John Kerry: A Teeny, Tiny, Unbelievably Small Strike

by Bob Schwartz

Cruise Missile
Secretary of State John Kerry says the strike against Syria would be “unbelievably small” (“teeny, tiny” is inferred).

The job of Secretary of State is unbelievably big. More than just the nation’s chief diplomat, the secretary is in the line of presidential succession, following the Vice President, Speaker of the House and President Pro Tem of the Senate. Six American Presidents have served in the office, along with two of the most famous Chief Justices—John Jay and John Marshall—and an army of legendary figures, including Daniel Webster twice.

Throughout the Syria crisis so far, John Kerry has had some trouble when he speaks. His appearance before Congressional committees has been widely viewed as underwhelming. His comparing Assad to Hitler, talking about a “Munich moment,” was mostly ignored. And now he is trying to minimize attacking targets in Syria as “unbelievably small.” It isn’t clear that this is a diplomatic term of art. Hopefully, it is not a military term of art. If it is artful anywhere, it might find its place in a casual conversation between friends.

John Kerry has already been getting a pass from the media on past statements, no doubt out of respect for his no longer being a politician. So what he might have said as a Senator and presidential candidate may be out of bounds. Such as

“If you don’t believe…Saddam Hussein is a threat with nuclear weapons, then you shouldn’t vote for me.” February 11, 2003

The real dilemma is how to downplay the nature of the strike while maximizing its claimed ability to achieve either the stated aim to deter further chemical warfare or, as some would like it, to change the balance of power in the civil war. This is less like squaring the circle and more like rounding the tesseract (a four-dimensional cube).

Whatever the rhetorical trick that is being tried, it is not working. Or at least talking about a teeny, tiny, unbelievably small strike isn’t.