The political decision-makers who know better than we

The Iran Deal led to a 'New Middle East' as Obama promised in Cairo, but not the one he and his arrogant Sec. of State envisaged. Op-ed.

Meir Jolovitz ,

Martin Indyk (R) with John Kerry
Martin Indyk (R) with John Kerry
Matty Stern/Flash 90

In December 2015, only six months after the Obama Administration force-fed us the Iran Nuclear Agreement, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to an audience at the Brookings Institute about US-Israel relations. His mission – to enlighten us about the Middle East, because he knew better than we.

Speaking at the Institute’s 12th annual Saban Forum, held at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington DC, the always-haughty Kerry proceeded to lecture the audience.

Kerry, still relishing in his signature foreign policy accomplishment in which he overcame the pro-Israeli lobby whose influence has always been overrated, warned against the dangers of a potential collapse of the Palestinian Authority. He stated boldly that absent a peace with the PA, the security of both Israelis and Palestinians would be threatened, and urged both sides to recommit to a two-state solution. A two-state solution that would find Israel “giving” and the Palestinian Arabs “getting.” The solution: an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines, or as anyone who understands their history would know – the 1949 armistice lines. Years before, even Abba Eban, a political dove who advocated territorial compromise, called them the ‘Auschwitz borders.’

Secretary Kerry – with the arrogance that was characteristic of his demeanor – also discussed other regional issues including the fight against ISIS, the Syrian civil war, and, of course, the brilliance of the Iran Nuclear Agreement. He neglected to remind his Brookings audience that Congress offered its support for a deal that he had brokered with a Muslim nation that called for Israel’s “eradication” that same week. Because he knew better than we.

But his biggest concern was reserved for ending “Israeli occupation” and establishing a twenty-third Arab state. There would be no peace without it.

Following his remarks, Kerry sat for a Q&A session with Brookings Executive Vice President Martin Indyk, who served as US ambassador to Israel during the Clinton administration and was President Obama’s special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Yes, those same failed negotiations where Indyk professed it was indeed “expansionist” Israel that was the obstacle to peace in the Middle East. The historical truth seemed to be lost in the translation, but it was well understood by those who spoke Farsi.

While answering a question about the prospects for peace – because he knew better than we – the secretary of state gave evidence of his true genius with this admonition to the audience, spoken with a strong condescending tone:

“There will be no separate peace between Israel and the Arab world. I want to make that very clear to all of you. I’ve heard several prominent politicians in Israel sometimes saying: ‘Well, the Arab world is in a different place now, and we just have to reach out to them and we can work some things with the Arab world, and we’ll deal with the Palestinians.’

“No, no, no, and NO!” he barked out derisively.

Kerry continued lecturing us: “I can tell you that, reaffirmed even in the last week, as I have talked to leaders of the Arab community. There will be no advanced and separate peace with the Arab world without the Palestinian process and Palestinian peace. Everybody needs to understand this. That is a hard reality!”

Wrong.

Here’s the hard reality. The real, and certainly unforeseen, signature foreign policy accomplishment of the now-former secretary of state is the recent series of diplomatic breakthroughs between Israel and the Gulf states.

In 2015, it was unforeseen by the United States foreign policy makers, but not by Israel. The new reality – an accord with nations like the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and whoever else will soon follow – is a byproduct of the shortsighted inability of Kerry and his gang to look a step or two ahead. It is an example of political myopia – a trade mastered by successive American administrations when engaging foreign players who think differently than we do.

As is so often the case throughout history, it is only after the first domino has fallen that we are able to anticipate and perhaps even forecast where the others might follow. History is rich with such examples. And once fallen, inertia – not clueless secretaries of state – determines where it might end.

The Obama/Kerry decision to court the Islamic Republic of Iran with an unscrupulous nuclear agreement and $150 billion “payoff” (forty-fold the $3.8 billion that was earmarked for Israel each year) has altered the very political landscape of the Middle East. The American determination to push the deal through Congress in 2015, even at the cost of fracturing relations with many of the Sunni or Gulf states, has indeed led to what Obama had promised for six years, beginning with his June 2009 speech in Cairo – a new Middle East. But not the one that they anticipated.

Today, political pundits all marvel at the irony. And proponents of a strong and secure Israel now boast of the Israeli genius, no less – to leverage the Obama/Kerry agreement to the advantage of the Jewish State.

But wait.

Let’s not be so quick in patting ourselves on our backs with self-congratulatory exhilaration. Remember: It is so often the unexpected event that leads to the next unanticipated event, or series of events – that chain reaction that we know as the domino effect.

One might rightly argue that Secretary Kerry didn’t know what he was doing. No. He knew exactly what he was doing – bolstering the Iranian regime – come what may. It was the Obama fingerprint on Middle East affairs. The future consequences were, well, of little consequence.

Enter Benjamin Netanyahu. A brilliant politician who has skillfully exploited the ever-changing political climate to Israel’s advantage following a valiant, but failed, effort to curb the US-Iran deal. But, before we give him the credit for having managed the events so shrewdly, let us recall that Netanyahu sits in the prime minister’s office by virtue of three elections in a twelve-month period that saw him almost dethroned. With Benny Gantz, it might very well have been different.

Here’s more of that hard reality. They key component in the making of a new Middle East was the unexpected election of Donald Trump in 2016. Had Hillary Clinton emerged victorious – as was expected – the Obama/Kerry worldview would have prevailed, and the likelihood of an alliance between Israel and the Gulf states would have been rendered less fact than fancy.

However – before we ascribe anyone as genius – let us not forget that sometimes luck, or circumstance, serves as the godsend that no one anticipated. Recall, that on January 28, 2020, the same Trump team that scored its own trophy foreign policy achievement last week with the UAE and Bahrain was promoting its “Deal of the Century: Peace to Prosperity.” The Palestinian Arabs who were designated as the peace partners only eight months ago were now sitting on the sidelines in perfidious protest.

In 1999, a book titled What If? included a collection of essays by thirty-four military historians, journalists, and novelists, all who were asked to indulge in an intellectual exercise of “counterfactual” conjecture of famous historical events. At issue: what if, through a fallen domino and a series that follow, some of our history had happened a little differently? The argument: sometimes events control man more than man controls the events.

It was Albert Einstein who opined: “When the number of factors coming into play in a phenomenological complex is too large, scientific method in most cases fails. One need only think of the weather, in which case the prediction even for a few days ahead is impossible.”

While we cannot be trusted to accurately predict the weather, political analysts might have thoughtfully reasoned with an even greater accuracy the union of two camps – Israel and the Gulf states. The scientist would call it “causality” – the relationship between cause and effect. John Kerry – meet Donald Trump.

Secretary of State Kerry, representing perfectly the world-view of the White House that dispatched him to obtain an agreement with Iran no matter the cost, did exactly that. Kerry brokered the deal, but it was the Iranians in fact who authored its fundamental components. The Iranians told the US what they wanted, and the US readily agreed. Damn the consequences. Damn Israel and damn the Sunni states.

No one – not in Washington, in Teheran, in Jerusalem, or Dubai – realized that the most significant consequence was the unintended consolidation of two otherwise unaffiliated opponents of Iran’s ayatollahs: Israel and the Sunni Gulf states. The enemy of my enemy is my friend – a phrase that seemingly carries the same meaning if spoken in Arabic or in Hebrew.

Friedrich Von Schlegel, in Philosophical Fragments, wrote “the historian is a prophet looking backwards.” Looking backwards, John Kerry ought to be given the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2020 that his boss didn’t deserve in 2009. He could share it with President Trump who has been nominated twice this past week.

In the end, the geniuses of Obama’s foreign policy team – those who knew better than we – were silent. Because it wasn’t supposed to end this way.

Meir Jolovitz is a past national executive director of the Zionist Organization of America, and formerly associated with the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies.



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