One can easily summon the image of him from memory, arrayed in a bisque-colored pheasant hunting jacket, doing his best impression of a rural hayseed, the better to sway Midwest voters likely to stump for illiterate gunslinger George Bush in the 2004 elections. That’s when many of us gave up on John Kerry. He was outed as a man who would do practically anything to be popular. A man bereft of consistent convictions. A Senatorial rogue who had traded on his slightly raffish New Englander mien to accrue his undeserved credibility. That, and a genuinely affecting appearance before the Senate back in the seventies, when he questioned the Vietnam War—hardly a novel posture at the time, but one that helped launched his fledgling political career as a man of some conscience.
But people change. A lot has changed for Kerry since he appeared before the Fulbright Hearings in decorated fatigues, taking a stand against the war, leading to several years of high-profile anti-war activism. For instance, there he was as a Democratic Senator in 2002, authorizing his demented Commander in Chief to use military force against Saddam Hussein. There he was, after being appointed Secretary of State, saying he would forge an Israeli-Palestinian accord in nine months. There he was, saying the Egyptian military was restoring democracy by overthrowing Mohammad Morsi. There he was, claiming the perpetrator of Syria’s “moral obscenity” was quite obviously Bashar al-Assad. Has this man, one wonders, ever been on the right side of an issue since 1969?
The man who once seemed a plausibly reasonable alternative to the warmongering Quixote nine years ago—is now a globetrotting deputy of the latest violent imperialist to inhabit the White House. This is no joke. The threat of force is real. We’re facing a Munich moment. We’re talking about an incredibly small number of strikes. The President is not asking you to go to war. And so on, Kerry blathers into the blathersphere on the upcoming conflict with Syria, his each and every quip inscribed into the national conscience by our supine media. Rather than showcasing this stilted buffoon for what he is, The New York Times has done its best to craft the persona of an astute, judicious man of principle practicing the most rarefied kinds of statecraft. Au contraire, mes amis.
In this weekend’s New York Times, Kerry stood alongside the world’s foremost fearmonger, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Bibi, as he is known, was looking decidedly glum as he listened to Kerry drone on in belabored tones about the need to hold this savage regime (Syria’s, not Israel’s) to account for its unproven use of chemical weapons. He was depressed by the meddlesome Russian proposal that staved off a vicious offensive. Bibi surely wanted fireworks—the flash of uranium-tipped shells making the Arab sky luminous with American wrath. He longed to hear the creaking sounds of another teetering Arab potentate. And why not? Neither Gaza, Lebanon, nor Iraq have proven to be particularly troublesome for the West from a security standpoint. Evidently, sectarian and tribal and warlord conflict can be fairly well contained, much like the urban slums in America’s once feted capitals. At least, Kerry and Bibi seem to think, this would be easier to manage than another wanton strongman with a flair for independence and a taste for Tehran. But then, divide and conquer is not a new strategy.
Lest anyone forget the long-term vision of the administration, Kerry was swift to remind the world that stripping Syria of its chemical weapons was intended to “set a marker for the standard of behavior with respect to Iran and with respect to North Korea.” Neither Kerry or Netanyahu blinked at this statement, which was delivered in full cognizance of the fact that neither Israel nor America have conceded, publicized, or otherwise offered to dismantle their own chemical stores, including depleted uranium, napalm, white phosphorous, not to mention their burgeoning cluster bomb and nuclear arsenals.
“The threat of force remains,” Kerry then intoned, which instantly set off a chain reaction of mirror clichés across the region. French President Francois Hollande, once the false hope of Europe’s dying left, declared that military means must “remain on the table.” The Turkish government, the scourge of Kurdish minorities, warned that the agreement should not be manipulated by Syria to “commit more massacres.” Israel’s former chief of military intelligence and now think-tank propagandist, welcomed the accord but was sure to punctuate his lack of faith that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would keep to the deal. (Israeli voices always make sure to drive home their ever-implicit point: Arabs can’t be trusted.) Hollande added that the disarmament deal was not “an end point,” a not-so-subtle message to Assad that regime change was still “on the table.”
Behind the scenes, while the front men work to keep violence top of mind, deputies are working feverishly to craft a Security Council resolution that will apply impossibly strict protocols on the Syrians, allowing ample opportunity for the Americans to discard the accord and step into a “material breach” with guns ablaze. The resolution will be produced under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which will make it militarily enforceable. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, anxious to move beyond the bromides of negotiation to the crack of gunshot, noted that “we need a stronger position” to unseat Assad, which would entail “supporting” the “moderate opposition” in Syria. As Musa al-Gharbi relates, there is no real moderate opposition fighting in Syria. Moreover, the majority of the people reject intervention. They reject arming foreign zealots. The reject regime change. They want to deal with Assad peacefully. Even at the misty outset of the supposed civil uprising, pro-government counter-protests outnumbered the minor demonstrations by citizens who wanted, not regime change, but for Assad to more swiftly negotiate their social demands. In other words, Fabius is simply parroting the equivocations of the Obama administration.
Kerry leads them all—Fabius, Netanyahu, British foreign secretary William Hague, Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal—his counterparts in a wayward march of mendacity. Each publically professes humanitarian sympathies. Each does the private calculus of geostrategic power. These men are the lost souls of geopolitics, deputized to do the bidding of implacably venal nation-states jostling for finite resources in a market of diminishing returns. And so we are left with the image of Kerry, once a nominal tribune eliciting the despair of a war-weary nation, now functioning as empire’s evocator. He is modernity’s Macbeth, “a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage,” bloody handed, bloody minded, his brave and original promise long forgotten.