John Kerry is becoming more and more like William McGonagall, the “worst poet in the world” whose horror at the 1879 Tay Bridge railway disaster yielded the imperishable observation that it “will be remember’d for a very long time”.
Like McGonagall’s verse, Kerry’s attempts to explain America’s crusade against its latest evil enemy are so awful, they are addictive. Just when you think that Kerry’s lame explanation to American politicians of Obama’s Iraqi crusade – “[Isis] has to be defeated, plain and simple, end of story” – can’t get any more childish, it does.
For sheer infantilisme – the French word captures it best – I dare readers to wade through the following claptrap without a snort of disbelief. “I want to make sure that by the time we’re done here today, I’ve heard from you, I know what you’re thinking,” quoth Kerry to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, “and you’ve heard from me and you know what we’re thinking, what the [Obama] administration is thinking, and that you have a clear understanding of what it is that we have done so far, of how we see this and how, hopefully, we can come to see it together, what we’re doing now and of where we go next.” It was all very complex, he said – and will also, no doubt, “be remembered for a very long time”.
Most immediately shocking was the Obama fantasy world which Kerry, in his clod-hopping, schoolboy way, represented. Anyone who has studied Syria from afar, let alone those who go there, know that the fictional “moderate opposition” – supposedly deserters from the Syrian government army – does not exist. Corrupted, disillusioned, murdered or simply re-defected towards Isis or some other al-Qaeda outfit, the old “Free Syrian Army” is now a myth as ridiculous – and as potent for the Kerrys of this world – as Mussolini’s boast that the Italian army could defeat the British in North Africa. Any Syrian soldier will tell you that they are happy to fight the FSA because these warriors of the “moderate opposition” always run away. It is the al-Qaeda-Nusra-Isis “terrorists” who fight to the death.
But Kerry, like the generals of the First World War, is in an ornate chateau of his own imagination. “In Syria, the on-the-ground combat will be done by the moderate opposition, which is Syria’s [sic] best counterweight to extremists like [Isis],” he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “And we can talk more about that moderate opposition – what it looks like, who it is, what they’re capable of today, what they could be doing – as we go forward.” Like Generals Haig and French, Kerry dreamed on.
The FSA, he said, had been fighting Isis for two years – in Idlib, Aleppo, around Damascus and Deir Ezzor – while the Syrian government, Kerry insisted, is not fighting or will not fight Isis. This is nonsense. Most of the Syrian army’s 35,000 dead were killed in action against al-Qaeda and Isis. And the only other boots-on-the-ground forces confronting Isis are the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards alongside the Kurds.
To exalt the “moderate opposition” two days before Isis’s latest victories bring them to the very border of Turkey is preposterous. And what statesman illustrates his contention that Sunnis and Shias are in alliance with America by brandishing the front page of The Wall Street Journal upon which a Kurdish leader, an Iraqi Shia minister and the Sunni foreign minister of Saudi Arabia are pictured together? Kerry praised Saudi clerics for condemning Sunni Isis without mentioning that many prominent Saudi imams spend far more time decrying America. Nor could he refer to the Pakistani clerics who have also declared Isis a heretical force – because, of course, they spend as much time accusing the Saudis of funding it.
Like Cameron, Kerry uses the words of false self-confidence. The US “rightfully, absolutely” had to support the Iraqi government’s efforts, and there is “absolute clarity” that America has blunted Isis. As for the “Islamic State” itself, it was an “insulting distortion of Islam”, “an enemy of Islam”, a “militant cult masquerading as a religious movement” of “cold-blooded killers” whose philosophy “comes out of the Stone Age”. What is this? Once we claimed that Isis came from the Middle Ages, then the eighth century. Now it seems it came from 2,000BC.
Thank heavens we have General John Allen – who not long ago was proposing “security” guarantees for the Jordan Valley which both Palestinians and Israelis turned down – to sort things out in Iraq. He’s the former deputy commander of Iraq’s Anbar province, a man – according to Kerry – with “great respect” in the region, with “knowledge of the Sunni tribes” and – a real McGonagall moment, this – “of all the folks there that are part of the mix to be able to mobilise action”. No wonder Kerry also told the world that, of America’s 50 international anti-Isis allies, some would engage in “kinetic activities”. I bet they will. Though I’ll also wager you won’t be seeing an Arab air force joining the Franco-American air bombardment.
What we can’t be told by Kerry is as simple as he claims the struggle against Isis to be: that there will have to be a Western alliance – of some sort – with Iran to defeat Isis, that this will inevitably have to include an unspoken understanding with Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, even with the ghastly, unthinkable, “super-terrorist” Hezbollah guerrillas who – unlike Kerry’s description of Isis – do not go around “killing and raping and mutilating women” or selling off girls “to be sex slaves to jihadis”.
But for a man who thought he could stitch up a Palestinian-Israeli peace in 12 months, what else can you expect? Yes, Isis is the latest monster to taunt us. But isn’t there another one, not that far away, which is a threat to us all and which really has “to be defeated, plain and simple”. It is threatening to kill infinitely more people than Isis. It’s named after an obscure African river. So where are the calls for a 50-nation alliance to destroy Ebola?