Opinion

David Rohde

John Kerry has not yet saved — or destroyed — the Middle East

David Rohde
Nov 27, 2013 03:20 UTC

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry appear to have run the table in Middle East diplomacy. An interim nuclear agreement with Iran has been reached, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are underway and peace talks to end Syria’s civil war are slated to begin in January.

For an administration under siege domestically, press coverage declaring the triumph of Obama diplomacy over Bush-era militarism is a political godsend.

But talk in Washington of a legacy-defining breakthrough for Obama is overstated and premature. So are the apocalyptic warnings of Iranian hegemony now coming from Jerusalem and Riyadh.

Fundamental differences must be overcome before a comprehensive nuclear pact with Iran, an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement or a Syria ceasefire can be brokered. In all three cases, the White House and Kerry ignored, avoided or fudged thorny issues — and declared success.

First of all, Kerry and the White House deserve praise for simply reaching this point. Defying deep skepticism in Washington and the region, they embarked on risky diplomatic overtures that ranged from Kerry’s quixotic public effort to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement to a secret meeting between American and Iranian officials in Oman last March.

John Kerry will not be denied

David Rohde
Nov 21, 2013 02:01 UTC

The secretary of state’s critics call him arrogant, undisciplined, and reckless — but his relentlessness in pursuit of negotiations might produce some of the most important diplomatic breakthroughs in years.

When John Kerry succeeded Hillary Clinton as secretary of state in February, Clinton’s emotional departure from the State Department received blanket media coverage. Kerry’s arrival received next to none.

“So here’s the big question before the country and the world and the State Department after the last eight years,” Kerry said in a speech to State Department employees on his first day on the job. “Can a man actually run the State Department? I don’t know.”

An epidemic of journalist kidnapping

David Rohde
Nov 15, 2013 23:19 UTC

Thirty journalists — half of them foreign reporters, half of them Syrian — have been kidnapped or gone missing in Syria, the Associated Press reported this week. The number is unprecedented. Syria today is the scene of the single largest wave of kidnappings in modern journalism, more than in Iraq during the 2000s or Lebanon during the 1980s.  A combination of criminality, jihadism and chaos is bringing on-the-ground coverage of the war to a halt.

In one of several alarming new trends that has emerged in Syria, jihadists are abducting reporters, holding them captive and making no demands for their release. Instead of requesting prisoner exchanges or ransoms, they hold journalists indefinitely as human bargaining chips for future use.

Matthew Schrier, a 35-year-old freelance American photographer abducted in Syria last December, said that his captors made no demands before he escaped after seven months in captivity. Instead, they asked for his online passwords and used his credit cards to buy Mercedes-Benz parts, Ray-Ban sunglasses, tablets and laptops.

How covert drone strikes turn murderers into martyrs

David Rohde
Nov 6, 2013 16:02 UTC

Five days after an American drone strike killed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Pakistani politicians are accusing the United States of “murder.” And a militant leader responsible for attacks that killed hundreds, if not thousands, of Pakistani civilians is being viewed as a victim.

On one level, the response was nothing new in the warped, post-2001 relationship between Pakistan and the United States. For 12 years, interactions between these purported “allies” have been marked by distrust, recriminations and lies.

American officials should admit that covert U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan are now counterproductive. The strikes cause Pakistanis to vilify the United States, glorify militants and coddle duplicitous elements of the Pakistani military.

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