THE BLOG
12/28/2016 05:29 pm ET Updated Dec 29, 2017

John Kerry: The Accident-Prone Accidental SecState

It did not take John Kerry nary a fortnight after being appointed the accidental secretary of state to flatly declare he would accomplish the impossible: bring peace to the Middle East in nine months, Not a promise, but a stipulation..

Never mind not one of his predecessors had walked the plank that far. Never mind that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians were ready to jump on Kerry's quixotic quest. Never mind that Kerry hadn't the foggiest idea how to bring the parties together. Kerry was determined to prove to President Obama he, John Kerry, was the worthiest person to take the ship of state's helm when Susan Rice's potential nomination hit the skids after Benghazi, and the Middle East peace process was going to prove his worth (and his own route to a Nobel Peace Prize).

It did not seem to matter to Kerry that Mr. Obama and his inexperienced White House National Security Council staff had thrown in the towel on Mr. Netanyahu and were secretly negotiating with the Iranians on a nuclear accord. The "rest in peace process" would keep Kerry out of their hair, they reasoned, and if there were a modicum of movement, the White House would swoop in to take the credit.

Kerry's braggadocio was ill-founded, ill-timed, and ultimately will stand out as one of sorriest and surreal chapters in American Middle East diplomacy. Although Kerry assembled a respected "peace process team" he refused to do his homework. He convinced himself he knew it all. He grandstanded and cajoled from Middle East capital to capital, but never moved the needle. The Israelis - already reeling from the Obama Administration's desire to hold Israel primarily accountable for the impasse, was willing to pat Kerry on the back, but give him the cold shoulder. The Palestinians - convinced Mr. Kerry's naiveté would absolve them of making meaningful concessions, played him like a fiddle. Kerry became subservient to his own hubris. Swoon by the sound of his own voice, he assured himself he could convince Messrs. Netanyahu and Abbas to see it his way - neither had any real intention of doing so.

I was in Jerusalem when the Kerry-led talks collapsed. There was not an experienced hand in Jerusalem, Ramallah, or Washington who had bet a buck on his success. And when he sheepishly went before the cameras with egg on his face over a self-produced peace process fiasco, the Obama White House naturally left him out to dry, a legacy deserved given how it was earned.

In many respects, the calamity characterizing the state of U.S. - Israeli relations in the wake of Friday's United Nations Security Council condemnation of Israeli settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank can be directly traced to John Kerry's meddling in the Middle East.

Those of us who have toiled in the peace process vineyards know that a setback for a secretary of state is not merely a personal defeat, it is also a major setback for restoring trust and confidence between the parties. Kerry not only left empty-handed, his failure drove the parties further apart (as if they weren't pretty far apart when Kerry commenced his adventure into the unknown).

Here is Kerry's scorecard: His failure propelled a significant number of moderate Israelis into the hands of more right-wing parties - resulting in Benjamin Netanyahu's reelection. That shift in popular discontent with the entire peace process accelerated Israeli alienation from Palestinian aspirations. No Israeli took Kerry's efforts that seriously, but when they collapsed, the consequences were that serious.

On the Palestinian side, Kerry's aborted efforts convinced too many Palestinians that no amount of American "honest brokering" was going to move the Israeli government. The Palestinian leadership decided to throw all of its marbles at the United Nations and refuse to return to any direct talks. And as the atmosphere became more poisonous Palestinians took to the streets of Jerusalem stabbing Israelis in a wave of unbridled terror incited all too often by a wink and a nod from the Ramallah Palestinian leadership.

Our most important Arab ally, Jordan, was once again left holding the bag as Kerry, having cajoled King Abdullah into a supporting role, left the King at the altar.

So when Mr. Kerry took to the stage today to lambast the Israeli government for undermining any hope for a two-state solution, there is plenty of blame that should have landed on Kerry's own doorstep. Instead of placing the blame squarely on one party (the Israeli government) there is, and will always be, plenty of blame to go around. Since Mr. Kerry refused to acknowledge his own culpability, someone must.

The adage that Israeli settlement construction is an obstacle of peace is no less important an adage than the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity - including refusing to make their own concessions necessary for peace. Mr. Abbas is an empty suit as much as any Palestinian leader with empty pockets.

Mr. Kerry works for a White House and a president who is bequeathing to Mr. Trump failure upon failure in the Middle East.

Just recall that from Mr. Obama's momentous June, 2009 speech to the Middle East and broader Muslim world, President Obama:

• Refused to abide by counsel to act swiftly against Assad's use of chemical weapons against his people with disastrous consequences;
• Converted the cause of Middle East peace into endless episodes of petty personal vendettas against the Israeli prime minister;
• Blithely ridiculed the ascendancy of the Islamic State and then shackled his own military in its efforts to stem its expansion;
• Negotiated an Iran nuclear agreement without either obtaining meaningful concessions from Tehran or incubating the agreement with a regional strategy to contain Iran's military;
• Rushed to exit Iraq; paying lip service to Iraq's Nuri al Maliki, the single greatest contributor to Iraq's disintegration;
• Toyed repeatedly with a Muslim Brotherhood dictatorship in Egypt;
• Fell head first into the quick sand of a Saudi-Iranian proxy war in Yemen
• Abandoned any responsibility for restoring a strong, central government in Libya after it supported the overthrow of Kaddafi, which resulted in Libya becoming a mini-ISIS caliphate;
• Cast adrift American core objectives in the Middle East as the Administration's vaunted pivot to Asia became its creed;
• Sowed doubt and suspicion with our number one ally, Israel, and with our allies and adversaries throughout the Middle East that the United States can no longer be feared or trusted; and
• Empowered Putin to play us as Russia kept moving the military and humanitarian goal posts in Syria.

I can go on and on...indeed it is a record to run away from, and helped contribute to Mrs. Clinton's own defeat.

All of these fiascoes brought to you by a president who micromanaged all U.S. Middle East policy supported by a team that placed Mr. Obama's legacy over America's national interests. That is no record to be proud of; it is a record to be ashamed of.

With this legacy as an anchor neither Messrs. Kerry nor Obama earned the right to cast blame on Israel for its own shortcomings. The Israeli people, not Washington, ultimately have to decide for themselves whether a Palestinian state can be accommodated living side by side by with a strong, secure, Jewish state of Israel.

If the United States is going to help that come about it is because Israel has confidence that the risk is worth the reward, and confidence in the unyielding friendship and support it has earned from the United States.