Imagine a world in which the Middle East is not descending into carnage and chaos but is on the brink of a monumental series of breakthroughs.
In this world in spring 2014, Iran's nuclear program has been secured and Egypt has become a liberal democracy. Syrian dictator Bashar Assad has stepped aside. And, not least, Israelis and Palestinians have settled on the terms for a Palestinian state.
This is the world that John Kerry inhabited as he shuttled across the world last week: a fantastical realm created by his billowing vision of what he can accomplish as Secretary of State.
Meanwhile, on this planet, aid agencies reported starvation and an outbreak of polio in Syria; Egypt's last elected president was put on trial; Israeli and Palestinian leaders described their U.S.-brokered peace talks as broken; and France's foreign minister suggested the would-be accord with Iran was "a fool's game."
Call it Kerry's Magical Mystery Tour. On Nov. 3 in Cairo, he announced that "the road map to democracy in Egypt is being carried out to the best of our perception," after failing even to mention the politicized prosecution of deposed president Mohammed Morsi.
On Tuesday, Kerry offered the following explanation of why the Syrian peace conference he's pushing will succeed: "The Assad regime knows full well that the purpose of" the conference is "the installation of a provisional government."
And "the Syrian government has accepted to come to Geneva." It apparently follows that Assad will show up and placidly agree to hand over power. If not, Kerry ventured, "the Russians and the Iranians . . . will make certain that the Syrian regime will live up to its obligation."
Kerry's optimism was far from exhausted. His next stop was devoted to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, both of whom had broken a vow of silence to say the negotiations Kerry persuaded them to begin in July had gone nowhere. Not to worry, said Kerry: "I am convinced from my conversations" with them "that this is not mission impossible; this can happen."
All this was all before his weekend trip to Geneva for what became a failed attempt to close a deal with Iran on its nuclear program. Kerry's conclusion: "I can tell you, without any reservations, we made significant progress."
Stipulated: The mission of the U.S. secretary of state is to tackle big problems diplomatically, even if it means taking on missions impossible. Still, it's hard to think of a previous chief of Foggy Bottom who has so conspicuously detached himself from on-the-ground realities.