Secretary of State John Kerry's push for a new Mideast peace deal appears to be dead, denying him the world's largest feather in any diplomat's cap. At the same time, rival Hillary Clinton revealed that she'd like a little credit for Kerry's biggest accomplishment to date.
Kerry and Clinton want the same thing: recognition for their foreign policy prowess. They want it for different reasons. Kerry, denied the White House, would like a legacy as one of the foremost statesmen in American history. Clinton wants the White House. As The Wire noted last year, Kerry's sudden success and undeniable energy threatened to overshadow Clinton's more modest tenure — which was also burdened by the post-Bush transition period. With 2016 looming, that posed a problem for Clinton.
Had Kerry been the person to broker peace in the Middle East — often chased, never close — it would have cemented the distinction between the two. As of Friday, that dream is essentially dead.
Kerry on Tuesday proposed unusual measures aiming for an unusual outcome: simply keeping Israeli and Palestinian leaders at the table for negotiations. The New York Times now reports that Kerry has called for a "reality check" on the viability of the whole process, an indicator that a divide over the release of prisoners and the Palestinian Authority's application for independent recognition is irreconcilable. "There are limits to the amount of time and effort that the United States can spend if the parties themselves are unwilling to take constructive steps in order to be able to move forward," Kerry said.
Which leaves Kerry's record at State — which is still very young — somewhat iffy. He stumbled into a way to stumble back out of the White House's tricky position in Syria. Probably his biggest win has been brokering an intermediary deal with Iran on nuclear weapons.
That's what Clinton wants some credit for. At an event in New York last night, Clinton revealed that an entire chapter of her upcoming memoir is focused on the question of Iran, Politico reports. She wrote the chapter because "this is the kind of … painstaking, microscopic advantages and putting together the international coalition" that allow progress in diplomacy. Or, put another way, I am the giant on whose shoulders John Kerry currently stands. Clinton's work "changed the calculus inside the Iranian government," Politico reports her saying. "It took an enormous amount of effort on the part of a lot of us."
None of which is to say that Clinton is wrong. The thawing of ties between the U.S. and Iran certainly began with the election of Barack Obama, and involved a great deal of work while Clinton was still in D.C. Clinton's current position, though, won't let her rest on her laurels. And, of course, Kerry's won't let him rest on his.