John Kerry’s ‘third in­tifada’

The top U.S. diplo­mat’s blun­der could trig­ger re­newed vi­o­lence against Is­rael

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By David A. Keene

JJERUSALEM ohn Kerry is a man who likes to talk, but at times doesn’t seem to ap­pre­ci­ate the fact that words have con­se­quences. This shouldn’t come as a sur­prise. Af­ter all, our cur­rent sec­re­tary of state spent most of his ca­reer as a U.S. se­na­tor. One of the dirty lit­tle se­crets of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics is that most se­na­tors don’t do much else. They talk to each other, to the me­dia and to their con­stituents. They can and do say what­ever will get them the at­ten­tion they crave be­cause very lit­tle they say is re­mem­bered from one news cy­cle to another.

Some years ago, a Demo­cratic friend of mine and I were try­ing to round up Se­nate sup­port for an amend­ment to a bill that was work­ing its way through a sub­com­mit­tee chaired by Mr. Kerry, then the ju­nior se­na­tor from Mas­sachusetts. My friend knew Mr. Kerry fairly well and be­fore long, we found our­selves hav­ing din­ner with him and mak­ing the case for the amend­ment.

Mr. Kerry lis­tened and en­thu­si­as­ti­cally agreed with us. He of­fered to put out a state­ment prais­ing what we wanted to do. He did not, how­ever, of­fer that this good idea on which we all agreed would be acted upon by his own sub­com­mit­tee.

As we said our good­byes, I asked my friend why Mr. Kerry didn’t ac­tu­ally seem anx­ious to help us. “A state­ment?” I said. “He has the power to make it hap­pen, and all we get is a state­ment?” My friend was sur­prised by my re­ac­tion. “In his world, ‘a state­ment’ is do­ing some­thing. Don’t you re­al­ize by now that all se­na­tors like John do is talk?”

A se­na­tor can talk with­out wor­ry­ing much about pre­ci­sion, but sec­re­taries of state live in a very dif­fer­ent world. Ev­ery­thing the sec­re­tary says is stud­ied by re­porters and an­a­lysts for friendly and un­friendly gov­ern­ments for clues as to what the gov­ern­ment he rep­re­sents is do­ing or ex­pects to do. A sec­re­tary of state has to speak clearly and pre­cisely, lest other na­tions mis­un­der­stand him and act on that mis­un­der­stand­ing.

Mr. Kerry’s pen­chant for loose talk is on con­stant dis­play th­ese days as he ca­reens around the Mid­dle East. In Saudi Ara­bia, he was asked what he thinks about the con­tro­versy in that coun­try about whether women should be al­lowed to drive. There, women are de­nied driver’s li­censes and even non-Saudi women caught be­hind the wheel are jailed. When asked, Mr. Kerry quite cor­rectly re­sponded that the con­tro­versy was to be solved by the Saudis them­selves, but gave the dis­tinct im­pres­sion that nei­ther he nor his boss re­ally cares a whit about the rights of women in the Per­sian Gulf king­dom.

That did lit­tle real harm, but when Mr. Kerry landed in Is­rael, the po­ten­tial con­se­quences of the dan­ger­ous im­pre­ci­sion of his words be­came clear. He ap­peared on Is­raeli tele­vi­sion to con­demn the con­tin­ued set­tle­ment of the West Bank that he and Pres­i­dent Obama want turned over to the Pales­tini­ans as part of an agree­ment to es­tab­lish an in­de­pen­dent Pales­tinian state on Is­rael’s bor­der. Mr. Kerry threat­ened the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment and pre­dicted that if the Is­raelis don’t buckle un­der, there would be “chaos” and per­haps a “third in­tifada” that would leave the Jewish state iso­lated and alone.

His words were meant to pres­sure the gov­ern­ment of Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, but the Pales­tini­ans may well have heard them as a sign that the United States will ac­cept a re­newal of ter­ror­ist at­tacks on Is­raeli civil­ians. What is now known as the sec­ond in­tifada, or up­ris­ing, be­gan in 2000 and went on for five long years, dur­ing which time civil­ian men, women and chil­dren in Is­rael were tar­geted by Pales­tinian ter­ror­ists. Fully 70 per­cent of the Is­raelis killed dur­ing that five-year pe­riod were civil­ians.

Mr. Kerry will, of course, be shocked if his words lead to such vi­o­lence, but the words of one in his po­si­tion have real world con­se­quences. Decades ago, a man who oc­cu­pied the of­fice he now oc­cu­pies made an off­hand com­ment dur­ing an in­ter­view that pre­cip­i­tated a war in Asia that no one wanted and cost tens of thou­sands of Amer­i­can lives.

It hap­pened in the sum­mer of 1950, when Pres­i­dent Tru­man’s sec­re­tary of state, Dean Ach­e­son, sug­gested that the Korean Penin­sula didn’t fall within what he called the United States’ “de­fense perime­ter.” North Korea took this to mean Amer­ica didn’t much care what hap­pened in Korea and, as a re­sult, com­mu­nist troops marched south, pre­cip­i­tat­ing a war that no one, in­clud­ing Mr. Ach­e­son, wanted.

Maybe Mr. Kerry will be luck­ier than Mr. Ach­e­son. Maybe the Pales­tini­ans will re­al­ize that as a for­mer se­na­tor, his state­ments should be heav­ily dis­counted. But if the chaos he pre­dicted and ap­peared to threaten in that in­ter­view comes to pass, his­tory won’t be kind to him or to the Amer­i­cans who al­low it. David A. Keene is opin­ion ed­i­tor of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.