Alex Beam

John Kerry’s nightmare dream job

Secretary of State John Kerry waited for a meeting with Saudi King Abdullah at the king's home last month.
Secretary of State John Kerry waited for a meeting with Saudi King Abdullah at the king's home last month.(REUTERS)

I’ve never had many charitable things to say about John Kerry, but now it’s worse; I feel sorry for him.

Kerry certainly isn’t an evil fellow, merely a run-of-the-mill narcissistic opportunist who has risen to the top of the political heap. I admire his service in Vietnam; many children of privilege — did someone mention George W. Bush? — found ways to avoid the war. If he had any stellar accomplishments during his 28 years in the Senate, they are not etched in my memory. He proved to be an inept presidential candidate in 2004.

But now, the spin goes, he is serving in his dream job, secretary of state. Kerry’s father was a Foreign Service officer, and one of his son’s first trips as secretary included a sentimental journey to Berlin, where his father worked in the US Embassy.

Shortly thereafter, Kerry uncorked perhaps the boldest diplomatic initiative of the Obama administration: a full-on restart of the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. (One thinks of his predecessor’s ill-fated “re-set” of US-Russian relations.) In July 2013, Kerry announced his ambitious objective “to achieve a final status agreement over the course of the next nine months.”

His praiseworthy goal was to see “two states living side by side in peace and security.” That didn’t work out. In the wake of this week’s discovery of the bodies of three slain Israeli teenagers, peace negotiations seem like a distant memory.


In September of 2013, Kerry offhandedly suggested that Syrian president Bashar Assad could avoid military intervention in his country’s civil war if he would “turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community.” Kerry added: “It can’t be done, obviously.”

RELATED: Nicholas Burns: The Middle East at a tipping point

It turned out it could be done, but not by John Kerry. International rogue actor Vladimir Putin pulled America’s chestnuts out of the fire by convincing Syria to eliminate its chemical arsenal.

Certainly Kerry’s era has been good for Putin. The Russian leader has astutely perceived a power vacuum on the international stage and realized that no one would oppose him if he decided to, say, annex the Crimea region of Ukraine. So, under the guise of a Soviet-style plebiscite, he did just that. Now he’s supporting armed, pro-Russian irregulars in Eastern Ukraine and elsewhere. According to National Journal, the ultimatum-enamored Kerry ordered Putin & Co. to back off their most recent Ukrainian adventure in a matter of “hours.”


That was last week. Let’s just say Putin didn’t get the message. He was too busy rushing military assistance to Iraq, where American influence is rapidly dwindling.

That was around the time that Kerry sternly warned Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi not to throw three Al Jazeera journalists in jail, ostensibly for “spreading false news” in Egypt. Shortly after Kerry’s jet departed Egyptian air space, the trio were sentenced to years in prison.

There was a time when Egyptian dictators cleaved more closely to the American party line. That time is past. Kerry speaks; no one listens.

None of this is really John Kerry’s fault, which is why I pity him. This just isn’t a propitious moment to represent American interests in the world. The Obama administration has largely accomplished its goal of disengaging from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that cost more than 5,000 American lives. Our national appetite for foreign entanglements may be at an all-time low.

It’s true that Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine are in flames, but there’s not much we can do about it. It doesn’t help that Kerry’s boss is a lame-duck president with a weather eye focused on his party’s fortunes in this year’s mid-term elections. The world is an intractable place, peopled mainly by friendly rivals and outright enemies.

Welcome to your dream job, Secretary Kerry.

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Nicholas Burns: The Middle East at a tipping point

Alan Berger: US shouldn’t let Iraq be bargaining chip with Iran

John Kerry departs Iraq as uncertainties remain

Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at