The state of the Secretaries of State
One of John Kerry’s first acts in office as Secretary of State was a good one. Lee Smith writes in John Kerry Roasts Turkey:
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not a man who minces words. He has called Israel a “terrorist state” and has suggested that “Allah would punish” Israel for its inhumane actions in Gaza. Usually, the United States pretends not to hear Erdogan’s rants—but not on Friday, when John Kerry, while visiting Ankara during his first trip abroad as secretary of state, denounced Erdogan for calling Zionism “a crime against humanity.” In response to Erdogan, Kerry said: “We not only disagree with it, we found it objectionable.”
On Monday at AIPAC, Vice President Joe Biden praised Kerry for standing up to the Turkish prime minister—and Kerry deserved the props. Kerry’s comment is as critical as State Department language gets regarding a NATO ally—and it’s about time. Policymakers from the Bush and Obama Administrations have sweet-talked and protected Erdogan since his Justice and Development party, known by its Turkish acronym AKP, came to power in 2003. Both White Houses saw Turkey as the model for moderate Islamism, a political current ostensibly willing to embrace democratic norms and project friendly power abroad, including the continuation of its strategic relationship with Israel. They believed Erdogan held the future of U.S. Middle East policy in his hands.
However his next high profile effort did not go so well.
Samuel Tadros reported in the Weekly Standard, Michelle Obama and John Kerry to Honor Anti-Semite and 9/11 Fan:
On Friday March 8, Michelle Obama will join John Kerry at a special ceremony at the State Department to present ten women the Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award. The award, says the press release, is given to “women around the globe who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for women’s rights and empowerment, often at great personal risk.”
Samira Ibrahim, as the State Department’s profile describes her, “was among seven women subjected by the Egyptian military to forced virginity tests in March 2011.” The press release further notes that Samira “was arrested while in high school for writing a paper that criticized Arab leaders’ insincere support to the Palestinian cause.” Apparently, the State Department is unaware of her other convictions.
On Twitter, Ibrahim is quite blunt regarding her views. On July 18 of last year, after five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver were killed a suicide bombing attack, Ibrahim jubilantly tweeted: “An explosion on a bus carrying Israelis in Burgas airport in Bulgaria on the Black Sea. Today is a very sweet day with a lot of very sweet news.”
When the news first broke, Ibrahim claimed that her Twitter account had been hacked. The State Department said that it would look into the charges. But a quick analysis done by Arieh Kovler at the Times of Israel suggested that Ibrahim was lying about being hacked.
At that point apparently the State Department decided to withdraw the award. Ms. Ibrahim’s response pretty much confirms that her offensive tweets were not the result of hacks. Lee Smith followed up at the Weekly Standard.
Finally, Ibrahim herself has spoken, writing in Arabic on her Twitter page. Egyptian democracy activist Mina Rezkalla provides the translation: “I refuse to apologize to the Zionist lobby in America regarding my previous anti-Zionist statements under pressure from American government therefore they withdrew the award.”
Daled Amos followed the controversy in more detail.
A couple of other past secretaries of state have been in the news lately.
Sohrab Ahmari reviewed Kim Ghattas’s account of Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, The Secretary. (The full article is available through the link here.) Ahmari opens with this devastating paragraph:
Hillary Rodham Clinton was the best secretary of state in U.S. history—if the amount of travel abroad is the criterion by which we judge the success of America’s top diplomat. Mrs. Clinton logged a million miles flying around the world during President Barack Obama’s first term. It’s a remarkable number: The Earth is 25,000 miles in circumference, so the secretary circled the globe 40 times in four years. Even more remarkable is that one can’t think of a signature accomplishment from all this on-the-go diplomacy.
Barry Rubin looked at one of her failures: a diplomatic statement when bluntness was called for:
In fact, Usama bin Ladin was killed on May 2, 2011, and the news was obvious about how he had been given safe haven and protected by at least some elements in Pakistan’s government. Remarkably, there was no serious change in U.S. policy toward Pakistan despite the fact that this regime treated badly and threw into prison the Pakistani doctor who helped the United States get bin Ladin. Nothing is more immoral than to betray friends.
One of the keys to this foolishness was an interview then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a week earlier:
“We’ve admired the way Pakistan has pulled together to go after those elements of the Taliban that are directly threatening them. And I think that the people of Pakistan are so unified now in support of this military action.”
Note to Hillary: Of course Pakistan has gone after those elements in the Taliban that were directly threatening them. The problem is that it didn’t do anything about those elements in al-Qaida or the Taliban who were directly threatening the United States. How many billions of dollars in aid was given by the Obama Administration to Pakistan despite that reality? And why hasn’t U.S. policy changed almost two years after it became public that bin Ladin, the biggest single mass murderer of American civilians in history, was Pakistan’s privileged guest?
One solution to promote peace between Palestinians and Israelis is to have non-Hamas members from the Gaza Strip negotiating peace, a former U.S. official told Al Arabiya.
“Israel and the United States will not work with Hamas because it is seen to be a terrorist organization,” James Baker, who served as the Chief of Staff in the final year of the administration of President George H.W. Bush said.
Baker, also the Secretary of State during H. W. Bush’s era, cited strategies used in the Madrid Conference in 1991, where Palestinians who were not members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) – listed as a terrorist organization by Washington and Tel Aviv at the time – to negotiate peace with the Israelis.
Barry Rubin wrote in an e-mail that in 1991, the Palestinians who came, notably including Nabil Sha’ath, actually were members of the PLO. Presumably, Baker’s vision now means employing a similar subterfuge. As Elder of Ziyon noted, he seems to feel that it is a bigger problem that Hamas is excluded from peace talks than that Hamas rejects peace with Israel. So perhaps he feels such a subterfuge is necessary.
But Baker has difficulty in assessing bad actors. In the Truth about Syria, Barry Rubin wrote:
What do you do if the United States secretary of state comes into your office and presents evidence that you are supporting terrorists? Simple. In September 1990, Secretary of State James Baker met with Hafiz and gave him a detailed account of terrorism sponsorship. And Hafiz did do something about it: three Jordanian agents who supplied the information were tracked down and killed. Syria kept on fomenting terrorism; the United States did very little in retaliation.
But it gets even better: precisely six years after his betrayal by Hafiz, Baker was asked by the White House to recommend what U.S. policy should be on Iraq and the Middle East in general. In explaining why he favored dialogue with Syria, Baker recalled the “success” of his 1990 talks with Hafiz in getting Syria to stop sponsoring terrorism. By 2006, Hamas’s top leaders—and the most hardline of all–Khalid Mashal and Musa Abu Marzouq lived under the regime’s protection in Damascus, as did Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Shallah. When Hamas kidnapped an Israeli soldier in Gaza in 2006, helping to inspire the Hizballah copycat attack that would set off a Lebanon-Israel war, Mashal announced the operation’s success to journalists at a Damascus hotel.
It seems, unfortunately, that over the past twenty five years the United States has been blessed with a number of top diplomats who feel that diplomacy means fooling themselves about enemy’s intentions.