• Thankless job
    July 15,2014

    There may be no way to objectively assess the effectiveness of an American secretary of state, but even those who may not share his political views must recognize that John Kerry has been one of the busiest — and probably one of the most frustrated — to ever occupy that critical position.

    He is confronted with many seemingly intractable international problems at the same time. Kerry has to convey the United States’ policy preferences in the complicated Ukraine crisis while simultaneously attempting to be a positive influence in the endless struggle between Israel and Palestine.

    As he attempts to argue on behalf of Washington — and the cause of world peace — on both of these major issues, Kerry must also do his best to keep talks with Iran about that nation’s nuclear policies headed in the direction the United States and our allies feel is absolutely essential.

    Consider Kerry’s latest achievement: During the weekend, he persuaded both candidates for president of Afghanistan to agree to a total audit of all 8 million votes cast in that troubled nation’s June 14 runoff election. And he was instrumental in reaching an agreement to fundamentally alter the form of the Afghan government, shifting some of the power from the president to a prime minister.

    After 12 hours of going back and forth between the candidates and their supporters in separate rooms at the U.S. Embassy, Kerry got the bitter rivals to agree to abide by the results of the audit and that those results would pave the way for a unity government.

    “Every single ballot that was cast will be audited,” Kerry announced as the rival candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, stood beside him.

    Both candidates had claimed victory, although the official tally showed Ahmadzai leading by a million votes and thus having the most to lose by going along with Kerry’s plan. The winner will succeed Hamid Karzai, who is ineligible for another term as president.

    Abdullah had gone so far as to threaten to form his own government, despite Ahmadzai’s winning margin, a development that raised fears that in doing so he would inevitably expose deep fractures among Afghanistan’s ethnic groups at a time when American troops are planning to leave.

    “This is unquestionably a tense and difficult moment,” Kerry acknowledged, “but I am very pleased that the two candidates who stand here with me today and President Karzai have stepped up and shown a significant commitment to compromise.”

    The audit is to begin immediately and take several weeks to complete, possibly delaying the scheduled Aug. 2 inauguration of the new president.

    Afghanistan has been riddled with problems for generations, and the pending withdrawal of American troops could complicate the quest for peace and stability.

    It was significant that Kerry and Karzai, a frequent critic of the United States in general and President Barack Obama in particular, congenially stood together in the weekend’s events at the U.S. Embassy.

    Kerry and Karzai have a lot of personal history, going back to 2009 when Kerry represented Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate and was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It was then that he persuaded Karzai to accept a runoff in the hotly contested presidential election.

    Four years later, Kerry was back in Kabul trying to get Karzai to stop publicly accusing the United States of seeking to destabilize Afghanistan. Later that same year, Karzai refused to sign a bilateral security agreement that Kerry had a role in constructing.

    Consider Kerry’s agenda: Afghanistan. Ukraine. The seemingly implacable hostility between Israel and Palestine. Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The jihadist threat in Iraq and Syria.

    He has an awesome task, and he’s giving it — and us — his best.

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