Observers of John F Kerry’s more than 40-year career as a successful politician on Capitol Hill note a consummate chameleonic quality in his wheeling and dealing. This dubious quality has helped him ascend from a callow anti-Vietnam war spokesman in the early 1970s to become America’s most senior diplomat who has distinguished himself in recent weeks as one of the most strident voices calling for military attacks on Syria.
According to critics, Kerry’s shameless careerism saw him marry into “old money” in order to promote his political ambitions in the US senate to his present pinnacle of American Secretary of State. A former Democratic presidential candidate, it is a fair bet that the talented Mr Kerry still has an eye on occupying the White House sometime in the future. This oleaginous operator proved his talents within hours of shaking hands with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Geneva, when the pair appeared to come up with a ground-breaking formula to avert a military clash over Syria.
Last weekend – after three days of intense negotiations – Lavrov and Kerry emerged to announce that they had brokered a deal to eliminate chemical weapons held by the Syrian government. To the relief of many around the world, the apparent accord staved off what only days before that were threats of an imminent military strike on Syria by US naval and air forces. With at least five US warships off Syria toting more than 200 Tomahawk cruise missiles, US President Barack Obama sounded more than a little unhinged when he declared menacingly: “The United States of America doesn’t do pinpricks”.
Kerry had been one of the most vociferous figures in Washington calling for such an intervention, even though such action was in violation of the United Nations Charter and international law – amounting to aggression, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out in a guest editorial column in the New York Times last week. Kerry’s war rally during Congressional hearings was also in sharp contrast to American public opinion, implacably opposed to what is seen as yet another reckless overseas military adventure. The popular anti-war sentiment among the American public resonated with international opinion, which views the official US push for military action in Syria as a potentially catastrophic collision in a powder-keg Middle East.
Given the high stakes and the complexity of issues, the Lavrov-Kerry deal in Geneva came as a purported triumph in international diplomacy. Russia, in particular, derived global kudos for having initiated the proposal to put Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles under international control. That move seemed to placate Washington’s demand for bellicose sanctions on the Syrian government, whom the US had been vehemently accusing of using such munitions in a deadly attack near the capital, Damascus, on 21 August.
Standing together and sharing smiles with his Russian “friend” at the conclusion of talks in Geneva last Sunday, Kerry said: “The United States and Russia are committed to remove chemical weapons from Syria.” Kerry also added that “there was no military solution” to the crisis. What a turnaround that seemed by Kerry-the-peacenik-turned-warrior.
While the American diplomat did reiterate calls for tough consequences in the event of the Syrian authorities not delivering on decommissioning of chemical weapons, it was noticeable that in the concluding press conference in Geneva Kerry did not repeat earlier threats of military force. It was also notable that Kerry backed off assertions that it was Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces which had committed the atrocity on 21 August.
For his part, Russia’s Lavrov said that any future consequences for the Syrian government non-compliance would have to be worked out through negotiations among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the US, Britain, France, China and Russia. Lavrov clearly said that the deal was predicated on a peaceful resolution of the impasse. And, for his part, Kerry did not contradict that stated aim.
It was therefore disconcerting that immediately after the ostensible mutual accord thrashed out in Geneva that the American Secretary of State embarked on a global victory lap as if had secured a political advantage for the US against Syria’s Assad. The first stop for Kerry was to greet the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. The Israeli leader could not conceal his glee on receiving Kerry and declared that “Syria should be stripped of all its chemical weapons… to make our entire region a lot safer.”
Given that Israel illegally occupies Syrian territory – the Golan Heights – for the past 40 years, and has launched three unprovoked airstrikes on its northern neighbor in this year alone; and given that Israel is reckoned to possess bigger chemical weapons stockpiles than Syria and is not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention, as well as holding hundreds of illicit nuclear missiles, Kerry’s indulging in jingoistic felicitations in Jerusalem could be construed as diplomatic bad faith, if not crass showmanship.
Next stop for the mercurial Kerry was Paris where on Monday he was flanked by the French foreign minister Laurent Fabius and Britain’s William Hague. The press conference was like an all boys session, with each politician trying to outdo each other on who could sound the most muscular towards Syria. All three politicians were vowing that military force was an option if Syria did not comply with handing over its chemical weapons forthwith.
Kerry appeared to relish at sounding like the top dog in the pack. “We all agree – and that includes Russia – that there will be consequences… with military force an option on the table.”
Significantly, the American also brazenly told media that the chemical weapons deal worked out in Geneva was not a reprieve from Washington’s aim of regime change in Russia’s longtime ally Syria.
“Nothing of what we’ve done is meant to offer any notion to Assad that there is some legitimacy to his process, that he has some extended period as a leader,” Kerry said. When word got to Russia, Sergei Lavrov could not conceal his dismay at the sudden renewed belligerence emanating from the Western powers and from Kerry in particular. With magnanimity, Lavrov calmly and discreetly said: “This shows a lack of understanding about what John Kerry and I had agreed.”
So what can we conclude? The obvious point is that US Secretary of State John Kerry is not a man whose word can be trusted. As with much of his political career, he seems adept at tailoring his words expediently to whatever audience he desires to ingratiate.
More importantly, the rapid change of political gear by Kerry and his Western allies shows that the primary ineluctable objective is regime change in Syria. The US and its allies have conducted a covert criminal war for the past 30 months to get rid of the Assad governmentfor a variety of geopolitical reasons, including accommodating their regional proxies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, and undermining Syria’s allies Iran, Russia and China in the vital oil and gas-rich Middle East.
With recent setbacks to the Western-backed mercenaries inflicted by Assad’s armed forces, the US is preparing for an overt military intervention to implement its illegal agenda. The red line of chemical weapons use in Syria set forth by US President Obama last year has always been a convenient trigger for such intervention under the guise of responding out of “humanitarian concern”. The rush to blame the Assad government for committing attacks with chemical weapons is part and parcel of fabricating a provocation and pretext for Washington’s military attack – an attack that would otherwise rightly be viewed as an outrageous aggression.
In recent weeks, Washington and its allies have judged that the political climate around the world and in their own countries is not conducive to an all-out military strike on Syria. Or, at least, not yet.
In that way, it would appear that the deal hatched with Russia to decommission Syria’s chemical weapons is being used by Washington as an added lever for its criminal agenda of regime change, not as a genuine attempt to avert conflict in that country and the region more widely.
The haste with which the US, Britain and France have jumped to damning accusations against the Assad government over the UN chemical weapons report released this week is disturbingly consistent with their threat of military force. Shamelessly, these powers appear to be using the decommissioning of Syrian chemical weapons as a cover for legitimizing this aggression.