On Monday night, Feb. 4, US National Security Adviser Susan Rice backed Secretary of State John Kerry to the hilt against the flak he was taking for criticizing Israel. Using her Twitter account, Rice denounced the criticism as “totally unfounded and unacceptable. She posted four consecutive tweets lauding Kerry’s record and affirming Obama peace policy for Israel and the Palestinians.
However, tellingly, the NSA’s Twitter messages were not followed up by any official White House statements in support for the beleaguered Secretary of State – either for his efforts in pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian accord, or his hard diplomatic work on the Iranian nuclear and Syrian war issues.
In recent weeks, Israeli politicians opposed to Kerry’s peace diplomacy have been trading insults with State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
The Secretary gave way to emotion Wednesday, Feb. 5, when, during an interview to CNN, he harked back to his service in the Vietnam War to say: “But no one should distort what we’re doing or saying because they’re opposed to the peace process or don’t like two states or whatever. And, you know, words — I have to tell you, my friend, I’ve been, quote, attacked before by people using real bullets, not words, and I am not going to be intimidated. I am not going to stand down with respect to President Obama’s commitment to trying to find peace in the Middle East.”
Kerry is also beset by fading White House backing
These angry exchanges, while coming thick and fast every few hours, are so far confined to Kerry and his spokeswoman, versus a few rightist Israeli politicians and a derogatory remark by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (for which he apologized).
However, according to DEBKA Weekly’s Washington sources, Kerry is beset from another far weightier direction: President Barack Obama has begun entertaining reservations about the Secretary of State’s performance. Tension is mounting between the White House and State.
Officials in the president’s close circle, while admitting that Kerry is faithfully pursuing the foreign policies laid down with the president, blame his overly-independent approach for bringing each of the three primary issues – Iran, Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy – to partial, if not total, failure. This reflects adversely on the president’s own standing and holds the risk of his last two years in office being marked not by groundbreaking achievement but by policy fiascoes.
Our sources quote White House insiders as claiming that Obama never intended an all-or-nothing resolution of any of the three thorny issues. He certainly avoided stepping too far into the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and Jewish settlements, a notorious minefield for lame-duck presidents, as Bill Clinton found out to his detriment 15 years ago.
Kerry’s hard-hitting rhetoric and methods conflict with Obama’s obfuscation
Washington Institute Executive Director Robert Satloff told a February 4 Policy Forum that Obama’s State of the Union comments on the issue – namely, a vague reference to “American diplomacy” as the umbrella under which peace talks are being held – were read in some circles in Washington as an insult to Kerry, whose personal commitment has been the prime mover behind any recent progress.
Other circles in the American capital define Kerry’s main problem as his powerful tone and hard-hitting, uncompromising language in public appearances.
The Secretary used tough language last August when the president was still undecided over whether to undertake limited military intervention against chemical warfare in Syria.
Last November, Kerry spoke in absolute terms in reference to the interim nuclear deal with Iran. And last week, he opened Geneva II on the Syrian conflict with the forthright ultimatum to Bashar Assad to step aside.
He is increasingly criticized in the White House on his diplomatic collaboration with Moscow. He is accused of reporting hard commitments in black-and-white terms before the issues are finally clinched between Washington and Moscow.
This rhetorical style, they say, conflicts with President Obama’s inclination for maximal
obfuscation – especially on deals with Moscow that require further clarification and discussion. Kerry’s style generates the impression that the Kremlin is leading the White House – instead of the reverse.