John Kerry’s last hurrah: With the Syrian cease-fire, the secretary of state takes a parting swipe at Russophobia

John Kerry’s last hurrah: With the Syrian cease-fire, the secretary of state takes a parting swipe at Russophobia

The cease-fire ends his successful skirmish with the Pentagon, but the war will grind on long after Kerry is gone

Secretary of State John Kerry now gives us another “cessation of hostilities” agreement — a not-quite-cease-fire — as signed with Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, in the wee hours of last Saturday in Geneva. It is intended to halt the violence in Syria for a solid week, during which aid and relief agencies are to have safe passage to besieged towns and cities. If that goes according to plan, the American and Russian militaries are to coordinate air campaigns against the Islamic State and — in the best possible outcome — Syrians will finally set out on the path to a political settlement.

We will see. This is all one can say at the moment.

It is Kerry’s second such deal with Lavrov, a highly capable diplomat with whom the secretary has a close and respectful working relationship. And it is the ninth attempt — but who’s counting? — to resolve the crisis since the Arab League took two shots at it in late 2011. None of these has come to anything.

There are plenty of reasons to question whether this latest undertaking will get any further than the others, and we will get to those. There are more and better reasons to support the Kerry-Lavrov agreement, whatever its chances of survival. Setting aside — without diminishing — its worth on humane grounds alone, this accord brings us to a significant moment in post-Cold War American foreign policy. We must not miss this.

It has been clear for some years that the policy cliques in Washington have been approaching a decisive limit. It is not merely that the Bush II framework — flouting international law, intervening at will, “pre-emptive” war, “regime change,” “nation-building” and so on — can be carried no further. There is a larger point. Bush II strategy and tactics were never more than a radical version of policies pioneered decades ago by Woodrow Wilson — neo-neo-Wilsonianism, we can call it. And it is the Wilsonian tradition altogether, grounded in American claims to exceptionalism and universalism, that gradually passes into history as we watch and speak.

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