A Deal's a Deal

"I brokered a deal." (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

A couple decades or so ago I had a conversation with a well-meaning environmentalist, who was going on and on about how the Soviet Union had actually bested the United States in wildlife protection.


“Oh? How?” I asked.

“They passed a law protecting the Siberian tiger.”

“Really? Well, you realize the law doesn’t really matter because the Soviets also poisoned the fresh water in Lake Baikal and pretty much everything else they touch.”

“But they passed a law,” the well-meaning environmentalist insisted.

“I understand that. But the law over there doesn’t mean anything. If Gorbachev or anybody powerful decided to fly out to Siberia and shoot a bunch of tigers, nobody could stop them.”

“But they passed a law.”

“You realize the only reason the Soviets ever do stuff like that is to dupe concerned people just like you?

“But they passed a law.”

That’s when I gave up trying. The conversation wasn’t a total loss, however. I might have failed to impress the well-meaning environmentalist with any facts, but I learned a valuable lesson: For some people, reason and facts simply stop at “They passed a law.” Human law can suspend the laws of physics, the laws of economics, and pretty much anything else, simply because… because it can, that’s why.

As I’ve grown older and more understanding (Shut up — I have, really), I don’t worry much about that kind of magical thinking in pretty young college sophomores who haven’t yet had the real world knock them around any.


But what do you say when you encounter that kind of magical thinking in the Secretary of State of the most powerful nation in the world?

If I were to ask John Kerry about the Syria ceasefire he brokered, it might go something like this.

“Mr. Secretary,” I’d ask oh-so-politely, “You had to know going in that the Russians were going to keep bombing whom they pleased.”

“Yes,” Kerry would gravely intone, “but I brokered a deal.”

“But it’s not really a deal if we honor it but the Russians don’t,” I’d insist.

“I brokered a deal.”

“Your deal has already fallen apart, just like the critics said it would.”

“I brokered a deal.”

At this point I’d probably have to change the subject, and bring up the multi-power agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. I could mention the fact that Iran never signed the deal, and Kerry would probably just remind me that “I brokered a deal.” I’d say that the only concrete effects of the deal was to give Iran back billions of dollars, and let them modernize their armed forces. And again I’d be told that “I brokered a deal.” I might try bringing up the arms race brewing on both sides of the Persian Gulf, thanks to Iran’s military shopping spree, only to be told one more time that “I brokered a deal.”


Is the deal any good? Is the deal at least an improvement on the status quo? Can the deal be enforced? Is the deal in our best interests, or those of our allies?

None of that matters, because it seems that for our frenetically inefficacious Secretary of State, the activity itself is his achievement.

Did he have to beg and scrape just to get the Mullahs to the negotiating table? Sure, but Kerry got a deal. Does Saturday’s ceasefire agreement merely provide legal cover for further Russian atrocities? Sure, but Kerry got a deal. Has Kerry’s anti-ISIS coalition failed to stop ISIS? Sure, but Kerry got a deal.

Any parent of young children can tell you that the only way for them (and you) to survive summer vacation is to give the kids plenty of activities. Arts & crafts, dog walks, squirt guns, a trampoline, trips to the McDonalds Playplace — it doesn’t really matter what the activity is, so long as it keeps them busy and, most importantly, too busy to get into any serious trouble.

If only someone could figure out how to do the same for our Secretary of State.


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