With multiple reports circulating that President Barack Obama will nominate Sen. John Kerry to be his next secretary of state, it’s worth remembering the praise the Democratic senator has in the past heaped on Syrian President Bashar Assad -- worthwhile since dealing with Assad’s crumbling regime and the militant Islamists who threaten it will likely be the top item on his foreign policy agenda if he takes office.
It wasn’t so long ago that Kerry made repeated pilgrimage to Syria, meeting with Assad five times between 2009 and 2011. Last year, he famously used the adjective “generous” to describe Assad, as the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens recalled in a column this past summer:
On March 16, 2011—the day after the first mass demonstration against the regime—John Kerry said Assad was a man of his word who had been "very generous with me." He added that under Assad "Syria will move; Syria will change as it embraces a legitimate relationship with the United States." This is the man who might be our next secretary of state.
As Michael Rubin recently wrote in Commentary Magazine, Kerry’s staffers described “their collective cringe when, after a motorcycle ride with Bashar al-Assad, he returned to Washington referring to Bashar as ‘my dear friend.’”
Jim Geraghty of the National Review reports that “as recently as February 2010, Kerry was telling Middle Eastern leaders that he believed Israel should return the Golan Heights to Syria.” Imagine the situation Israel would be facing today if it had heeded the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman’s advice. The strategic plateau overlooking all of northern Israel might today be on the verge of falling into the hands of Syrian homegrown terrorists and imported Al-Qaeda members.
Kerry clearly believed Assad was honest and a force for stability. The National Review quoted a WikiLeaks document which revealed Kerry had told the emir of Qatar in November 2010, “Assad is a man who ‘wants to change’ and that Israel should cede the Golan Heights to the Syrians ‘at some point.’”
The National Review detailed more about Kerry’s positive impression of Assad:
After a “long and comprehensive” meeting with Assad in April of that year, Kerry described it as “a very positive discussion.” A month later, Kerry was back in Syria. His spokesman, insisting that “Syria can play a critical role in bringing peace and stability if it makes the strategic decision to do so,” asserted that Kerry had “emerged as one of the primary American interlocutors with the Syrian government.” Despite the senator’s interlocutions, Assad, it appears, has made the wrong “strategic decision.”
Before Kerry took the stage at the Democratic National Convention in September, the Washington Free Beacon in an article titled “An Affair to Remember: John Kerry Hearts Bashar al-Assad” called Kerry the Syrian dictator’s "highest-ranking apologist in American politics":
Yet for all his admiration—his numerous trips to Damascus, his many public words of praise for Assad, his insistence over many years that the butcher of Damascus is a man of peace who seeks rapprochement with Israel and the United States—Assad has never repaid Kerry’s generosity with reforms.
Kerry thwarted efforts during the Bush administration to diplomatically isolate Syria after the administration’s own efforts to engage the regime ended in failure in 2003. Kerry served as the Obama administration’s envoy to Assad, leading a delegation to Syria just days after Obama’s inauguration. There he listened to Bashar Assad lecture him that Washington must “move away from a policy based on dictating decisions.”
The Beacon pointed out that even the Washington Post referred to Kerry as one of Assad’s "prominent admirers" in the United States. This, despite the fact that Assad has been a key backer of the terrorist group Hezbollah and that his regime possesses one of the world’s largest stocks of chemical weapons, including the nerve agents sarin and VX.
Already the Twitterverse is chiming in, with London-based Syrian broadcaster Rana Kabani posting: "Remember when he [Kerry] pontificated that genocidal maniac was a reforming kinda guy?"
Jonathan Schanzer, Middle East scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies also tweeted about the news of Kerry’s upcoming nomination, saying: “Assad cheers from Syria.”
If Kerry is confirmed as secretary of state, questions remain: What words will he use to describe Assad now that nearly 40,000 have been killed in the country's 21-month conflict? Will Kerry continue to pressure Israel to give up the Golan Heights?
In light of Kerry’s history of appeasing Assad, will Susan Rice’s congressional opponents rue the day the United Nations ambassador took her name out of the running?