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Published on: February 24, 2013
The Second Coming of Warren Christopher?
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  • WigWag

    Considering that Adam Garfinkle served for a time in the Bush Administration perhaps he might tell us how the State Department reacted to John Kerry’s non-stop efforts to undercut Bush’s attempt to isolate Assad.

    After Obama’s election, Kerry became Obama’s point man in trying to kiss up to the Syrian dictator. Presumably this role was assigned to the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee because Secretary of State Clinton was too sophisticated to undertake such a ridiculous mission. Kerry met with Assad five times between 2009 and 2011 and the pow-wows included an opportunity for an intimate dining experience between Kerry and his wife Teresa Heinz and Bashar Assad and his charming, graceful and fashionable wife, Asma.

    Bush, for all his many failures, recognized that Assad was arming terrorists in Iraq, supporting Hezbollah’s terrorist activities against Israel and stirring up trouble throughout the Middle East with his friends, the Iranians. Of course, the Syrians were co-conspirators in the brutal assassination of Rafiq Hariri. After the assassination, Bush pulled the American ambassador from Damascus. The newly elected Obama couldn’t wait to return the Ambassador although Senate Republicans slowed this up for a while by delaying confirmation proceedings.

    Senator Kerry couldn’t find it within himself to be troubled about any of this. His comments shortly after one of his many meetings with Assad summed up his feelings quite succinctly,

    ”Unlike the Bush administration that believed you could simply tell people what to do and walk away and wait for them to do it, we believe you have to engage in a discussion,”

    Lobbing a cheap shot at the Bush Administration seemed to be a far higher priority for the then Senator from Massachusetts than calling out Assad for his brutality.

    In 2010, as the Obama Administration was in the process of destroying any dialog whatsoever between the Israelis and Palestinians, Kerry assured us that the key to regional peace was dialog with the enlightened Assad regime. He said,

    ”Syria is an essential player in bringing peace and stability to the region.”

    He went on to say,

    ”Both the United States and Syria have a very deep interest…in having a very frank exchange on any differences [and] agreements that we have about the possibilities of peace in the region…”

    Kerry was also a vigorous advocate for the Israelis returning the Golan Heights to the Assad regime. I wonder what the ramifications for Israeli security would be right now had they heeded Kerry’s foolish advice.

    Kerry’s enthusiasm for Assad seemed to go well beyond his conviction that the Syrian dictator was a positive force for change; Kerry genuinely seemed to have affection for Assad. He said,

    “…President Assad has been very generous with me in terms of the discussions we have had…Syria will move; Syria will change, as it embraces a legitimate relationship with the United States and the West and economic opportunity that comes with it and the participation that comes with it.”

    Of course, his belief that Assad was a man of peace and his advocacy of Israel returning the Golan to Syria isn’t the only evidence of the idiocy of the new Secretary of State. It seems that Kerry also mistook Egypt for Poland, East Germany or Czechoslovakia. He could hardly contain his enthusiasm over the wonderful revolution that began in Tahir Square. From the word go, the credulous Kerry was convinced that everything would just go swimmingly. Kerry marveled,

    “The people of Egypt liberated themselves in eighteen days without a single IED or suicide bomb…”

    It is remarkable to behold the quality of the people that Obama has decided should run the Departments of State and Defense. During his confirmation hearings Hagel demonstrated that he is, at best, a dullard.

    Warren Christopher may have been laconic; John Kerry is a dunce.

    • Adam Garfinkle

      You have changed the subject from a broad assessment of a new Secretary of State’s travel itinerary to the specific matter of John Kerry’s understanding of Syria. Ordinarily I would not take the bait of such a bait-and-switch comment, but in this case the subject is too interesting to resist.

      Alas, your premise is wrong, twice.

      However foolish John Kerry has been about Syria, he is merely one of many. His views are best described as those invoking linkage between anything and everything having to do with Israel and all the rest of the problems of the region (and sometimes beyond). Kerry is a member of the Baker-Scowcroft-Djerijian school, which thinks that by offering the Syrian regime the Golan Heights via pressure on Israel, Syria can be made to cease its highly destabilizing behavior on other fronts. Thus the peace process, so-called, ends up being the be-all and end-all of consideration concerning Syria. As I have written many times over the years, this is a lurid (and highly Jewcentric) fantasy. The idea, for example, that the way to get the Syrians to stop abetting the killing of American soldiers in Iraq was to pressure Israel to offer them a deal over Golan, never made any sense. It still doesn’t. So if John Kerry is a dunce, as you call him, he is one of a great many. He is really nothing special in this regard.

      The other premise that is wrong is your contention that that Kerry was dead set on foiling George W. Bush’s wise policy of isolating Syria. There was no such policy. I cannot speak to Kerry’s role during the Obama administration, but I can speak about the Bush period.

      Despite the fact that the Syrian regime was doing all sorts of retrograde and nasty things, including, as I say, actively abetting the transfer through Syria to Iraq of salafi fanatics with their hearts set on killing American soldiers, the Bush Administration never got it together to do much of anything about it. Not long after 9/11, Deputy Secretary of State Rich Armitage was sent to Damascus to read Assad the riot act. Without going into detail, I don’t think this trip made much of an impression because the list of priorities, in my view, did not sit well with reality. But over and over again, month after month, year after year, not really until the fall of 2008, we balked. We exacted no price of consequence for Syrian behavior. President Bush was engaging, once again, in what Richard Perle once referred to as his “maddeningly episodic” decision style. He just let Syria, as well as Iran at the time, slip and slide.

      Now why was this? I have been asking myself this question for years, since I made ultimately futile efforts at the time to understand and to change this passivity. It was a combination of things, as usual.

      First, compared to the other actors Syria seemed sort of minor. Its potential for troublemaking was generally underestimated. As a result, there really was no Syria policy. Syria became an adjunct consideration of other policies, whether that concerning Iraq or Israel or Lebanon or Iran – – whatever the flavor of the day was.

      Second, there was, even in the Bush administration, this fantasy about Golan and linkage. When the State Department gets a bad idea in his head, it tends to stay there. And this bad idea infects Republican Administrations as as well as others. When this idea infected the Baker-Hamilton report on Iraq some years ago, the true ecumenical character of this foolishness was on display.

      Third, whenever the Syrians did something especially egregious, and opened the door for some of us to argue for a more muscular policy, the result was always the same: Some military guy would say, in effect, “Look, we already have two wars on our hands; why do you want to start a third one?”

      The policy was set by default on relative passivity, and the military supported that passivity for parochial reasons. So it took, or it would have taken, and active decision by someone – – the president, say – – to change it. And that active decision never happened.

      Now above I mentioned something that happened in the fall of 2008. Without going into detail, I am referring to a US cross-border operation that killed the guy who ran the operation to infiltrate jihadis through Syria into Iraq. Some years earlier there had been a few minor close-pursuit forays across the border, but nothing that ever frightened the Syrians enough into stopping what they were doing. It should be noted that this fall 2008 operation was a harbinger of the future in that it was an intel-op, not a DOD activity.

      I don’t know where you got this idea that George W. Bush was some kind of intrepid hero trying to advance a muscular policy against Syria. It’s just not true.

      One final comment. The fantasy that somehow everything in the Middle East revolves in one way or another around Israel has a deep source, in my view. Without going into detail in a mere comment, it comes down to the seeming reality that Americans cannot be bothered to distinguish among different tribes and sects and languages and political cleavages in the Middle East. Middle Easterners are just one huge amorphous mass of exotic swarthy types, and if you think like that, then any effort you make to navigate in the region has got to have as its main intellectual anchor some external point – – be it the Soviet Union during Cold War times, or Israel in most other times. The idea that Middle Easterners have complex, contentious, changing and significant political differences among themselves has just never seemed to register in Washington. And again, there is nothing especially Democratic or Republican about this. So if you’re looking for a partisan angle here, forget it: it doesn’t exist.

      • WigWag

        “One final comment. The fantasy that somehow everything in the Middle East revolves in one way or another around Israel has a deep source, in my view…” (Adam Garfinkle)

        Yes it does have a deep source and the source may be more nefarious than you care to believe. As evidence I offer James Baker’s famous comment,

        “f**k the Jews; they don’t vote for us anyway.”

        Fortunately the sentiments of Baker and Scowcroft and their intellectual brethren have largely been expunged from the Republican Party. That Irving Kiristol, his allies and his progeny were so successful in exiling Baker, Scowcroft and their fellow travelers from the GOP is really a wonder to behold.

        Of course the f**k the Jews crowd has resurfaced with the assistance of the current Democratic President. His new Secretary of Defense (whose nomination you defended in a post a few weeks back) is a Baker disciple. Unlike his hero, Hagel has been more circumspect. His desire to f**k the Jews has been expressed in a less forceful manner although not so subtly that most people of good will can’t pick up on his intent.

        Acolytes of Baker-Scowcroft-Djerijian are pretty much all Democrats now. The Neoconservative wing of the Republican Party who vanquished them so thoroughly were right to oppose Hagel so vigorously. How else could they have proven that the odious views of that crowd were no longer welcome amongst mainstream Republicans.

        It’s too bad that the Republicans directed all their fire at Hagel and didn’t shoot the few arrows in their quiver at
        Kerry. Hagel and Kerry have all the intellectual fire power of a gnat. They can be counted on to make one bad decision after another.

  • WigWag

    One other thing; you may be right that the Bush Administration never got it’s act together to foil the bad behavior of the Syrian regime in Iraq and elsewhere, but if nothing else it got the symbolism right. The Bush Administration was reluctant to engage the Syrian dictator and after Hariri was assassinated Bush pulled the U.S. Ambassador. Kerry and later Obama ridiculed the Bush Administration for doing this and they insisted that the only way to make progress was to engage the Syrians.

    What have we gotten for all of Kerry’s pow wows and intimate dining opportunities with Assad? Tens of thousands of dead Syrians.

    Bush may not have done enough but at least he got the optics right. Kerry and Obama got everything wrong. As a reward for making one mistake after another, the dimwitted Kerry was elevated from his perch as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee to Secretary of State. George Bush was widely ridiculed for being stupid. It seems to me that the former President is an intellectual giant compared to Bashar Assad’s favorite dining companion.

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