Kerry, McCain: Battle of the Nominees

Photograph by Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona in Washington, DC, on Sept. 18, 2013.

When two decorated Vietnam War veterans, both winners of their parties’ nominations for president — and both losers of the general election — square off over differences in foreign policy, a war of political nerve might ensue.

It did at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where Secretary of State John Kerry confronted Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona over the Obama administration’s negotiations on three fronts of a restive world.

Kerry, the 2004 Democratic nominee for president and silver- and bronze-star veteran of swift boat command in Vietnam, and McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee for president who flew bombers over Vietnam and spent five-and-a-half years in a Hanoi prisoner-of-war camp, dropped any decorum that two honored Naval officers might afford one another.

“I think you’re about to hit the trifecta,” McCain sardonically told Kerry yesterday of his personal efforts to negotiate a truce in Syria, a nuclear deal with Iran and peace in the Middle East. “Geneva II was a total collapse, as I predicted to you that it would be.”

“The Israeli-Palestinian talks are, even though you may drag them out for a while, are finished,” McCain told Kerry. “And I predict you, even though we gave the Iranians the right to enrich, which is unbelievable, those talks will collapse too.”

“Well, senator,” Kerry replied with teeth-clenched lips, “let me begin with the place that you began with your premature judgment about the failure of everything. I — so, you know, I guess it’s pretty easy to lob those judgments around, but — particularly well before the verdict is in on any of them.”

“Geneva II, my friend, I said will not succeed maybe for a year or two,” Kerry continued. “But if the truth is there’s no military solution and there is only a political solution, you have to have some forum in which to achieve it. You know, the talks on Vietnam — and you know this better than anybody — went on for how many years? Years. It took them a year to design the table to sit around.”

“Secondly, Israel-Palestine,” Kerry said. “It’s interesting that you declare it dead but the Israelis and the Palestinians don’t declare it dead. They want to continue to negotiate.”

“We’ll see, won’t we, Mr. Secretary?” McCain shot back.

“Well, yeah, we will see, but why declare it dead?” Kerry asked.

“It’s stopped,” McCain said. “It is stopped. Recognize reality.”

“OK, we’ll see where the reality is as we go down the road here,” Kerry said. “There’s serious problems. It’s a tough issue.”

McCain cited one of his heroes, Teddy Roosevelt, in saying the U.S. should speak softly and carry a big stick. The Obama administration, said the senator who lost to Obama in ’08, is speaking loudly and carrying a small stick.

“Your friend Teddy Roosevelt also said that the credit belongs to the people who are in the arena who are trying to get things done,” Kerry replied. “And we’re trying to get something done. That’s a Teddy Roosevelt maxism (sic), and I abide by it. I think it’s important to do.

“Sure we may fail,” Kerry said. “And you want to dump it on me? I may fail. I don’t care.

“It’s worth doing,” Kerry said. “It’s worth the effort. And the United States has a responsibility to lead, not always to find the pessimism and negativity that’s so easily prevalent in the world today.”

“I appreciate the time,” McCain told the committee chairman, “but facts are stubborn things, as Ronald Reagan used to say.”

Chairman Bob Menendez of New Jersey told the two: “I think you’ve both made your points.”




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