The Iranian regime must really be desperate to bet on Kerry’s help

Tehran must be forced to understand that it is not accepted as a regional player in any shape or form.
Sunday 23/09/2018
Former US Secretary of State John Kerry takes part in a discussion titled “The Iran Nuclear Deal: Reflections on the First Two Years” at Chatham House in London, last November.(AP)
Disastrous legacy. Former US Secretary of State John Kerry takes part in a discussion titled “The Iran Nuclear Deal: Reflections on the First Two Years” at Chatham House in London, last November.(AP)

John Kerry’s grasp of  Middle East issues has been limited from the start. What he says in his new book, “Every Day is Extra,” about the personality of Syrian President Bashar Assad shows he may have been exposed to facts of the region but did not necessarily seize their significance.

Before he took over from Hillary Clinton as secretary of state in US President Barack Obama’s second term, Kerry was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He writes in his book of how Assad looked him straight in the eye and denied the existence of a nuclear reactor in Deir ez-Zor, which Israeli warplanes destroyed in September 2007. Kerry knew the details of the operation and concluded that Assad was a liar.

After the assassination of Rafik Hariri in Beirut in 2005, Kerry and his wife were guests of Assad in Damascus. Kerry helped rehabilitate the Syrian regime on the international scene without raising the slightest question about its role in the horrible bombing in Beirut. Likewise in the Iranian case, Kerry could not see that the problem with Iran lies more in its expansionist project than with its nuclear programme.

Kerry was a key player in setting US foreign policy objectives after 2012. He had outlined the big points for a deal with Iran since his time on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and he used Oman’s mediation to negotiate the deal with Iran.

Why didn’t he lift a finger to redress Obama’s misguided position in the summer of 2013 when the US president refused to officially react to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons in its war against the Syrian population in Ghouta?

Every day we see a new page of that Iranian programme taking shape in Lebanon or Syria or Iraq or Yemen. Kerry couldn’t have missed that programme because it was no mystery that Iran has been targeting Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait. The 1996 terrorist bombing in Khobar was planned in Damascus and was obvious proof of Iran’s expansionism. Wasn’t that proof enough for Kerry?

In his book, Kerry said that he still meets with Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. He said he counselled patience because things are going to change in the United States and that matters will return to their normal course.

What we understand from his words is that the United States will be backtracking on its decision to exit the nuclear deal with Iran. US President Donald Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, reacted quickly and described Kerry’s meeting with Zarif as “unseemly and unprecedented” behaviour from a former secretary of state.

In other words, Kerry was “actively undermining” US policy towards Iran and basically hurting the United States. Whether as chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee or as secretary of state, Kerry behaved strangely in a manner that tells us that he was essentially unfit for all those heavy responsibilities.

What we know now is that Kerry doesn’t really know what he wants except to defend a legacy that has proven to be a disaster on more than one front. This legacy includes the nuclear deal with Iran, considered by Obama as the major achievement of his presidency.

Why Kerry wants to hold on to the disaster left by Obama is a big mystery. The man is pretending to possess a profound knowledge of the Middle East while he remains a prisoner of a set of shallow ideas that had guided the Obama administration’s policies in the region.

One such an idea is that Iran is playing a positive role in the region. I guess nobody could see at the time that the only difference between the Islamic State and Iran-backed militias in the region was that the former is Sunni and the latter are Shias.

Whether Kerry maintains relations with Zarif or not is not the problem. The main issue is that remains captive of Zarif’s deceptive games.

It remains to be seen whether a real change will now take place in Washington but what we have seen of the US policy towards Iran is rather reassuring. What is less reassuring are the US positions in Iraq is that Mohammed al-Halbousi’s recent victory in the election for the speaker of the Iraqi parliament represents a major disappointment for Iraqis who were counting on the United States and its envoy Brett McGurk to do something about Iran’s hold on Iraqi affairs. Halbousi is Iran’s man and McGurk was left looking like an amateur.

In any case, the US economic sanctions against Iran are beginning to bear fruit. Iran’s frenzy to unabashedly continue to impose its will on the Iraqis belies its desperate need to show that it holds enough cards in the region and that it is ready for a showdown.

The second wave of sanctions, coming in November, will show two things: how far Iraq is willing to go in its showdown with the United States and whether America is serious about wiping out Iran’s expansionist project.

Tehran must be forced to understand that it is not accepted as a regional player in any shape or form. Its desperate bet on Kerry reflects the extent of its political bankruptcy.

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