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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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Goldberg reported Graham saying that Kerry “openly talked about forming a coalition against al-Qaeda because it’s a direct threat.” Okay, but a coalition with whom? Right—the regime and its allies who look at Syria the same way the White House does. As Assad has been saying for a decade now, the Americans have the same enemy he does—al Qaeda.  Or, in the words of President Hassan Rouhani, the big problem in Syria right now is “terrorism”—i.e., of the Sunni variety, like al Qaeda, and not their own, like Hezbollah. They’d all be happy to team up with the White House—and not just against al Qaeda but all the rebels, in order to put down the uprising once and for all.

As Tony Badran, a Middle East expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies wrote last week, the clear and consistent message coming out of the administration and its surrogates in the media and policy establishment is that the United States should redefine its objectives and work with the Assad regime against “jihadi extremism.”

That’s all that Kerry was doing at the Munich conference, not criticizing his own White House, but articulating the administration’s de facto policy of more than two years—leave the Iranian axis alone to focus on al Qaeda. Further, he was testing the waters with talking points that administration officials have to date resisted putting forth publicly and officially—maybe we should team up with the Assad regime to target al Qaeda. The White House’s goal now is to rehabilitate Assad. With no interest in helping to topple him, the administration needs to sell him as the “devil we know,” and one who can provide valuable assistance in keeping al Qaeda from attacking America. In short, Kerry’s not a maverick, but a rodeo clown the White House sent out to do some very ugly work.

Who knows? Maybe McCain and Graham, the Senate’s two most prominent critics of Obama’s Syria policy, understood the White House’s play and relayed exactly what their former Senate colleague said but just changed the context somewhat—hey, Kerry thinks Obama is wrong and we need to arm the rebels. Yes, right, to fight al Qaeda—but you know the fog of war. If somehow that message fails to get transmitted to Free Syrian Army units on the ground and they wind up toppling Assad, well, wouldn’t that be a shame.

The problem is that the interim agreement with Iran over its nuclear weapons program has given the administration incentive to protect Iran’s stake in Syria. 

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