Commentary Magazine


What is the Kerry Doctrine?

The record of any senator—be they Democratic or Republican—is often at contradiction with itself for a number of reasons: The sheer number of votes cast; the bundling of unrelated issues into a single bill; and the tendency of senators to vote more upon poll numbers than principle. John Kerry typified this in his 2004 presidential run when he explained he was for the Iraq war before he was against it.

As secretary of state, Kerry may already be defining his legacy. Alas, it appears to prioritize the superficial over the substantive. His early travels—which come despite demands for better management back home—suggests Kerry wants to set the record for secretarial travel, rather than craft–let alone preside over–a coherent strategy.

Now, there are signs that when confronted with a diplomatic problem, Kerry would rather sweep it under the rug to preserve the optics of success, rather than tackling the substance of the problem. Hence, the “compromise” in which Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will delay his visit to the Gaza Strip until after he meets with President Obama at the White House on May 9.

“Erdoğan’s statement came a few days after he met U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Istanbul. Kerry advised the Turkish side to reconsider the timing of the prime minister’s planned visit to Gaza,” Hürriyet Daily News reported.

Erdoğan does not support the Palestinian Authority per se, but rather is a partisan of Hamas. While many U.S. diplomats are prone to describing Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) as a moderate Muslim movement, the fact remains that the AKP and Hamas share the same Muslim Brotherhood roots. U.S. policy opposes bolstering Hamas, as Hamas’s rejectionism not only surpasses that of the Palestinian Authority, but also because Hamas refuses to recognize any of the diplomatic agreements with Israel which the Palestinian Authority have already signed. Erdoğan, however, seeks not peace but populism regardless of its impact on regional security.

Kerry—and Obama—might have told Erdoğan to decide whether he wants the meeting with President Obama, or if he wants to tour the Gaza Strip. He shouldn’t get both. Kerry’s compromise, however, is simply to ask Erdoğan to delay his rejectionism by a couple weeks so that the Obama team need not deal with the reality of their partner. So what is the Kerry doctrine? Alas, it appears it is to log as many miles as possible while simultaneously using slight-of-hand to avoid the tough work of diplomacy.