Struggling against the logic of John Kerry
Perhaps it was the high altitude and the crisp, clear, invigorating Swiss mountain air that went to US Secretary of State John Kerry’s head and loosened his tongue at the World Economic Forum in Davos on January 21st.
In any case, Kerry delivered appallingly frank comments to the CNBC cable news outlet and to his travelling press entourage about the boost that freeing billions of dollars of previously frozen Iranian financial assets would give Tehran’s terrorist potential and growing regional clout. His reasoning was so specious and inane it deserves to be studied carefully.
First, Kerry ridiculed the idea that the P5+1 nuclear agreement concluded with Iran in July 2015 would free up $150 billion. The real figure the Iranians would receive was likely to be no more than a mere $50 billion or so and they would need to use it to rescue their troubled domestic economy, he airily explained.
Well, as the late US Senator Everett Dirksen famously said: “A billion here, a billion there — pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”
Let us assume that Kerry’s reasoning and facts are correct — highly dubious propositions indeed. But even if these figures are accurate, suppose the Iranians dutifully devoted $49 billion of the modest windfall they are about to achieve to debt relief, reflationary investment and other Good Things. Might they still not put aside a $1 billion for weapons, terrorism and other subversive activities around the region? After all, with even a mere $1 billion you could buy an awful lot of weapons and dramatically increase anyone’s potential for revolutionary violence and subversion.
Kerry, with all the fearless realism we should expect from any US secretary of state, faced this possibility head-on: “I think that some of it will end up in the hands of the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps) or other entities, some of which are labelled terrorists,” he freely acknowledged to CNBC. “You know, to some degree, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that every component of that can be prevented.”
Kerry did not appear too bothered about letting huge, unlimited sums of money go directly to an organisation pledged to topple established, stable countries across the Middle East. One assumes he would have been a lot less casual and relaxed had he thought that money would be channelled directly into funded violent terrorist and revolutionary activities within his own country to topple the government of the United States.
But not to worry, as the Associated Press reported, Kerry told his travelling press entourage in later comments: “If we catch them funding terrorism, they’re going to have a problem in the US Congress and other people, obviously.”
But of course, having “a problem in the US Congress” never constrained Iran’s support of terrorist groups around the region even during the long decades when sanctions were imposed. Its support for Hezbollah, Shia militias operating in Iraq and many other forces continued unabated.
To imagine that fear of a verbal rebuke from Kerry or huffing and puffing from Congress — sure to be blocked by US President Barack Obama anyway — will prove any kind of brake or deterrent to such activities is simply fatuous.
Kerry simply assumed that Iran’s leaders, who are the product of very different historical experiences than he is, could possibly see the world any differently than he does. Yet the 37-year history of the Islamic Republic repeatedly confirms that successive Iranian leaders do not think like Kerry at all.
Indeed, Kerry does not even understand the thinking of an ordinary American. When the Democratic Party nominated him as their candidate for president in 2004, he went down to a landslide defeat at the hands of George W. Bush, widely recognised as one of the most incompetent presidents to sit in the Oval Office.