Israel, Palestine, Iran, Russia, China ... that's quite an in-tray for John Kerry


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The Independent Online

Thomas Friedman, who tends to be rather well briefed by the White House, calls it about right today in his welcome note to John Kerry, the former Democrat candidate for President who will replace Hillary Clinton as America's Secretary of State. Friedman says "there is no one better for the job and no worse job to have today". Except for President, presumably.

Anyway, Friedman has some pretty radical advice.

"So what’s a secretary of state to do? I’d suggest trying something radically new: creating the conditions for diplomacy where they do not now exist by going around leaders and directly to the people. And I’d start with Iran, Israel and Palestine. We live in an age of social networks in which every leader outside of North Korea today is now forced to engage in a two-way conversation with their citizens. There’s no more just top-down. People everywhere are finding their voices and leaders are terrified. We need to turn this to our advantage to gain leverage in diplomacy."

"Let’s break all the rules".

Is this even remotely sensible?

Say you're a lower middle-class Egyptian. You have a bunch of different people to listen to, starting with friends and family. Then maybe local and regional politicians. Finally, your own ruling class. Is the appeal to your heart made by an incoming American Secretary of State really likely to trump that being said by your own leaders? What if the two conflict? Who better commands your allegiance?

And say you're an Egyptian politician. If John Kerry and his crew decide to "go around" you, and engage directly with the people, won't you feel affronted?

As ever, Friedman's thesis is provocative if not persuasive. One thing he does seem to grasp is that, as inboxes go, Kerry's is a monster. Good luck to him!