It was just a couple of months ago that John Kerry told the Council on Foreign Relations of his inclination, should he win the White House, to appoint Jimmy Carter, James Baker or Bill Clinton as a Middle East peace process envoy.
The backpedaling began soon thereafter in the face of criticism over the inclusion of Carter and Baker in Kerry’s dream troika, and it intensified in the days leading up to this week’s New York Democratic primary. The Kerry campaign put out the word that the problematic remark was purely a staff error, a theme elaborated on by New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Kerry supporter, in a conference call with reporters.
“I spoke to [Kerry] about that very issue, saying that was not something that was going to be very popular in the Jewish community,” said Silver. “John Kerry assured me that neither Jimmy Carter nor Baker would be his choice. Kerry is saying, “Look, this is a mistake.” ”
According to a report in the Forward, Silver said Kerry told him that when he realized staffers had inserted the names of Carter and Baker into a draft of his speech, “he had requested they be removed, but was told that the draft remarks already had been distributed to reporters, so there was no way to deliver the speech minus the names without causing a stir.”
Well, thanks to some dogged research by Rick Richman, who maintains the excellent blog Jewish Current Issues, Kerry’s excuse has been stripped bare. Richman compared the “as prepared for delivery” version of Kerry’s speech on Kerry’s website with what Kerry actually said, based on the transcript of the speech as it was actually delivered (posted on the Council on Foreign Relations website) and here’s what he found:
Prepared remarks: “…I will appoint a Presidential Ambassador to the Peace Process who will report directly to me and the Secretary of State – and who will work day-to-day to move that process forward. There are a number of uniquely qualified Americans who I would consider appointing, including: President Carter, former Secretary of State James Baker, or, as I suggested almost two years ago, President Clinton.”
Actual speech (note Kerry’s added comments): “…I will appoint a presidential ambassador to the peace process who will report directly to me and the secretary of State, and who will work day to day to move that process forward. There are a number of uniquely qualified Americans among whom I would consider appointing, including President Carter, former Secretary of State James Baker or, as I suggested almost two years ago, President Clinton. And I might add, I have had conversations with both President Clinton and President Carter about their willingness to do this, and I think they would welcome it and embrace it as a means of moving forward.”
Obviously Kerry was not simply reciting the words of a staffer. But there’s more. In a question-and-answer session after the speech, Kerry again mentioned Carter and Baker: “I think Jim Baker made 14 trips there. I know he wasn’t all that popular at the end of a number of them and there were some issues. But Larry Eagleburger, Brent Scowcroft. There’s great talent out there with people who have been through this. And it’s astonishing to me that we are not picking up somewhere near where we left off at Taba…. I was in the Middle East after September 11. I met at length with President Mubarak, with Crown Prince Abdullah, with King Abdullah, with Prime Minister Sharon, with Arafat in the West Bank. All of them. And every single leader, including our own ambassador, said to me, “Senator, where is General Zinni? Why isn’t there a special envoy here? This is a moment of opportunity.”… And I believe that a special envoy of the quality of President Clinton or of President Carter, or a combination of people, bipartisanly, would have the ability to be able to raise the day-to-day diplomacy to a level that helps to give strength to those who seek peace.”
Richman sums it up perfectly: Kerry “met with Arafat. After September 11. After Bill Clinton blamed Arafat for the Oslo collapse. After George W. Bush refused to meet with Arafat. After Arafat had commenced a barbaric war against Israel. After that – and in the midst of that – he meets with Arafat. And he came away from that meeting thinking the answer is to appoint Jimmy Carter as presidential envoy and start the negotiations with Taba.