“Western Imperialism” and the Secret Appointment of John Kerry

We have learned that President Obama appointed John Kerry to lead Iran negotiations years earlier than known.  This is explicable given Kerry’s history and the President’s goal of making Iran a regional power.

The Middle Eastern Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has translated a series of claims from Iranian officials to the effect that the nuclear negotiations began much earlier than has been revealed in Western media.  The major takeaway for most outlets has been that the negotiations did not start, as has been claimed by the United States administration, after Iran elected a more moderate President.  Rather, the negotiations process began while the President of Iran was the hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Of course, the President of Iran is not as central a figure as a president from another nation might be.  The true power under Iran’s constitution is vested in the Supreme Leader, not the elected president, and the Supreme Leader has not changed during this time period.  He was and is the Ayatollah Khamenei, most recently author of a work advocating ethnic cleansing.  What may be of greater significance than the revelation about Ahmadinejad, then, is the revelation that United States President Barack Obama appointed John F. Kerry to lead the negotiations over Iran from the American side while Kerry was still a sitting Senator and not a member of the administration.  It was only later, after United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stepped down to pursue her presidential campaign, that John Kerry was appointed to the position of Secretary of State.

Why John Kerry for this role while the Senator had other legislative duties, and not a career Foreign Service diplomat, or perhaps a presidential appointee from the academic world with specialized experience and education where Iran was concerned?  The President might have chosen anyone, but he selected his former colleague from the Senate.  What is there in John Kerry’s background that made him an ideal choice from the President’s perspective?

The President has stated several times that his goal for Iran is that it should become a successful regional power.  He repeated this statement most recently in July of this year.

Kerry’s history suggests that he has a world view highly sympathetic to goal of making Iran such a regional power.  As a young man in 1966, Kerry gave a speech still cited by partisans of Iran in which he declared that “Western imperialism” was more threatening than Communism.

This view is echoed several times in Kerry’s personal history.  Kerry made his name by informally and independently negotiating with regimes hostile to the United States.  In May of 1970, while a serving reserve Naval officer and without the permission of his chain of command, John Kerry met secretly with representatives of the North Vietnamese government.  On returning from these meetings in Paris, Kerry joined an organization called Vietnam Veterans Against the War, an organization so radical that it debated (though it tabled) a motion to assassinate American officials as part of its opposition to the war.  He was “immediately” appointed to the leadership committee of that organization, and began organizing anti-war activities designed to project an image of the American military as carrying out war crimes in Vietnam.  He returned to Paris to meet with the Communist leadership a second time in 1971.

Once he had been elected to the Senate, John Kerry’s work is credited with having exposed the Iran-Contra affair.  One might expect that Iran’s terrible human rights record would have been a very useful thing for his hearings to have focused on as a bludgeon against an administration that, then as now, was arranging to sell weapons to the mullahs.  However, the “Iran” side of Iran-Contra was a late development, and the Kerry report was too early to have explored it in depth.  Kerry’s interest was in Nicaragua, where he was able to leverage reports that the Contras were involved in drug dealing to obtain support from Republican Senator Jesse Helms for the investigation.

In 1985, Henry Kissinger accused John Kerry of interfering with diplomatic channels by engaging in direct negotiations with the Communist Sandinistas.  Kissinger said “we can’t be negotiating with our own Congressmen and the Nicaraguans simultaneously” over the removal of foreign – that is, Soviet-bloc – military and intelligence advisers to the Sandinistas.

It seems the reason that Kerry was the ideal choice for the Iran negotiations from the President’s perspective is that they share a basic world view.  The President’s ideal outcome for the negotiations is a strong Iran, an Iran capable of asserting itself as a regional power, and an Iran therefore made immune from Western imperialism.  Viewed in that light, the Iran deal must look like a historic success.