What to Expect from John Kerry as Secretary of State

Hillary Clinton leaves a fully restructured organization and culture at the State Department. Her mind and ear open to both world societies and world palaces, she built leverage and credibility on her unique synergy with people and states. It is sad that the Benghazi affair will tarnish her reputation and bring down that structure.

John Kerry is better prepared for the Office of Secretary of State than Secretary Clinton was at her nomination. He has worked on positioning himself to appear electablymoderate on foreign policy issues. For most Americans, he has managed to shed his anti-Vietnam status in the fog of time past, and, out of the public eye, he no longer appears to be a downright contrary guy. Given his long term in Congress, on relevant committees, and in Sunday TV interviews, he proved a safe nominee for Secretary of State.

He has a long career of Senate Foreign Relations work and considerable personal contact with key world leaders, but most Americans remember him as the bland, elitist loser of a Presidential election. For those who feel there is just no “there” there in John Kerry, his confirmation hearings did nothing to dispel that. He is orator enough and the inquisitors old school white men enough to slide through the hearings without too much drama.

This is not to say he is the Progressives’ candidate:

  • Kerry never ran a complex department with executive experience.
  • He over-estimated Syria’s Bashar al-Assad as a reformer.
  • He endorses possible negotiations with the Taliban and an earlier withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
  • He does believe that ecological issues are State Department issues but has not framed a policy on how to leverage that amid more inflammatory issues.
  • He cautioned against the commitment of American troops in Nicaragua, Iraq, Korea, Libya, and Syria.
  • He has not articulated a policy position between the hardline responses that African and Mid-East “awakenings” demand of us, and the diplomacy supportive of gender, environment, and human rights issues.

Given his own Benghazi, as surely he will have in time, will he hold fire in order to promote human rights? It might be healthier if we knew his bias.

Secretary of State John Kerry will prove a fine ambassador, but Secretary of State requires a different strategy. He will carry out the President’s policy, and the President is Commander-in-Chief. How will Kerry serve Kerry’s history and still serve the President’s interests?

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