Are John Kerry's Mideast Adventures Fueled by Rage at Losing the Presidency?

Losing to George W. Bush and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth clearly still hurts, a devastating New Yorker profile discloses.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry steps off a plane upon arrival at Ciampino Airport near Rome, December 13, 2015.
AP

David Remnick’s devastating profile  of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in this week’s New Yorker, entitled "Negotiating the Whirlwind," reminds me of the advice an editor of the Chicago Tribune liked to give — to write so deftly that their subject isn’t aware he’s been decapitated until he tries to walk away. Remnick gives a clearer glimpse than anything I’ve read of what Israel has been up against with Kerry, an antagonist still seething with anger at having been humiliated in the 2004 presidential election — by George W. Bush, no less, and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

This is dealt with in the opening paragraphs of a profile that is about Kerry’s mission in the Middle East. Kerry is still fit to be tied over the fact that he, a veteran of Vietnam, was defeated by a candidate who had secured a stateside position in the Texas Air National Guard. Kerry is furious, too, that his defeat was accomplished by an uprising of veterans of the very armada of Swift Boats in which Kerry had served. They had challenged — or exposed the sham of, the Swift Vets for Truth would say — the war medals that Kerry once threw away in protest.

Remnick doesn’t get into the details (nor did he need to), but the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth also reminded voters of Kerry’s 1971 testimony before the Senate, where the future secretary of state, after meeting with enemy envoys in Paris, likened his fellow GIs to Genghis Khan and accused them of committing war crimes. When Senator George Aiken had asked him whether the North Vietnamese would have helped our GIs carry their bags as they quit Vietnam, Kerry had evoked laughter and applause by joking that the enemy would be more prone to do that than our South Vietnamese allies.

Anyhow, Remnick reports that Kerry is still “furious” with his campaign strategist, Robert Shrum, and other advisers who had “restrained” Kerry from hitting back at the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. And no wonder. When their charges were put to the American voters — in effect a vast jury — the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth won an unambiguous victory. Challenges to the congressional certification of the vote in Ohio — which Bush won by 118,601 votes — were rejected by 74 to 1 in the Senate and 267 to 31 in the House. That clearly still hurts.

Why Kerry has had to take it all out on Israel is the part that gets me. One would think that with a fortune at his disposal — Remnick quotes reports that in 2004 Kerry’s wife was worth a billion dollars — Kerry might have gone on to enjoy life. Yet he went from losing an election to negotiating with Iran a pact of appeasement that is opposed by a majority in both houses of Congress and inking a climate agreement that even he admits is designed to evade the fact that it could not come even close to ratification in the Senate of which he once was a member.

A screenshot of David Remnick's profile of John Kerry in the New Yorker.
Screenshot

At one point, Remnick reports, Kerry invited him home for dinner with his wife in their 23-room mansion in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington. There Remnick asked him how long he carried around a sense of anger and resentment. “I didn’t carry it,” Remnick quotes the secretary as insisting. “I didn’t. I didn’t.” Kerry insisted his wife was mad at him for not carrying his anger around longer. The bilious billionairess promptly exclaimed, “I’m still carrying it.” 

It’s a long and rich profile, in which but one scoop is how openly derisive Kerry is about Israel and his warnings that the chance for a two-state solution is slipping away. (When computers were first giving editorial writers a way to scan vast news databases, I once searched for “last chance” within a few words of Middle East peace and discovered more than 700 such references within but a few years; that was a generation ago.) The best way to interpret Kerry’s harping on this head is as a state secretary covering his own reputational risk.

Remnick ends his dispatch with a visit Kerry made to Arlington National Cemetery. He’d gone to visit the grave of his friend, Lieutenant Richard Pershing, who fell in Vietnam and who rests beside is grandfather, John J., leader of our expeditionary force in World War I and one of two Americans who held the rank of general of the armies (Washington was the other). Remnick describes the secretary ambling alone through the glorious gravestones, and I can’t help wondering whether Kerry was thinking of whether he might eventually find peace there among those he once likened to Genghis Khan.

Seth Lipsky is editor of The New York Sun. He was foreign editor and a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, founding editor of the Forward and editor from 1990 to 2000.