Remember how everyone laughed when U.S. President George W. Bush appeared unable to remember the ending of that saying: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Well nobody seems to be laughing, or even noticing, that President Bush's successor is allowing America's enemies to fool him repeatedly -- and that he is showing no apparent shame at all.
Take just two recent events: First, Iran. Over the ever-extending holiday period, while parts of America's foreign policy bureaucracy were still congratulating themselves over the success of the Geneva talks process, Iran showed not only what it thinks of that process but what it has been showing in plain sight for years.
For instance, since the signing of the Geneva agreement Tehran has pushed ahead with its creation of a nuclear bomb as if the agreement had never happened and this was all just business as usual. The Geneva deal included a "promise" from the Iranians not to bring any new centrifuges into operation for six months. Yet in the period since the "historic" signing of that agreement, Iran has continued to build second and third generation centrifuges to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels. Indeed while most people in the West were still finishing up their dessert, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi was boasting as much on Iranian state television. At the end of December he said, "We have two types of second-generation centrifuges... We also have future generations [of centrifuges] which are going through their test."
Of course for the few who did notice this, many others were still finding new ways in which to be fooled by the statement. For instance The Guardian newspaper in Britain unsurprisingly took that tack, willing not just themselves, but their readers, to be as fooled as well. The comments of Ali Akbar Salehi were simply Salehi's attempt "to placate hardline critics of Geneva nuclear deal," the paper claimed.
But at least The Guardian was noticing the events -- even while putting its inevitable spin on them. The U.S. Department of State seemed to have no particular response at all. But then to be fair to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, it is possible that he was too busy being fooled for the hundredth time over his other great foreign policy mission to notice he had been fooled for the umpteenth time in a year by the Iranians, too.
Because of course if there is one cause that Secretary Kerry is devoting even more of his time to than the matter of Iran's nuclear project, it is his attempt to be the person who solves the Israel-Palestinian dispute. Not for nothing has he been clocking up all those air-miles. No, Kerry has been managing to fly to the Middle East most months to engage with a party which even the kindest critic must admit makes the flaunting behaviour of the Iranian regime look positively secretive. He must hear the sound of Nobel Prizes ringing in his ears, or possibly a future run for the Presidency.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas share a jovial moment in Ramallah, on January 4, 2013. (Image source: U.S. State Department)
For let us not forget that the premise upon which Mr. Kerry's peace plan, indeed anybody's peace plan, must built, is the presumption that the talks are between two parties who are sincerely and demonstrably committed to peace and not on the determination of one to annihilate the other. That is the presumption from which Mr Kerry is starting, surely? So how to explain that on the Palestinian side there appears to be, not exactly for the first time in living memory, a certain number of problems of trust which are going unaddressed by Washington?
Take one of the senior Palestinian officials, a close associate of Mahmoud Abbas. During the same period that the Iranians were expressing their own particular intentions, it transpired again (exposed thanks to the invaluable vigilance of Palestinian Media Watch) that the Palestinians were doing exactly the same thing. In the last days of December, Fatah central committee member Abbas Zaki had posted an interview on his Facebook page which he had given to Syrian TV. In that interview, he makes the usual noises about the Palestinian Authority [PA] agreeing to a treaty with Israel if – and only if – a Palestinian state can established on the 1967 lines. So far, so good for Mr. Kerry. But then Mr. Zaki says something which should not be good for Mr. Kerry at all. For Mr. Zaki goes on to stress very clearly that the 1967 lines are not the final borders which he is looking to. No, the 1967 borders will only be the beginning. After that the plan is to continue to other ends. Or as Mr Zaki puts it:
"Even the most extreme among us, Hamas, or the fighting forces, want a state within the '67 borders. Afterward, we [will] have something to say, because the inspiring idea cannot be achieved all at once. [Rather] in stages."
Rather than a one-off piece of steam-letting off, or youthful exuberance, this is something of an idée fixe for Mr. Zaki. For instance, in a 2011 interview on Al-Jazeera, he mentions the same step-by-step plan. Asked by the interview why the PA does not come out more plainly with its intention of destroying the state of Israel, Mr. Zaki says, "You can't say it to the world. You can say it to yourself."
But, he is excited to say, if Israel returns to the 1967 lines, then it cannot survive and "Israel will come to an end." As he said, "the President [Mahmoud Abbas] understands, we understand, and everyone knows that it is impossible to realize the inspiring idea, or the great goal, in one stroke."
Both the Iranian and Palestinian statements occurred within only a few days over the holiday period. Yet the U.S. Administration and its vast bureaucracy of wishful-thinkers continue to be fooled. After being fooled a thousand or so times perhaps, there is no shame left to be felt. But for the rest of us there is only the remaining feeling that if there were any laughter to be had in all this, it ran out some time ago.