Forget “Saturday Night Live.” The best comic relief on television last weekend was Jared Kushner’s performance on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN show.
The 39-year-old senior adviser to Donald Trump was contemptuous of John Kelly, John Bolton, Rex Tillerson and other former officials with decades of experience in fields such as business, the military and government who have been scathing in their recollections of the Trump administration.
“What I have seen is that the cream has risen and — I’m not going to say what the word is — but that has sank,” Kushner said, adding that Trump has “cycled out a lot of the people who didn’t have what it took to be successful here and a lot of the people who have come in and been excellent are not out there complaining and writing books because they’re too busy working.”
Presumably Kushner thinks that he is emblematic of the “cream” that has risen to the top. He must be one of the “excellent” people who have what it takes “to be successful here” — although what that is beyond having married the boss’s daughter remains a mystery. He is the living embodiment of football coach Barry Switzer’s scathing quip: “Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.”
Kushner has spent his entire career working for his father and his father-in-law. As a real estate developer, he was primarily known for overpaying for an office building at 666 Fifth Ave. and for buying and destroying the spunky New York Observer. He arrived at the White House with no obvious qualifications and so many conflicts of interest that he did not qualify for a security clearance until Trump overrode the concerns of career professionals.
But that hasn’t prevented Kushner from taking on a portfolio that, as Time notes in a recent profile, includes “brokering peace in the Middle East, building a border wall, reforming the criminal-justice system, pursuing diplomacy with China and Mexico, and creating an ‘Office of American Innovation’ dedicated to revamping how the government works.” Oh, and he’s also “in charge of the President’s 2020 re-election campaign, overseeing fundraising, strategy and advertising.”
In fairness, not all of Kushner’s assignments have ended as disastrously as his support for hiring Michael Flynn as national security adviser. A criminal-justice reform bill and a modest revamp of NAFTA passed Congress, although it’s far from clear how important his role was in either case. A “senior White House official” told Time that Kushner has a habit of coming in at the last minute to claim credit for others’ success while flitting away if disaster looms.
Whatever he does, Kushner brings endless, unearned self-confidence to the task. “Speaking to a room full of Middle East experts,” wrote Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in May 2019, “Kushner was boldly dismissive of the concept of expertise. Asked about his definition of success and the potential implications of failure, he brushed it off as a ‘Washington question.’ ”
After the peace plan was released last week, Kushner bragged that he had “read 25 books” on the Middle East. This led to widespread mockery on Twitter, with various wits suggesting that they were qualified to become a pilot, NBA player or heart surgeon after reading 25 books on the subject.
In his invincible hubris, Kushner somehow imagined that he could parachute in knowing far less than previous diplomats and yet accomplish more. He drafted the entire final settlement himself — a 181-page blueprint complete with his “vision” of what the state of Palestine will look like.
The Palestinians, who were not consulted, quickly and predictably dismissed an initiative that would deny them full sovereignty and hand over to Israel all of Jerusalem along with 30% of the West Bank. Kushner hoped that other Arab states, which he has cultivated as one crown prince to another, would pressure the Palestinians to go along. But the most he got were a few polite statements of encouragement, followed by emphatic rejections.
Odds are the peace plan will be forgotten in a couple of weeks, but its legacy could linger if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu carries out his threat to annex the Jordan Valley and all Israeli settlements in the West Bank with Trump’s blessing.
That will be a permanent obstacle to a two-state solution that the Kushner plan claims to endorse while actually undermining.
So now Kushner can move on to his next excellent adventure while dodging responsibility for his reckless actions and leaving others to deal with the wreckage he leaves behind.