05/02/2014 01:00 am ET Updated Jul 02, 2014

Kerry Paying the Price for Obama's Failures


The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry seems to have failed in those issues where he has invested his efforts as a tireless negotiator confidently determined to reach solutions, no matter the obstacles. But in truth, these are first and foremost the failures of President Barack Obama, who has hidden behind Kerry, after sending him on reconnaissance - rather than operational - missions. Obama also entrusted to Kerry difficult tasks without equipping him with the means of persuasion needed to tackle several intractable cases. Thus, the U.S. Secretary of State, representing U.S. foreign (non-) policy, often found himself playing things by ear. Yet the White House found Kerry's loyalty absolute, even when the burden of blame was placed on his shoulders, to shield the president as he evaded the responsibilities of leadership. When Obama sounded the drums of war, and moved to carry out a punitive strike against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Kerry the dove turned into Kerry the hawk, and cast off the reputation he had cultivated as someone naïve. But when his president backed down in the 11th hour, Kerry became once more a dove among the hawks. As a negotiator, or a broker, John Kerry appears to be fundamentally weak when he presupposes that others have good faith, when they are laughing behind his back, and celebrating what they see as a naïve, dithering, and declining U.S. foreign policy that avoids leading at all costs.

The man who has stood repeatedly next to the U.S. Secretary of State, smilingly promising that accord had been reached, is the veteran master of negotiations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The duo Kerry and Lavrov celebrated several times reaching accords here and defusing crises there. Together, after each meeting, the two tall men seem like they increasingly enjoy each other's company, as though they would have just gone out to have dinner, rather than negotiate on important and thorny issues.

John Kerry did not learn from the lessons of his predecessor Hillary Clinton, in her relationship with Lavrov, especially in relation to the Geneva 1 negotiations regarding the transitional political process for Syria. Clinton felt that Lavrov tricked her and deliberately misled her by approving the six-point Geneva communiqué, before circumventing it by offering a different interpretation when the document reached the Security Council in New York for implementation.

John Kerry presumed too much that there was good faith in the attitudes of Lavrov - prior to Geneva 2 and the meetings that followed. Suddenly, John Kerry found himself caught in the middle of the intrigue brought by Russia, Syrian, Chinese, and Iranian policy backed by Hezbollah. He found himself trying to catch his breath between the momentum of a presidential election that would entrench Bashar al-Assad in power for seven years to come, and the moribund Geneva 2-based efforts and transitional political process in Syria.

Lavrov "did it again" with another U.S. secretary of state. This time, however, the Russian minister gave himself a guise of being innocent from thwarting the transitional process, claiming that the decision to hold presidential elections was made by Bashar al-Assad, and that this was a sovereign decision that Russia could not interfere with. And because the representative of U.S. foreign non-policy was restrained on account of the weakness, dithering, and faintheartedness of his president, his Russian counterpart found him an easy prey.

Today, Russia is deliberately destroying the political process enshrined in the Geneva 1 communiqué and elaborated by the Geneva conference, as being aimed at establishing a transitional governing body with full powers, followed by elections under international supervision. The policy of elegantly evading what had been agreed with both Hillary Clinton and then John Kerry has reached a new level. Now, Russia does not seem at all to care about what satisfies or dissatisfies the United States in Syria because its priority is Ukraine. In both issues, it appears that Russian diplomacy is more Russian that it is diplomatic these days.

Today, it is U.S. diplomacy that appears to be trying to evade tackling developments that require it, logically, not to stand idly by. In the issue of presidential elections in Syria, Washington has limited itself to threatening to deem them as illegitimate, with a caveat that there is nothing that could be done to stop elections in any country.

If the Obama administration had a serious plan, it would have adopted strict policies with China and Russia to save the negotiating process, instead of caving in to their argument that presidential elections do not contradict with negotiations on a transitional governing body. If the Obama administration had a coherent, reliable policy, it would not have allowed attacks and criticism by the Syrian government against the joint envoy of the Arab League and the United Nations Lakhdar Brahimi, for having said that the election would undermine the political transition process. Lakhdar Brahimi should not resign now because his resignation would be caving in to the dictates of the regime in Damascus, backed -- as a fait accompli -- by Russia and Iran.

Brahimi had wagered on American-Russian accord and cooperation to stop the bloodletting in Syria and establish a transitional governing body. Both sides have failed him, however: Sergei Lavrov has failed him because he has proven his dishonesty regarding sponsoring Geneva 2 and the establishment of a transitional governing body. And his other friend John Kerry has failed him because U.S. policy has wavered between "let them kill one another" in the Syrian quagmire and a half-baked, spineless sponsorship of Geneva 2 without a real commitment.

Worse still, the U.S. position at the United Nations seems to be vague on more than one level in relation to the Syrian issue. For instance, resolution 2139, which was endorsed by the Security Council unanimously two months ago to address the humanitarian disaster, remains mere ink on paper without any serious efforts to force Damascus to implement it, and without seeking accountability for those who have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes on both sides in Syria.

The U.S. delegation to the United Nations has hesitated about supporting the French bid to introduce a resolution referring the Syrian government's violations of international law and crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court (ICC). One reason is that the United States is concerned for Israel in the same regard. That is, it fears that Syria could use such a resolution to refer the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights to the ICC as well.

Most probably, nay, most definitely, a resolution as such would be met with a Russian veto. France has no qualms about pushing Russia and China into a corner using a humanitarian draft resolution related to war crimes and crimes against humanity. If Moscow and Beijing want to use their veto against the draft resolution, they would be putting themselves in the corner of being immoral.

The U.S. delegation wants to control the wording, quantity, and timing of draft resolutions that might invite Russian vetoes. So far, Washington has not made a political decision to confront another Russian veto in the Syrian question, a veto that has become part of the bargaining - to escalate or de-escalate. But the Security Council is paralyzed and astonishingly relaxed toward the worsening humanitarian catastrophe in Syria.

John Kerry is not the only one responsible for this policy. The complacency is clearly present at a higher level, with President Barack Obama burying his head in the sand. Yet President Obama wants Kerry to be very proactive in the negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran in the P5+1 framework. He wants him to give priority to that issue at all levels, including by maintaining the relationship with Russia. The U.S. president wants to avoid anything that would force him into a confrontation. He has other tools to put pressure and bargain with Iran, and will avoid confrontation at any cost. He is keen on safeguarding the relationship with Russia and China to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran that would end the burden related to this issue.

With respect to Palestine and Israel, Barack Obama threw Kerry by himself into the thorns of the negotiations toward a two-state solution and the dream of Palestinian-Israeli peace. The U.S. President had tasted the bitter Israeli medicine when he tried to put that issue on the path to solutions that require bold American positions. Meanwhile, if Kerry's efforts succeeded because of his patience and determination, the president would share credit with the secretary; but if he makes a gaffe here or a candid expression there, the blame would be laid on Kerry alone.

What John Kerry said about the fate of Israel in the event the two-state solution is not achieved is truly obvious, but John Kerry's use of the term apartheid caused uproar in the United States. Kerry apologized for using the term, but did not retract his warning that a similar fate lay in store for Israel if it rejected the two-state solution. But in the United States, it is forbidden for anyone to speak frankly and use such terms when it comes to Israel.

The Americans who launched a fierce campaign against Kerry have forgotten that this man devoted many months of his time to broker peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. They forgot that Kerry stared in the face of failure and challenged it with hope and diligent work toward a settlement to the conflict. Even the White House failed him and let him face the storm of controversy alone.

John Kerry failed because he did not stop trying to help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, wagering on the goodwill of the two parties. The fact of the matter, however, is that the Israeli side is not ready for the two-state solution, which it evades more and more whenever it comes closer.

John Kerry failed on Syria because he gambled on Russian goodwill, while his dear friend Sergey Lavrov was misleading him and giving him a ride to the precipice.

John Kerry failed because President Barack Obama did nothing more than wish him good luck, while leaving him out in the open, like a naked emperor, without the tools to exercise an emperor's powers. But Kerry is not out in the open by himself. The mirror reflects the image of a paper tiger named Barack Obama -- at least as the world sees him today, and until further notice.

Translated from Arabic by Karim Traboulsi