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Kerry on Obama's Mideast Policy
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The other evening in New York when Secretary of State John Kerry came to talk about President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, everyone thought he had come to praise it. An hour and 6000 words later, it was clear that he had come to bury it.

The expected encomium became an unintended obituary.

Kerry started by building an edifice of excuses for what he knew, and didn’t want to admit, was failure on a grand scale. To heighten his profile, Kerry told the audience that he had just had lunch with Henry Kissinger who had admitted that the world was more complicated today than in the good old days.

Henry, Kerry asserted, “never had it coming to him with the number of different places and crises” that the current boss of Foggy Bottom has to face. In Henry’s old “bipolar Cold War world with the former Soviet Union, the United States and the West was (sic) pretty clear about what choices were.” Today’s world, Kerry went on, is “multipolar”, making choice difficult.

However, the fact is that in linguistic terms the term “multipolar” is non sequitur: no system can have more than two poles. Irresponsible use of vocabulary can cause confusion. But never mind.

Kerry started by trying to put the case for US remaining interested in the Middle East.
“We have to remember that the Middle East is home to some of America’s oldest friends, including our ally Israel, but also our many Arab partners.”

This means that while Israel is an “ally”, Arabs are just “partners”. Even then neither Israel nor Arabs have been treated as allies or partners.

Two days after he started his first presidential term, Obama appointed Senator George Mitchell as peace envoy for the Israel-Palestine conflict. He also boasted that, “when we meet next year” there would be two sates: one Israeli and one Palestinian.

Seven years later, Kerry offers a much reduced version of Obama’s ambition. The lofty aim of creating two states is not even mentioned. Instead he says:” We are trying to reduce violence around the Temple Mount-Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem.”

The aspiring architect is reduced to the level of a fireman trying to put out the flames; so far without success.

As for “Arab partners”, there is no more mention of grand schemes for associate-membership of NATO and collective agreements for trade and technological exchange. What Kerry offers is mediocre poetry.

He says: “Just imagine a future where people from the Nile to Jordan and Euphrates are free to live and work and travel as they choose; where every boy and girl has access to quality education; where visitors are able to flock without fear.”

Well, imagination costs little. (By the way, one may wonder why Kerry’s imaginary world stops at Euphrates; does it mean that no one should go to Baghdad on the Tigris?) Anyway, what is the Obama administration doing to achieve that Utopia?

Kerry’s answer is this: “We’ve asked the McKinsey Company to study the economic prospects of Jordan, Syria, Israel, Egypt and the West Bank. Interestingly, my good friend the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Abdullah bin Zayed, recently also commissioned a separate study” to look at “every sector from farming to tourism.” In other words, instead of developing a foreign policy, the US buys marketing studies while the whole region is in flames.

The farce doesn’t stop there. Kerry goes on to write a mini brochure about the region’s tourist attractions. He says: “I mean, think of that- the world’s greatest tourist attractions. I have driven them…. The place where John the Baptist christened so many people including Jesus, the temple near it, a Muslim mosque which is one of the oldest in the region… There is something there for everybody- even an atheist who is a budding architect would have trouble not having an interesting time.”

Any suggestions for at least re-starting “peace talks” between Israel and Palestinians? None.
Any idea about how to end the Syrian tragedy? None.

What about a policy to defeat and destroy ISIS as Obama promised 18 months ago? Kerry’s answer: “We have seen that ideas transmitted by terrorists in Raqqa and Mosul can reach impressionable minds in Minneapolis and Mississippi. We are well aware that events in the Middle East can affect perceptions on every single continent because people are influenced by spiritual and ethical traditions that have their roots in those ancient lands.”

So, ISIS represents “spiritual and ethical traditions”. OK. But what do you intend to do about it? Obama has no answer.

Obama had promised to “destroy” Daesh. No sooner had he made that promise than he wrote to the Congress saying he was not envisaging an “endurable” (sic) military campaign against the terrorist outfit, implying that the whole thing would be wrapped up quickly.

Kerry, however, invents another word to dispel Obama’s illusion. This is going to be a “multiyear” (sic) fight, Kerry says.

This is what Kerry cites as the administration’s achievements so far: “We have launched more than 7300 airstrikes. We have forced Daesh to change how it conducts military operations… We’ve secured the Turkish-Syrian border east of Euphrates. That’s about 85 per cent of the Turkish border. The president is authorizing further activities (sic) to secure the rest…. We’ve made it harder for Daesh to resupply its fighters in Ramadi.”

Kerry spent some time boasting about Obama’s “Iran deal” as the administration’s only achievement in the Middle East. This is why Obama said in 2008:” We cannot allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon… I will do everything required to prevent it.”

However, under the “deal” Kerry was boasting about, Iran retains full capacity to build a nuclear arsenal within one year. Even then, Iran hasn’t signed anything and refuses to approve the “deal” through its legal processes.

The only “success” Kerry cites is one that has nothing to do with the US. “To sceptics I reply with one word: Tunisia.” Well, Tunisia is doing rather well, for the time being. But what has it got to do with Obama?

Kerry’s obituary of Obama’s Middle East policy, presented at a session in the Carnegie Endowment for Peace in New York, is full of gems.
Here are a few:
• “Israelis have to be secure; Palestinians have to be secure; people in Gaza have to be secure; everybody has to be secure.”
• “Violence hurts everyone: the innocent and their families; the Jewish and the Arab residents of Israel…. Hurts everyone.”
• “In Iraq, Daesh has been auctioning off women and girls, teaching- teaching people that the rape of underage non-Muslim females is a form of prayer.”
• “The president has made clear that we are determined to degrade Daesh more rapidly.”
• Please don’t accept the view of those who say that the Middle East has to be divided along sectarian lines.”
• “We all have to be doing more, because people are beginning to simply lose faith in any of their leader.” Only beginning?!

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

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