Secretary of State John Kerry has emerged—perhaps erupted is a better word—as the Obama Administration’s strongest advocate for punitive air strikes against the Assad regime. With his impassioned speech to a global audience at the State Department last Friday, Kerry pleaded for humanitarian intervention in Syria. (That, of course, was before President Obama on Saturday put the brakes on and decided to ask for congressional approval.)
With his testimony Wednesday, Kerry is now front and center of the effort to persuade Congress, which returns from recess on Monday, to authorize military action to deter the further use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians. As The Wall Street Journal put it, “Campaign Against Assad Defining Kerry Legacy.”
For the case made by the Obama Administration, the urgency over Syria’s use of chemical weapons has been nowhere in evidence until a few weeks ago. That is when the Syrian government reportedly used poison gas on 1,400 civilians east of Damascus, including, as is often pointed out, hundreds of children.
However, by the estimate of the British government, there have been as many as 14 previous instances of the use of poison gas in the course of Syria’s bloody two-year civil war. Though reports brought President Obama a year ago to make his famous “red line” comment (which he ignominiously) denied in Stockholm on September 4, no action was taken by the Administration.
In fact, rather than build a case in the international community for military intervention in the Syria conflict, which has claimed an estimated 100,000 lives and displaced millions, Kerry has been busy elsewhere. Having taken a stab at resolving the Syrian conflict at the Rome Conference in May, the bulk of Kerry’s time and effort have been spent trying to resolve the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, an issue that has defied all previous U.S. Secretaries of State since Israel was founded in 1948.
In July, Kerry personally brokered the latest round of Israeli–Palestinian peace talks in Washington. And since taking office in February, Kerry has personally engaged in shuttle diplomacy, meeting with leaders and refugees alike. He went in February, in March, in April, in May, in June, and in July to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority—more than any other places in the world.
In August, Kerry finally turned his attention to Syria. If he has difficulty persuading Congress of his seriousness, it is not hard so see why.