degree to which Kerry is so fascinated by the process of fruitless diplomatic talks that he is unable to recognize failure and unwilling to take meaningful action outside the talks — because that might disrupt the talks, of course.

I’ve made the case that Kerry shouldn’t be trusted to stay on and on at the table haggling with Iran since he’s already proven to be a poor judge of success (see the “peace process”). In fact, he goes one step further to declare he doesn’t think the talks will work. In that case, why are we there and why did we lift sanctions? When will he ever admit failure?

Kerry also drags out the “false choice” trick, offering the Senate the alternatives of useless talks and “war.” But wait. We could be enhancing sanctions against Iran and against Russia. He doesn’t seem to understand that our own behavior (e.g. erasing our red line in Syria, obsessing over settlements in Jerusalem) makes talks less likely to succeed. Is he unaware that our obvious willingness to talk forever is an insurance policy for our foes that they need not comply with our demands as long as they are talking?

Kerry seems to think time is not a precious commodity. But while talks over Syria go on “for years” will the body count rise to 200,000? (He concedes that the talks won’t really progress unless Bashar al-Assad’s calculus changes, but we know President Obama has refused to alter that calculus in any meaningful way either by robust support for the rebels or limited military strikes.) While Iran talks and talks it is also, as senators have pointed out, progressing on ballistic missile development and high-speed centrifuge research  and its economy is stabilizing. While he chats with Russia and refuses to quickly come to a decision about offering defensive weapons to Ukraine, Russia is acting — by provoking unrest in Eastern Ukraine.

As a senator, Kerry could talk endlessly without result or adverse consequences. The greatest deliberative body in the world is the perfect setting for nonstop pontificating. But in the real world talks, admittedly unsuccessful talks, can have a serious downside. For one thing, while we talk our adversaries act. And for another, our talking inhibits our own actions that might forestall death, destruction and political upheaval. In his tunnel vision and obsession with talks for the sake of talks, Kerry appears determined to avoid looking outside the conference room window to see the real-world effects of our foes’ stalling. In this regard, Kerry is the perfect embodiment of the State Department mentality. That is no compliment.