Secretary of State John Kerry's around-the-world diplomatic sprints offer real promise and deserves appreciation. Tonight, he's heading back to Geneva to join negotiations on Iran's nuclear program,
Kerry's critics say his efforts are adhoc and ill-considered. But the facts make these observations seem churlish.
Kerry's fast-from-the-gate diplomatic charge has four components:
1] Maybe the Washington talks between the Israelis and Palestinians are just Kabuki. Yet, all sides have promised to make a nine-month effort; and if the other pieces of Secretary Kerry's diplomatic high-wire juggling acts come together, both the Palestinians and the Israelis might realize there aren't many choices but to cut a deal.
Critics have said a deal between Israel and the Palestinians is not possible if there is an arrangement with Iran over nuclear weapons.
But, to the contrary, a nuclear accord with Teheran would help secure Israel. An accord with Iran might drive the Saudis and others in the Gulf to reconsider the peace process and their willingness to stake an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. The "Oslo phase" of negotiations some 20 years ago failed, in part, because there were no financial backers. Now, there might be reason for Gulf Arabs to reconsider. After all, Israel could be a partner in containing Iran.
2] The scheduled Geneva meetings on the future of Syria would not have been possible had not the issue of poison gas been well on the road to resolution. If removal of Syrian chemical weapons owes much to the persistence of Secretary Kerry and was advanced in the face of tepid White House backing.
Secretary of State Kerry's considerable diplomatic accomplishment was not worked out merely four days in early September, as his critics suggested [with some warrant if one were only aware of the "optics."
In fact, however, plan for removal of poison gas had been in draft for months. The plan to rid Syria of chemical weapons was brought to a head by Secretary of State Kerry's threat to use force, issued in London on September 9th, notwithstanding the fact that Congress was in no mood to back the president.
On September 9th, Kerry had warned Assad that he had but days to decide to rid himself of those weapons. Critics said these were off-the cuff remarks. They were not.
The speed with which the weapons removal accord was reached reveals that the remarks reflected an agreement long under active discussion by experts from international agencies, allies, regional actors and the Russians.
To be sure, the Russians were worried that Assad's weapons would fall to Jihaddis. If Assad's airfields were degraded -- the inevitable result of an American strike -- the likely immediate beneficiaries would have been Jihaddis fighting Assad. Clearly, the Russians believed Kerry -- that a strike was possible, in days.
But had not Assad had confidence that a deal would offer him something aside a knotted rope and a lamp-post -- or regime annihilation, he would never had agreed with his Russian benefactors that it was time to hand his weapons over.
3] The impending negotiation of the question of Syria's future was made possible because the Russians abetted the Americans in pressuring Assad to stand-down his chemical weapons.
In consequence, the prospects are better for a deal regarding the overall future of Syria. With Iran at the bargaining table, Assad is aware that his state backers are now working as much with the United States as they are with him.
4] And then, there's Iran and their nuclear weapons. Diplomats classically aver, it's "always too soon to say." But the discussions about capping Iran's nuclear programs are not just a function of crushing world-wide sanctions. There is more to the story, including:
a] Falling world oil prices. b] New Iranian leadership. c] The recent flow through of significant American arms to the forces of the Supreme Military Council and others. d] Russian pressure, including Russia cooperating in the peaceful removal of chemical weapons in Syria e] The threat of an even more direct American role in the region and Iran's areas of interests. More than 10,000 armed American personnel have set up base and training facilities in Jordan, and a smaller number are now in Turkey. The result has helped stabilized Jordan and manage cross border arms infiltration and the refugee exodus from Syria, and can't be unnoticed by Iran.
PAYOFFS? Perhaps an accord with Iran and Syria will moderate a headlong rush into regional mayhem.
If the Iranians cooperate in transiting from support of Assad, then perhaps t a "solution" of a kind can be reached as in Lebanon in the 1980s when that awful war finally imperfectly petered out.
A deal with Iran could help begin bringing Iran to the point where it were able to fund common interests, for instance in moderating looming post-war chaos apparent in Iraq and certainly possible in Afghanistan.
Perhaps Iran and the UN and Russia and the US would be able to work to moderate or contain the explosion of poppy, heroin, addiction, and criminality now spurring accelerating chaos from Pakistan through Central Asia and beyond.
Maybe we can now see a credible effort in American post-conflict planning has materialized, the first since the 1990s [and that was in the Balkans].
In all events, Kerry's structuring of interlocking deals with Iran, Syria -- and even the Palestine question -- are brilliantly interrelated.
For his efforts, Secretary Kerry has a faced a chorus of snipes, leaks, imprecations, and insults. Even his closest friends in the Senate, like John McCain, have likened Secretary Kerry to a wrecking ball operated by a distracted crane operator.
Whatever the quibbles, an historic restructuring of American fortunes in the Middle East is at hand. Students of the American national interests our their fingers crossed