John Kerry’s First Foreign Trip Spells Out Foreign Policy Priorities. Relations With UK Is Not One Of Them
Henry Forth writes from London: British Foreign Secretary William Hague says he’s really looking forward to hosting the new US Secretary of State John Kerry on his visit to London. Mr Hague makes it sound as if Mr Kerry reckoned the first job to do when getting into Hillary Clinton’s office was to fly the Atlantic and chew the global fat with the Brits. This, of course, is total crap.
The new US Secretary of State is not keen on hearing Hague’s wisdom – why should he, no one else has in all the time William has been in office? Kerry is popping down to London before he gets to the really important itinerary: first stop Germany, then France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and, finally, Qatar.
All this in ten days. Okay, Britain and the US don’t have major differences on big global issues. But that’s mostly because the UK follows the US line on almost everything and the British voting record at the United Nations Security Council makes that pretty clear. The British are not exactly US lapdogs, but sometimes they look like ones.
Kerry has far bigger issues in other countries on this trip. Henry Kissinger used to say that if he wanted to call Europe, he didn’t know who to ring. Kerry would say: make sure you have the numbers of relevant people in Germany and that’s the first real stop in Continental Europe this week. The Americans see Germany bankrolling Europe and the euro and Kerry has the simple Wall Street philosophy: always follow the money.
But Kerry has something else going on in Germany: he has an affinity with Germany and the German people (which he does not with any other country because he lived in Berlin as a child). His father was a diplomat and as a dip-brat he grew up understanding that life needs passports.
Also, and it’s a very important also, Kerry is taking part in a youth question and answer session where the theme will be the state of US-European relations. The British would try (they failed) to do a similar Q&A but the question would be the state of US-UK relations. Yes Sir Mr Kerry, the vision thing – as George Herbert Walker Bush used to say – is not in the British line of sight.
In Paris, where his French is good enough to talk business, he’ll be getting briefed on what’s happening in Mali. The Americans are very quietly helping the French with satellite intelligence plus tactical drone feed-back and air-to-air refuelling. That is big involvement and Kerry knows how dangerous it is for US foreign policy to be in Africa. At the moment they have six military operations in sub-Saharan Africa. They are therefore, on a similar wavelength to the French.
Italy is almost a no-go area for visiting politicians. There’s the usual election crisis and a worrying immigration problem. That’s not Kerry’s thing this trip. But he will be doing something that again the Brits could not organise: Kerry is using the Italian stopover to hold talks with the Syrian Opposition Coalition. They want money, weapons and UN support. Kerry may be able to do one or two of those things but will be best prepared to do the money and weapons through Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Then Turkey, for loads of talks on Syria and counter-terrorism; and Cairo, to talk Syria and the Arab Spring with Arab League Secretary General Al-Araby.The Saudi Arabia meeting is about fixing security, basing American weapon systems and the most intriguing long term question of all: if Iran became a nuclear weapons power would the US support a Saudi Arabian nuclear programme. The present answer is probably not. Instead it would offer to station US nuclear warheads in the Gulf as a deterrent against any Iranian adventure, although Israel comes into that equation.
And here is the big gap in this trip. Kerry is not going to Israel where his old buddy Benjamin Netanyahu is the recently re-elected Prime Minister. Unless you happen to be doing Middle East peace talking and shuttling then it’s best to give the Israelis a wide berth – which Obama has done for four years anyway.
The way into the new Israeli dialogue – which inevitably includes what to do about Iran – is a separate issue on this trip.
Looking at the schedule, Kerry may be doing a flesh presser as the new kid on the international block. Not true. Every name and every eye contact on this whistle stop tells us that apart from China, Kerry is starting to fill in the State Department policy matrix for the rest of Obama’s time in the White House. He’s ticking most of the boxes in just ten days. As for Hague, he gives a good lunch.