FRI DEC 21, 2012 AT 02:20 PM PST
SecState[?] John #Kerry and his 'dear friend' Bashar #Assad in
- 25 Comments / 25
President Barack Obama has just nominated Senator John Kerry for the
position of Secretary of State.
I believe John Kerry first came to public notice as a member of Vietnam
Veterans Against the War <http://www.vvaw.org/
> in the early 1970's.
Probably his introduction to the Senate came in April 1971 when he became
the first Vietnam veteran to testify before congress.
More recently he has been a senator himself and chairman of the very same
Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he first testified before more that
forty years ago.
More recently, he has been President Barack Obama's point man on US
relations with Syria and it's dictator President Bashar al-Assad.
Senator John Kerry with *"dear friend"* Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
John Kerry visited Damascus as part of the Cardin Congressional delegation
in February 2009. While there, Mr. and Mrs. Kerry had dinner with Mr. and
Mrs. Assad. He also had private meetings with Assad. He returned from this
visit, full of hope<http://www.haaretz.com/news/senator-kerry-syria-willing-to-help-achieve-palestinian-unity-1.270630
building good relationships between the Assad regime and the White House:
*"I believe very deeply that this is an important moment of change, a
moment of potential transformation, not just in the relationship between
the United States and Syria but in the relationship of the region,"*
*"My hope [is that] in the next days things will begin to emerge that can
begin to signal that kind of different possibility."*
Seymour Hersh interviewed Kerry about this trip and wrote about it in the
New Yorker, 6 April 2009, and he
These diplomatic possibilities were suggested by Senator John Kerry, of
Massachusetts, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who met
with Assad in Damascus in February-his third visit since Assad took office,
in 2000. *"He wants to engage with the West,"* Kerry said in an interview
in his Senate office. *"Our latest conversation gave me a much greater
sense that Assad is willing to do the things that he needs to do in order
to change his relationship with the United States. He told me he's willing
to engage positively with Iraq, and have direct discussions with Israel
over the Golan Heights-with Americans at the table. I will encourage the
Administration to take him up on it.*
*"Of course, Syria will not suddenly move against Iran,"* Kerry said. *"But
the Syrians will act in their best interest, as they did in their indirect
negotiations with Israel with Turkey's assistance-and over the objections
As President Obama's conduit to Assad, as he developed his new policy of
engagement with Syria, John Kerry made numerous trips Damascus during this
period. It must have been after one of these trips that the incident reported
Magazine took place:
Staffers describe their collective cringe when, after a motorcycle ride
with Bashar al-Assad, he returned to Washington referring to Bashar as *“my
dear friend.”* Bashar may be a lot of things, but *“my dear friend”*—an
address Kerry used only with a select few, such as the late Ted
Kennedy—should not have been one.
And indeed, with Kerry's guidance, relations with the Assad regime were
steadily developed. By August 2009, a US military team was in
talks. A Stratfor analyst
developments to that point:
Syria offering intel cooperation on AQ, Iran, HZ
Syria facilitating March 14 win in Lebanon
Saudi pouring money into Syrian coffers
US and Saudi rewarding Syria with diplomatic recognition (notice how quiet
everyone is about Lebanon)
Signs that Syria is moving forward -- big Syrian military/intel reshuffles;
Iran threatening to destabilize the Syrian regime; HZ anxiety
this is all covered in our analysis
Less than a year later, in March 2010, an internal Syrian email [soon to be
released by Wikileaks <http://0.2.96.42/
>] catalogs the developments in the
past year from the Syrian pov:
1‐ Since January 2009, there have been multiple visits to Syria by US
‐ Administration officials, namely Under Secretary of State William Burns,
Special Envoy Senator George Mitchell, Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey
Feltman, White House‐NSC Senior Director Dan Shapiro, and Counterterrorism
Coordinator Daniel Benjamin, among others.
‐ Members of Congress, such as Senators Judd Gregg, John Kerry, Ted Kaufman
and Benjamin Cardin; and Representatives Adam Smith, Tim Walz , Alcee
Hastings, Stephen Lynch, Howard Berman, at the head of several
‐ High‐Ranking military officers from US Central Command.
2‐ US Officials have repeatedly emphasized the importance of improved US
relations with Syria, the positive role Syria can play in the region, and
the need for Syria to join peace efforts.
3‐ On July 28, 2009, the US administration initiated steps to ease American
sanctions against Syria, starting with allowing the export of material
related to information technology, telecommunication equipment and civil
4‐ The US lifted an advisory that warned American travelers about security
concerns in Syria.
5‐ The US is getting ready to send back its ambassador to Damascus.
6‐ Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Al‐Miqdad was invited to Washington in
October 2009 for high‐level talks with US officials.
7‐ Syrian Ambassador to Washington Imad Mustafa has been having regular
meetings at the White House, the State Department and Congress with various
US officials, after 5 years of boycott.
The next month, April 2010, Kerry was back in Damascus again, according to
State Department cables released by
Maybe Kerry was taken in by the urban upper-class manors of Bashar
al-Assad; maybe there was something that reminded him of his Yale Skull &
Crossbones days, or maybe it was just the shared class-consciousness of
people in power, but whatever caused John Kerry to connect with the
dictator, other things were happening in Syria that ultimately should lead
to the overthrow of his *"dear friend"* Bashar al-Assad. The status quo of
the entire region was about to be overthrown from below, by the very forces
that were *never* consulted in Kerry's negotiations with Assad.
Already two dictators had been overthrown, in Tunisia and Egypt, Qaddafi
was shooting at protesters in Libya and demonstrations were starting to
breakout in Syria when Haaretz
24 February 2011:
U.S. Senator John Kerry and Syrian President Bashar Assad reportedly began
drafting an unofficial position paper that would define the principles of
negotiations with Israel.
U.S. Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate's Foreign Relations
Committee and a close associate of U.S. President Barack Obama, has been
working together with Syrian President Bashar Assad over the last few
months on a plan to restart negotiations between Syria and Israel.
Kerry has met with Assad in Damascus five times over the last two years.
The issue of restarting Israeli-Syrian talks was raised at all of these
meetings, and a few months ago, the two began exploring practical ideas for
In his public report back, 16 March 2011, at the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace, he said:
*"President Assad has been very generous with me in terms of the
discussions we have had,"* Mr. Kerry said. *"I think it's incumbent on us
to try to move that relationship forward in the same way.*
*"So my judgment is that Syria will move; Syria will change, as it embraces
a legitimate relationship with the United States and the West and economic
opportunity that comes with it and the participation that comes with it."*
As compared with his views on future relations with Syria under Assad, the
views he expressed at that Carnegie
Libya under Qaddafi were quite hawkish, and sound ironic today, given his
non-interventionist stand on Syria:
With Libya on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe, Kerry stressed
international community cannot watch from the sidelines as a quest for
democracy is met with raw violence.”* Kerry endorsed recommendations by the
Arab League and the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone over Libyan
airspace and said that U.S. and international leaders should consider
is necessary”* to prevent further escalation of violence.
Whether Kerry knew it of not, the day before his Carnegie talk, 15 March
was the *"Day of Rage,"* the official start of the Syrian Revolution. Wikipedia
day this way:
Simultaneous demonstrations took place in major cities across Syria.
Thousands of protesters gathered in al-Hasakah, Daraa, Deir ez-Zor, and
Hama. There were some clashes with security, according to reports from
dissident groups. In Damascus, a smaller group of 200 men grew
spontaneously to about 1,500 men. Damascus has not seen such uprising since
the 1980s. The official Facebook page called *"Syrian Revolution 2011"*showed
pictures of supportive demonstrations in Cairo, Nicosia, Helsinki, Istanbul
and Berlin. There were also unconfirmed news that Syrian revolution
supporters of Libyan descent, stormed into the Syrian Embassy in Paris
After the first day of the uprising there were reports about approximately
3000 arrests and a few *"martyrs"*, but there are no official figures on
the number of deaths
Since that first day, the death toll has climbed towards 50,000, with
hundreds of thousands arrested or disappeared and half a million seeking
refuge outside of Syria.
New Syria policy needed
John Kerry has come a long ways since his first days as an anti-war
activist, as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as Obama's
man in Damascus, he put a lot of time and energy into a plan that depended
on the continued success of one man, or at a minimum, the regime that he
John Kerry had no illusion about what kind of government Assad ran; when he
co-sponsored the Syria Accountability Act in 2003 he
The Syrian government has historically ruled by methods such as torture,
arbitrary arrest and detention, prolonged detention without trial, and
limits on freedom of speech and the press.
Yet he bet on that government and he clung to the hope that Assad would
survive, and with him, all those plans the two of them had made together,
long after the revolution against his rule had begun. In June 2012, Klein
Halevy, a Jerusalem-based contributor to the New
meeting she had with Kerry in 2011:
Last year, I was part of a group of Israelis who met in Jerusalem with
Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. Mr. Kerry had just come from Damascus
with excellent news: Bashar al-Assad was ready for peace with Israel. When
one of the participants mentioned that demonstrations had begun to
challenge Mr. Assad’s legitimacy, Mr. Kerry’s response was: All the more
reason to negotiate while he’s still in power.
That was then and this is now. Clearly Assad's *"still in power"* days are
numbered. I'm sure John Kerry and everyone else in the Obama administration
realize that now. They refused any military aid to Assad's opposition and
even did their best to deny them heavy weapons, but that has only delayed,
at great human costs, the inevitable defeat of the Assad regime.
If and when John Kerry takes on the tasks of Secretary of State, I hope he
can grab something of the past from his own history as a protester and as a
soldier in a rebel army [VVAW <http://www.vvaw.org/
>] that can help him
relate to those who will most hopefully will be running Syria in the near
It looks very likely that Syria will be his first big foreign policy
challenge. He must realize that all the fancy plans he made over the years
with Assad are now as dead as Qaddafi.
He will now have to lead the United States in building a new relationship
to Syria with the knowledge that our recent actions and lack of
humanitarian concern, has done almost nothing to endear us to the Syrian
people, and he will rightfully be seen as one of the chief engineers of
John Kerry as he appears in my film Vietnam: American
What a long strange trip its been!
Here are my related diaries on Syria:
A Libyan rebel speaks out on Jihadists in
Does what Obama said at Newtown apply to
BREAKING: Heavy fighting in Damascus as coup attempt reported in
Assad's jets bomb Palestinian refugee
Jabhat al-Nusra is a Threat to the Syrian
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]