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Kerry Talks Out of School

The White House’s Syria policy is so bad that even the secretary of state is against it—or is he?

3:10 PM, Feb 4, 2014 • By LEE SMITH
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It was hardly a surprise when last week’s much-anticipated Geneva II conference bringing representatives of Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime together with opposition members came up empty. Nor was it surprising that, as recent press reports show, the administration’s plan to rid Assad of his chemical weapons has come up way short—to date, Syria has shipped out only 5 percent of its unconventional arsenal. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough defended the Russian-led chemicals weapons initiative, saying “it’s not falling apart, but we would like to see it proceed much more quickly than it is.”

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But it is falling apart. The Russians designed the deal, and lured Obama into it, for no other purpose than to protect their Syrian client and use the White House to launder his reputation by making him an American partner in dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. Assad will turn in his chemical weapons slowly—and of course never in their entirety. Israeli reports show that Assad is stockpiling chemical weapons in "the heartland of his Alawite sect" "as an insurance policy in case [Syria] is eventually partitioned."

The administration’s Syria policy is in such bad shape that it seems even cabinet officials are talking out of school. Monday, three different journalists reported that John Kerry told an audience at a security conference in Munich that the White House’s Syria policy was failing. As Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg wrote, Kerry’s “briefing was meant to be private, but the Senate’s two most prominent Syria hawks, Republicans John McCain—the leader of the U.S. delegation to the security conference—and Lindsey Graham provided a readout of the meeting to three journalists who flew with them on a delegation plane back to Washington: Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor of the Washington Post, Josh Rogin, the Daily Beast's national security reporter,” and Goldberg himself.

According to Rogin, Kerry’s complaint is multifold. Kerry notes that the Assad regime “is failing to uphold its promise to give up its chemical weapons according to schedule.” Also Kerry said that “the Russians are not being helpful in solving the Syrian civil war; and that the Geneva 2 peace talks that he helped organize are not succeeding.” According to all three articles, Kerry now wants to arm the Syrian rebels.

The three reports argue that the takeaway from Kerry’s private briefing is vastly different from the message that the rest of the administration is putting out, and the secretary of state wants new options. However, Kerry’s spokeswoman Jen Psaki said McCain and Graham got it wrong. “This is a case of members projecting what they want to hear and not stating the accurate facts of what was discussed," said Psaki. "It’s no secret that some members of Congress support this approach, but at no point during the meeting did Secretary Kerry raise lethal assistance for the opposition."

So who’s right? Psaki, or McCain and Graham?

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