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Kerry’s revealing comments on Syria

In a startling move, the US secretary of state has gone public with his doubts over the Administration's Syria policy

On Monday The Daily Beast and The Washington Post published accounts of a striking statement made by Secretary of State John Kerry in an off the record closed session with a group of US congressmen. Confirming the rule discovered by numerous politicians and policy makers that there is no such thing as “off the record,” two of the participants, Senators McCain and Graham, shared some of the Secretary’s more intriguing comments with the media.

As The Daily Beast put it:

Secretary of State John Kerry has lost faith in his own administration’s Syria policy, he told fifteen US congressmen….Kerry said he believes the regime of Bashar al-Assad is failing to uphold its promise to give up its chemical weapons according to schedule; that the Russians are not being helpful in solving the Syrian civil war and that the Geneva 2 peace talks that he helped organize are not succeeding. But according to the senators Kerry now wants to arm Syria’s rebels–in part to block the al Qaeda affiliates who have designs on attacking the US.

Kerry’s statement is nothing short of astounding. As a seasoned politician he must have known that his statements would be made public. He must have known that they would cast further controversy over the Administration’s Syria policy, long regarded by many as a failure, and generate talk of strife and discord within the Obama Administration’s senior ranks.

Such controversy is not new. In 2012 then Secretary of State Clinton and CIA Director David Petraeus wanted the US to make a much larger investment in Syria’s (relatively) secular and moderate opposition in order to bring Assad’s regime down and preempt the swelling of the Jihadi component of the opposition, but they were vetoed by a White House determined not to be dragged into a deeper involvement in the Syrian crisis.

Last summer the Obama Administration took pride in its ability to resolve the chemical weapons crisis without resorting to military action. The Assad regime’s willingness to give up its chemical weapons arsenal obtained with Russia’s cooperation seemed like a success story. But several months later the US is finding out that the Russians and Bashar al-Assad are not entirely trustworthy, that a political diplomatic solution via the Geneva process is not a realistic option and that the Jihadi threat in Syria is becoming more ominous.

Hopefully, Secretary Kerry’s ideas regarding a change of policy will not remain an academic observation but will be translated into effective action. But this turn of events raises another disturbing question. Last fall the same Obama Administration, in cooperation with the same Vladimir Putin, put its faith in Bashar al-Assad’s chief supporter when it made the interim deal with Teheran regarding Iran’s nuclear program. We can only hope that a few months down the road the Secretary of State or another senior member of the Obama Administration will not meet with another group of congressmen to admit that the Administration’s Iran policy has failed, that the Iranians are dragging their feet and the Russians cannot be trusted.

About the Author
Itamar Rabinovich, Israel’s former ambassador in Washington, is president of The Israel Institute in Washington DC; He is affiliated with Tel Aviv University, New York University and The Brookings Institution
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