John Kerry: A Cossack in a Sukkeh
John Kerry generally enters into diplomacy concerning Israel like a bull in a china shop; or, shall we say, like a Cossack in a sukkeh. (That is a simile that would have been familiar to Kerry’s Yiddish-speaking paternal grandparents, originally named Kohn.) It therefore came as no surprise when, in a nearly apopleptic outburst to a congressional committee on February 25, he assailed Benjamin Netanyahu for having the temerity to accept an invitation from the U. S. Congress to warn of the imminent danger of allowing Iran to acquire the capacity to develop and the ability to “deliver” nuclear weapons, including Special Delivery to Israel.
Kerry alleged that Netanyahu (“the prime minister”) had already shown extremely bad judgment about the Middle East back in 2002 when “the prime minister was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq.” “And,” he snidely added, “you remember how that turned out.” Whether that invasion was wise or foolish, Kerry himself had made exactly the same judgment about it on October 11, 2002 when he voted (as he had also speechified) in favor of the invasion. “Bibi” did indeed in 2002 recommend “taking out” Saddam Hussein, though whether he did it in “forward-leaning” position I couldn’t say. Of course Ariel Sharon was PM at that time, and Bibi had testified, publicly, as a private citizen. But one does not expect fine distinctions from people like Kerry, who first came to prominence in 1971 by accusing the entire American chain of military command of being “war criminals.”
Although it is an open secret that both the president and Mr. Kerry detest Netanyahu (who is a standing affront to their Brobdingnagian egos, it was far more than personal hostility that Kerry was expressing here. Kerry takes his views of history from people who blame Israel for every misery on the planet except avian flu and would like to see not only the Democratic Party but America itself sever its traditional, value-laden bond with Israel in favor of an alliance, based on realpolitik, with the fanatically Islamist regime of Iran. Here, for example, is Kerry in October 2014 blaming Israel for ISIL/ISIS: “As I went around and met with people in the course of our discussions about the ISIL coalition, the truth is there wasn’t a leader I met with in the region [Middle East] who didn’t raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation that they felt –and I see a lot of heads nodding –they had to respond to. And people need to understand the connection of that. And it has something to do with humiliation and denial and absence of dignity, and [the Islamic holiday] Eid celebrates the opposite of all of that.”
What lurks behind Kerry’s vituperative assault on Netanyahu is the world view of people like Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, who blame Israel for talking President Bush into that invasion (though even those two conspiracy theorists knew that Ariel Sharon, not Netanyahu, was PM at the time). But nothing could be further from the truth. In 2007 Lawrence Wilkerson, a member of the US State Department’s policy planning staff and later chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, said that “the Israelis were telling us Iraq is not the enemy—Iran is the enemy.” He added that a large number of Israeli officials had told their American counterparts that “if you are going to destabilize the balance of power, do it against the main enemy, [and] not be distracted by Iraq and Saddam Hussein.” Wilkerson noted that these urgings of the Israeli officials were triggered by reports in December 2001 that the Bush administration was seriously planning an attack on Iraq. In the weeks preceding Sharon’s meeting with Bush on February 7, 2002, numerous Israeli officials told the Bush administration that Iran was a far greater threat to America and to everybody else than Iraq.
Much as Kerry loathes Netanyahu, he dislikes Israel even more, and is committed to a détente with Iran that will “burnish” his master’s presidential legacy. Besides, having already declared that the ongoing Syrian catastrophe (120,000 dead, 20 million refugees) is a less dire calamity for the world than global warming, he would take the reduction of Israel to sandy wastes by his Iranian friends with equanimity. For John Kerry a second Holocaust would be much less harmful to the globe than a conjectural increase of one tenth of a degree on the global thermometer.
Edward Alexander’s next book is Jews Against Themselves, forthcoming in spring from Transaction Publishers.