Boo hoo, says our secretary of state. Days after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) highlighted his “trifecta” of diplomatic failures (in Syria, the “peace process” and Iran) John F. Kerry, his friends leak, is letting us know he feels “betrayed” by McCain’s attack. “But McCain is an internationalist,” comes the non-sequitur whining. Oh my, where to begin?
Kerry’s pouting nicely illustrates what former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams dubs the “Tinkerbell Effect” with respect to the entirely predictable failure of the “peace process”:
The argument seems to be that peace is possible because Kerry has relationships with leaders, Kerry is trusted, Kerry was in the Senate for 30 years, Kerry chaired the Foreign Relations Committee, and Kerry was on the White House lawn when Rabin shook hands with Arafat. So our job is to have faith in him, and if we believe that peace is possible, it will come. This latter is known as the Tinkerbell Effect, based on the passage in Peter Pan where the fairy Tinkerbell has taken poison but can be revived if people believe in her. . . . Kerry gets an A for effort, to be sure, and was sincere and dogged throughout these 15 months of exertion. He displayed a deep desire to help both sides move forward. But his own vanity got in the way of a sober assessment of the chances for success, and the failure of the effort — even if sooner or later the two sides do sit down together again — diminishes his own prestige and effectiveness as our top diplomat. It’s past time for the administration to keep him home and spend a while rethinking five years of failed Middle East policy. “Clap your hands; don’t let Tink die” doesn’t make the grade.
And now Kerry is sulking because McCain not only refused to clap but also called Kerry’s belief that peace is just around the corner a fairy tale.
Kerry’s reaction is also dismaying because he seems to take personally reasoned criticism from a U.S. senator and because he fails to understand the implications of contemptuous statements and attitudes from our enemies. If only he had reacted as strongly when Vladimir Putin lied to his face about troops in Ukraine or when Iran declared it never would give up its nuclear program or when Mahmoud Abbas says no to every U.S. proposal and goes to international organizations in search of recognition. Kerry shouldn’t take these instances personally, but brushing them off as nothing to get riled up about encourages foes to throw more punches at the United States and prevents a “reality check” on his approach to adversaries. With Kerry, McCain’s indictment of his own failed efforts stings much more than open displays of contempt for the country he represents. Yes, like President Obama, it always seems to be about him.
And, finally, being an “internationalist” does not mean one suspends disbelief, as Kerry’s predecessor once put it. It means you believe in the exercise of American power to defend our interests and promote our values because the alternative imperils our security and our values. An internationalist knows that diplomacy is aided by the willingness to exercise economic and sometimes military power. (Even Kerry conceded that until the balance of power on the ground shifts Bashar al-Assad isn’t going to give up anything at the negotiating table.) In short, because John McCain is a true internationalist, he can’t abide by the administration’s foreign policy malpractice.
In a real sense the world view of the left — our enemies are just confused future friends who need to be told how their interests can really align with ours — is coming apart at the seams. The irony is that the Obama officials have fancied themselves as “realists.” The actual realists are John McCain and others who’ve been telling the administration for five years that its belief that most of the world’s problems result from cloddish U.S. action or misunderstanding or failure to talk earnestly with opponents is the stuff of never-never land.