Jared Kushner's Middle East problem isn't his lack of top secret clearance

Jared Kushner's ...

Posted: Mar 2, 2018 1:59 PM
Updated: Mar 2, 2018 1:59 PM

Jared Kushner's loss of access to classified information above the secret level has set the Washington chattering classes talking about how this will or will not affect his capacity to do his job.

I can't speak to his other duties -- prison reform, innovation czar or his all-purpose envoy role for his father-in-law, President Donald Trump. But having worked in the Arab-Israeli peace process negotiations business for a couple of decades, I can weigh in on whether he will be able to discharge his Middle East envoy duties effectively.

And the bottom line is yes, he can, even though access to highly classified information is important. But important as it may be, it's clearly not sufficient for the task Kushner now faces assuming he keeps his job: a mission impossible that would not be doable if he had access to every sensitive intercept in the world. And here's why.

Kushner and Trump

Kushner may have lost his clearance, but he still has access to a far more important resource -- his father-in-law. There's really no precedent for any previous Middle East envoy having this much influence with the President and access in the White House.

And make no mistake, Israelis and Saudis and even Palestinians (who don't much like Trump after the Jerusalem decision) aren't taking Kushner seriously (assuming they really do now) because of his negotiating skills or deep knowledge of Israeli-Palestinian issues.

They talk to him because they believe that through him they can reach his father-in-law and sway the big boss. As long as Kushner has this connection -- or can maintain the illusion he has it -- he'll be relevant in a way that goes beyond any secret information he might possess. But once this link is broken, his cachet will erode as quickly as a sand castle in the face of the incoming tide. Indeed, part of the reason the loss of the highly classified access is so consequential is that it impedes Kushner's ability to sit in high-level meetings where this kind of information is being discussed.

Why Mideast envoys need highly classified material

On balance, I'd argue that classified information is vastly overrated. Actually, engaging directly with leaders and their officials is far more important so long as you maintain the necessary detachment and perspective.

In 20-plus years of working at the State Department, I can't recall a single piece or series of classified information that was so consequential that it created an opportunity or lost one in Arab-Israeli negotiations.

Intercepts of conversations with leaders can be important before a meeting or in a negotiation. But they are still only pieces of information that need to be assembled -- like a jigsaw puzzle -- to understand a leader's perceptions, the situation on the ground or their motives.

Still for Kushner, in his position, there are at least three downsides not to having access to top secret intelligence or sensitive compartmented information.

First, there's the perception that Kushner has somehow been knocked down a notch or two and has lost influence in the White House. Indeed, far more serious perhaps than the end of his interim top secret clearance is one of the apparent reasons it ended -- The Washington Post said officials from China, Israel, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates have talked privately about "ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter."

This almost certainly creates the image and perhaps the reality that he's vulnerable and engaged in all kinds of conflict of interests. And it could put Kushner more fully and frontally on the special counsel's radar screen and impede his ability to function as an envoy.

Second, he will now be denied access to highly classified intercepts and information that may bear directly on the people with whom he's dealing. And at times, this kind of information can be important. Kushner has lost an edge in a world where information is power and what you know about someone that's highly sensitive is both a source of acute vulnerability and advantage.

And finally, it's critical over time that envoys immerse themselves in the details not just of the negotiations, but also in regional events and developments. I can't count the number of times we engaged with leaders and their intelligence chiefs on any number of issues. Envoys need to hold their own in these discussions. They need to know when the people with whom they're dealing are inflating threats or exaggerating motives -- and that requires deep knowledge and constant monitoring of the intelligence.

Since so much of these conversations are driven by intelligence organizations, access to highly classified information can be critical. Knowing things and developing analytical skills create the image and the reality of a foreign policy professional, and they add to the kind of knowledge base that can make an envoy effective. Kushner is now in an unenviable position: He doesn't know what he doesn't know and now cannot even access the information to find out.

Kushner's Middle East challenge

The first time I met Kushner I quipped that I wish my father-in-law had as much confidence in me as he had in him because he's given his son-in-law Israeli-Palestinian peace, which is a challenge beyond almost all others.

The fact is -- politically inconvenient as it may be to admit for some -- the issue isn't Kushner's security clearance or even the US mediator; the reason we don't have a serious negotiation or two-state solution is that neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders are prepared to make the kinds of choices or take decisions to allow a third party to broker an accord.

Under these circumstances, lack of access to highly classified information won't really matter much. It only contributes to making Kushner's mission impossible that much more improbable.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 69374

Reported Deaths: 1989
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds5700119
DeSoto371031
Harrison260136
Madison245569
Jackson231444
Rankin230735
Jones193159
Forrest182656
Washington170142
Lee152142
Lauderdale141592
Neshoba128892
Lamar123115
Bolivar113635
Oktibbeha113339
Warren112535
Lowndes109239
Panola106816
Sunflower105625
Scott101120
Lafayette98719
Copiah96228
Leflore94966
Pike94037
Holmes91049
Grenada85123
Pontotoc8429
Yazoo84113
Lincoln83442
Monroe82155
Simpson80631
Leake79526
Coahoma78113
Wayne78021
Tate74330
Marshall7129
Marion68420
Union66216
Adams63225
Winston62916
Covington62214
George5956
Pearl River55940
Newton54511
Tallahatchie54111
Attala52725
Walthall50221
Chickasaw47619
Noxubee46112
Tishomingo4377
Alcorn4355
Calhoun4259
Prentiss42310
Claiborne40914
Smith40613
Hancock40214
Clay40114
Jasper3949
Itawamba38710
Tippah37414
Tunica3587
Clarke33626
Montgomery3295
Lawrence3238
Yalobusha31610
Humphreys29712
Quitman2691
Carroll26111
Greene25612
Perry2428
Amite2376
Webster23712
Kemper23314
Jefferson Davis2336
Wilkinson21513
Stone2115
Sharkey2045
Jefferson1957
Benton1451
Choctaw1354
Franklin1312
Issaquena272
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 100801

Reported Deaths: 1814
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson13366246
Mobile10581212
Montgomery6825151
Madison546934
Tuscaloosa426979
Unassigned392566
Baldwin367029
Shelby333437
Marshall319438
Lee270847
Morgan241819
Etowah218034
DeKalb183414
Calhoun181918
Elmore176039
Walker154465
Houston142813
Russell13892
St. Clair136320
Limestone135913
Dallas133624
Franklin129722
Cullman123012
Colbert121517
Lauderdale119020
Autauga116222
Escambia108817
Talladega105414
Jackson10264
Tallapoosa87579
Chambers84738
Dale84329
Clarke82610
Chilton8189
Blount8165
Butler77036
Coffee7656
Covington74021
Pike7137
Marion58226
Barbour5796
Lowndes57124
Marengo56616
Hale48526
Bullock48111
Winston45711
Perry4454
Bibb4445
Washington44412
Wilcox43410
Monroe4236
Pickens4089
Randolph40211
Conecuh39310
Sumter36618
Lawrence3542
Macon33914
Crenshaw3326
Choctaw28912
Cherokee2768
Clay2675
Geneva2652
Henry2643
Greene25211
Lamar2302
Fayette2235
Cleburne1291
Coosa1053
Out of AL00
Tupelo
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 75°
Feels Like: 82°
Columbus
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 73°
Oxford
Broken Clouds
75° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 75°
Starkville
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 70°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather