U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry v. His Subordinate Victoria Nuland, Regarding Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, on May 12th, responding to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s assertions that Ukraine will retake Crimea and will conquer Donbass:

“I have not had a chance – I have not read the speech. I haven’t seen any context. I have simply heard about it in the course of today. But if indeed President Poroshenko is advocating an engagement in a forceful effort at this time, we would strongly urge him to think twice not to engage in that kind of activity, that that would put Minsk in serious jeopardy. And we would be very, very concerned about what the consequences of that kind of action at this time may be.”

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European & Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland, as communicated by the U.S. State Department’s Press Office on May 15th, reiterating Poroshenko’s view:

“Assistant Secretary Nuland’s ongoing visit to Kyiv and her discussions with Prime Minister [Arseniy] Yatseniuk and President [Petro] Poroshenko reaffirm the United States’ full and unbreakable support for Ukraine’s government, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. We continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Ukraine and reiterate our deep commitment to a single Ukrainian nation, including Crimea, and all the other regions of Ukraine.”

Will John Kerry reprimand his subordinate for her contradicting what he, her boss, had said three days earlier? If not, then will President Barack Obama fire his Secretary of State John Kerry? If not, then will Victoria Nuland be fired? If not, then who is to trust anything that comes from the U.S. State Department, when the Secretary of State can be contradicted three days later by his subordinate, and both remain in their respective jobs?

Vladimir Putin receiving US Secretary of State John Kerry in Sochi, May 12, 2015
Vladimir Putin receiving US Secretary of State John Kerry in Sochi, May 12, 2015

Republicans are already preparing to weaken Kerry over this. The far-right news-site “Frontpage Mag” headlined on May 21st, “John Kerry’s Seven Hours of Weakness in Russia,” and condemned the “attempt by Kerry to re-set the ‘re-set’ button [on U.S. policy toward Russia] first pushed by his predecessor, Hillary Clinton.” The special subject of their ire: “The promise of ‘rolling back’ the mild sanctions regime the West imposed on Russia on account of Putin’s annexation of Crimea and support of separatist rebels was bandied about, if only Russia would behave in the future.” But winning changes in behavior is what international diplomacy is supposed to be all about — otherwise the State Department wouldn’t even be needed, and only the Pentagon would handle America’s foreign relations.

If Victoria Nuland stays in her job, then John Kerry will be neutered even if he’s not fired.

The only person with the power to fire Nuland is actually U.S. President Barack Obama. Perhaps the request for him to do that is already on his desk. If it’s not, then Kerry’s job is in jeopardy, because his diplomatic efforts can be obliterated by a subordinate and that subordinate will suffer no penalty for doing this. Nobody then would respect anything that the U.S. Secretary of State says, because it wouldn’t necessarily represent the President’s policies. If the Secretary of State isn’t backed up by the President, then the Secretary of State has no real power at all.

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and Feudalism, Fascism, Libertarianism and Economics.

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