Political Strategist: Kerry’s Gaffes ‘Undermine The White House’

By Matthew L. Higgins
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Secretary of State John Kerry answers reporters' questions during a joint news conference with European Union High Representative Lady Catherine Ashton in the Treaty Room at the State Department on May 6, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Secretary of State John Kerry answers reporters’ questions during a joint news conference with European Union High Representative Lady Catherine Ashton in the Treaty Room at the State Department on May 6, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — Is Secretary of State John Kerry hurting the White House’s credibility with his reported gaffes on the global stage?

In a closed-door meeting last month with a group of analysts and experts, Kerry reportedly warned that Israel could become “an apartheid state” if a two-state solution is not reached with the Palestinians.

“A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens – or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state,” Kerry said, according to a recording obtained by The Daily Beast. “Once you put that frame in your mind, that reality, which is the bottom line, you understand how imperative it is to get to the two-state solution, which both leaders, even yesterday, said they remain deeply committed to.”

Kerry’s reported comment faced bipartisan derision. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said on the Senate floor that Kerry should resign and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., stated that “any linkage between Israel and apartheid is nonsensical and ridiculous.”

Kerry, for his part, said he has never stated that Israel is an apartheid state, but in the same statement declared that he should have chosen a different word to describe his “firm belief” that to have Israel and Palestinians living side-by-side in peace is through a two-state solution.

The apartheid comment was just the latest comment from Kerry that had officials scratching their heads. Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote last month: “His buffoon-like gaffes and naïve insistence that negotiations on Syria, Iran and the Palestinian-Israeli ‘peace process’ aren’t dead already have made him the subject of derision.”

Time’s Michael Crowley reported last year: “The gaffes came in different flavors. One amounted to wishful thinking about American policy on drones. Another articulated U.S. policy towards Egypt with a bit too much candor.” Kerry suggested at the time that the Obama administration’s drone strikes policy in Pakistan could stop soon and that the Egyptian military was “restoring democracy” when they overthrew then President Mohamed Morsi, despite Morsi being democratically elected.

Chris Akins, a Republican campaign strategist and founder of Akins Campaign Strategy, said that what Kerry says privately is a reflection of President Barack Obama.

“I think it undermines the White House by essentially showing their private words do not back up their public statements and thus damages their credibility,” Akins told CBSDC. “These private statements probably reflect more accurately the administration’s world view, which is probably why their public actions in terms of Israel are not as supportive as past administrations, why drone strikes appear to be increasing, and Egypt is simply a mess.”

Akins believes that the White House could leak stories about Kerry to get him on the same page as Obama.

“Obama will likely tell Kerry to keep quiet and stick to the public talking points. Frequent turnover in those positions are not a sign of stability and would strike uncertainty and probably delight in other world leaders as they watch America twist which they see as leadership failure,” Akins stated.

Democratic strategist Bill Buck called Kerry’s reported apartheid comment a “clumsy analogy” and not a White House policy statement.

“At the end of the day, Secretary Kerry will be judged on his accomplishments in office and how he deals with the serious challenges America faces today,” Buck told CBSDC.

Buck called it an overblown story.

“Secretary Kerry has plenty of experience dealing with overblown stories pushed by the right-wing media outlets that have pounced on this story and are probably trying to find a Benghazi cover-up hook to it now,” Buck noted.

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, believes the American public hasn’t taken note of Kerry’s comments.

“Foreign governments have taken note but the American public hasn’t,” Sabato told CBSDC. “I see very little, if any, negative fallout for the administration.”

Sabato added that Kerry could accomplish more as secretary of state than Hillary Clinton.

“While Hillary Clinton was an international celebrity at State, it is difficult to point to big specific achievements. Kerry is lower profile and may have a chance to accomplish more,” Sabato noted.

Akins, though, believes that the harder Kerry tries, the less successful he will be.

“He would be best served to use his own strengths to accomplish the administration’s goals rather than worrying about how to emerge from Clinton’s shadow,” Akins said. “There are real lives, money, and international relationships at stake to worry about egos and his place in history.”

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