William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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AJAMI NAILS IT AGAIN – AT 9:35 A.M. ET:  There is no better commentator on the Mideast than Fouad Ajami.  John Kerry is making his first stab at the Mideast mess as secretary of state, and Ajami is on his case, for good reason.  From The Wall Street Journal:

The latest meeting comes Thursday in Rome, where Secretary of State John Kerry's get-to-know-you European tour will bring him together with the Friends of Syria—and with representatives of the Syrian rebellion. The Friends of Syria would like to broker peace negotiations, but what the Syrian opposition wants and needs is not negotiations: The rebels want to overthrow the murderous Assad regime. Walid Bunni, a spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition, told Al Arabiya television Monday that opposition leaders would attend the Rome meeting following assurances that the U.S. and the U.K. would increase direct aid to the rebels. The group would go to Rome, he said, and "see if the promises are different this time."

Mr. Kerry, for his part, promises a new beginning: "We are determined that the Syrian opposition is not going to be dangling in the wind wondering where the support is or if it's coming," he said Monday. "We are determined to change the calculation on the ground for President Assad."

Yet the European arms embargo remains in place and official U.S. policy remains "nonlethal" aid only. If Mr. Kerry merely picks up where his predecessor had left off, there is no salvation in sight for the Syrian people. For the length of two brutal years, while tens of thousands died, Hillary Clinton engaged in "lead from behind" diplomacy and ran out the clock on the Syrian rebellion.

And...

American passivity proved contagious. In the face of that passivity, other powers held back. A ramshackle Syrian army was depicted as a mighty force, so much so that the vastly superior forces of the Turkish state overlooked countless Syrian provocations, and the Syria-Turkey border had to be defended by Patriot missiles provided by NATO.

That passivity was of no small consequence to the Sunni Arab states as well. The fight for Damascus, and the specter of an Iranian victory as it backs Assad in that big Sunni-Shiite struggle, terrifies the moderate Arab regimes. But they, too, have not given this fight their all. Largely because they haven't had the U.S. to lead them.

This is "the East," with a scent for power and weakness, with a feel for the intentions and the staying power of strangers. Syria is the place where the will of Iran could be broken.

Daily, it seems, we warn Iran of the consequences of its defiance and of its pursuit of nuclear weapons. But could it be that the Iranian theocrats pay U.S. power little heed because they see American passivity not so far from them?

COMMENT:  If Obama is the king of weakness, Kerry is its prince, and Hagel its court jester.  I cannot recall a single major foreign-policy issue where Kerry has been right.  He was the one who famously went to Moscow in the 1980s and announced that the USSR was no great threat to America because half the lights were out in the airport.  He presumably was never taken aboard a Soviet nuclear missile submarine. 

We have a poor team in place, and no time to waste.  Obama and company will still figure out a way to waste it.

February 28, 2013