I don’t know what Secretary of State John Kerry does to those he’s up against, but he scares me — to paraphrase a comment of the great Duke of Wellington on his soldiers. The ease with which others get the better of him is dangerous on several fronts. It is probable that under his watch, Iran will have the best of two worlds, in effect possessing a nuclear weapon around which there is enough uncertainty about finalization to protect it from military counter-measures. The Russians hold Ukraine in the palm of their hand, and are in a position to choose between manipulating the overthrow of the government, civil war or prolonged instability until Vladimir Putin gets what he wants. Kerry’s resort to the dread words that this is “totally unacceptable” underlines that here again, there are no real counter-measures.
The Middle East is tending as a whole towards the stark alternatives of anarchy and tyranny that comprise the region’s history. It is incomprehensible that Kerry thought this was a moment for Israel and the Palestinians to make a final peace on long-standing and irreconcilable issues, and all within a short fixed period. Did nobody in the State Department tell him that President Clinton tried this out and an intifada with many dead was the result?
The dozen trips to the Middle East, the sessions with Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, are evidence of fantasy. There’s more: Israel was supposed to release a hundred Palestinians serving sentences for murder, and in return Jonathan Pollard, convicted of spying for Israel, would be released. Detached from reality, this proposal has come unstuck before it could be completed. Being detached from reality makes things worse. Hopefully, this marks the end of the peacemaking fantasy and both sides can live with reality, namely a stand-off until such time as compromise is possible. Kerry has nonetheless committed the gravest mistake that a diplomat can make, namely to raise expectations that have no prospect of being met. Ethnic, sectarian, and nationalist violence in the region is rising to higher levels, and it will be good luck if he turns out not to have added to it.