Is John Kerry really making progress?

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“I don’t think we’re stupid,” said Secretary of State John Kerry on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program Nov. 10, to the delight of late nite comics.

The day before, Secretary Kerry had flown to Geneva, anticipating a deal would be struck with Iran. Economic sanctions would be lifted in exchange for the mullahs’ promise to stop work on their nuclear weapons program.

“It promised to be the diplomatic blockbuster of the year, maybe the century. The most convincing performance since the one at Munich in 1938,” said Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was referring to the acquiesence of Britain and France in the Nazi conquest of Czechoslovakia in exchange for Hitler’s promise not to invade anyone else.

But “at the 11th hour,” France scuttled it.

“France wants a deal, but cannot accept a sucker’s deal,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.

The proposed deal would remove sanctions on Iran while still enabling it to enrich uranium and advance work on a plutonium reactor, said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who described it as “bad and dangerous,” a view shared by many on Capitol Hill.

“My concern here is that we seem to want the deal almost more than the Iranians,” said the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ.

Secretary Kerry’s “naked zeal for the deal” is a “fatal shortcoming” in a diplomat, said Jonathan Tobin of Commentary magazine. “The Iranians have read him perfectly and found it possible to get the West to come much closer to their position...without having to budge an inch.”

Mr. Kerry’s “ego and cluelessness are easily turned against him by the Iranians,” agreed Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin. “His desire to wave the paper agreement in the air is obvious.”

The deputy editorial page editor of the Post mocked Mr. Kerry’s statement in Geneva that “I can tell you without any reservations, we made significant progress.”

“It’s hard to think of a previous chief of Foggy Bottom who has so conspicuously detached himself from on-the-ground realities,” Jackson Diehl said.

Mr. Kerry bristled when NBC’s David Gregory asked him if he was being skeptical enough about Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, who wrote a book about how Iran could gain the confidence of the West while still working on its nuclear program.

He described the U.S. negotiating team as “some of the most serious and capable, expert people in our government,” who’d spent a “lifetime” dealing with Iran and nuclear proliferation.

That’s not exactly so, Bret Stephens noted in a profile in the Wall Street Journal of the lead U.S. negotiator, Wendy Sherman, a former social worker turned Democrat political operative.

Ms. Sherman is an example of “falling up -- the Washingtonian phenomenon of promotion to ever-higher positions of authority and prestige irrespective of past performance,” Mr. Stephens said.

So is the Secretary of State, Ms. Rubin said. “Kerry is by all accounts completely unaware of his own pomposity and silliness,” she said.

He’s been on the job for less than a year, but Mr. Kerry is already the worst Secretary of State ever, Mr. Tobin said.

Off the record, I suspect many career diplomats -- who virtually every week have had to walk back something their boss said -- would agree.

“I hope skeptics like me will be proved wrong,” Mr. Diehl said. “If not, this secretary of state will be remembered as a self-deceiving bumbler.”

Americans, understandably absorbed by the Obamacare fiasco, have paid little attention to foreign policy.

We should pay more. We can undo the harm done by Obamacare by repealing Obamacare. If the president permits Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, it won’t be so easy to deal with the consequences.

But if we get through the rest of Mr. Obama’s term without blundering into WWIII, his fecklessness “has the salutary effect of slapping allies hard across the face,” said Middle East expert Daniel Pipes. They’ve behaved like children, confident the U.S. would protect them. By “joining the children,” the president is forcing them to grow up fast.

“Thus does Obama’s ineptitude have the potential to turn reluctant, self-absorbed partners into more serious, mature actors,” Mr. Pipes said. “At the same time, his incompetence promises to change the U.S. reputation from overbearing nanny to much-appreciated colleague, along the way reducing ire directed at Americans.”

Jack Kelly is a columnist for The Press and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. jkelly@post-gazette.com, 412 263-1476.


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