Made for the Job

Newly ap­pointed Sec­re­tary of State, John Forbes Kerry, en­ters an of­fice that is both well-earned and cus­tom-made for a man like him.

Southasia - - Contents - By Arsla Jawaid

Sec­re­tary of State, John Kerry, is the per­fect fit for the se­nior most

diplo­matic post in the coun­try.

There has never been a man more suited for the job of Sec­re­tary of State, than Se­na­tor John Forbes Kerry. As Pres­i­dent Obama re­marked while nom­i­nat­ing Kerry for the post, “in a sense, John’s en­tire life has pre­pared him for this role.”

Born in Aurora in 1943 to a fam­ily with a mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal back­ground, Kerry’s child­hood was spent in dif­fer­ent coun­tries as a re­flec­tion of his fa­ther’s mil­i­tary post­ings. Grad­u­at­ing with a de­gree in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence from Yale Univer­sity in 1966, Kerry en­listed in the Naval Re­serve and con­se­quently served in South Viet­nam. Hav­ing wit­nessed the war from a close per­spec­tive, he se­cured an early re­turn to the United States and promptly joined the Viet­nam Veter­ans Against the War, be­com­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s most vo­cal spokesper­son. Af­ter re­ceiv­ing his J.D from Bos­ton Col­lege, in 1984 he barely se­cured a seat to the U.S Se­nate.

Se­na­tor Kerry served on the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee for 28 years. Dur­ing this time he chaired var­i­ous hear­ings, some of which be­came a fore­run­ner to the Iran-Con­tra af­fair. An early sup­porter of the 2003 in­va­sion of Iraq, he sub­se­quently be­came an op­po­nent of the war. As the Demo­cratic Party’s 2004 pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, Kerry amassed the ex­pe­ri­ence of run­ning a large or­ga­ni­za­tion and un­der­stand­ing and ad­dress­ing chal­lenges that a U.S pres­i­dent would face. With 48.3% per­cent of Amer­i­cans vot­ing in his fa­vor, he lost the elec­tion to in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush but not be­fore giv­ing Se­na­tor Barack Obama the prime op­por­tu­nity of be­ing the key­note speaker at the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion in 2004. This move alone gave Obama the sud­den pop­u­lar­ity that put him on the na­tional po­lit­i­cal map.

In 2008, spec­u­la­tions were rife that Kerry would get tapped for the top-most diplo­matic post in the coun­try. How­ever, Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton was given the po­si­tion. Four years later, Kerry’s golden moment has fi­nally ar­rived. The Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, which he chaired for four years, voted unan­i­mously in fa­vor of Kerry’s nom­i­na­tion as SoS.

This came as no sur­prise as Kerry sailed through his four hour long Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing. Though not of­fer­ing any par­tic­u­larly new agenda, Kerry put forth a prag­matic for­eign pol­icy view and stressed on the need for en­hanced U.S diplo­matic en­gage­ment. The new SoS and the Pres­i­dent see eye-to-eye when it comes to multi­na­tional al­liances, di­plo­macy and strate­gic en­gage­ment. De­tail­ing is­sues in the Mid­dle East, China’s grow­ing eco­nomic strength and the global race for en­ergy and re­sources, Kerry stated that “more than ever, for­eign pol­icy is eco­nomic pol­icy.” This state­ment has led many an­a­lysts in the State de­part­ment to ask whether Kerry will usher in a new era of strong com­pe­ti­tion or will re­vert to softer di­plo­macy. Both the Pres­i­dent and Sec­re­tary Kerry are des­per­ate

to cor­rect Amer­ica’s for­eign pol­icy im­age as a war-mon­ger­ing na­tion de­fined solely by the war against ter­ror­ism and in­stead pro­mote it as a na­tion that val­ues en­gage­ment, hu­man rights and di­plo­macy. With crit­ics on both sides of the spec­trum, this par­tic­u­lar ap­proach has been termed naïve and counter-pro­duc­tive in what should be Amer­ica’s strong pol­icy to­wards dic­ta­tors in Syria and Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram.

In light of his record and ex­pe­ri­ence, 69-year-old John Kerry was over­whelm­ingly con­firmed in a 94-3 U.S Se­nate vote as Hil­lary Clin­ton’s suc­ces­sor, to the post of Sec­re­tary of State. This vote con­firms Kerry’s of­fi­cial re-emer­gence on the world stage at a time when the U.S faces ex­tra­or­di­nary chal­lenges, par­tic­u­larly in the Mid­dle East and South Asia. There is per­haps no bet­ter per­son, well-equipped or well-versed in di­plo­macy in con­flict zones, to take up the job. Where Clin­ton was rash and im­pul­sive, Kerry is pa­tient and en­gag­ing. Clin­ton’s record as Sec­re­tary of State it­self is phe­nom­e­nal. Hav­ing trav­eled ex­ten­sively, meet­ing po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, bro­ker­ing agree­ments and pro­mot­ing U.S demo­cratic in­ter­ests at a time when the coun­try suf­fers from a dif­fi­cult and du­bi­ous rep­u­ta­tion, is not an easy task.

Clin­ton will go down in his­tory for her ex­tra­or­di­nary com­mit­ment to wag­ing peace and safe­guard­ing U.S in­ter­ests. Though her de­par­ture was ex­pected to be smooth, the Beng­hazi at­tack and the U.S re­sponse to the sit­u­a­tion, both at home and in Libya, im­pacted her exit neg­a­tively. Grilled at a five hour long hear­ing, Clin­ton was chas­tised for not re­spond­ing ap­pro­pri­ately to calls for ex­tra se­cu­rity at the em­bassy and for re­leas­ing un­re­li­able in­for­ma­tion, which led many to be­lieve that the at­tack was a re­sponse to the anti-Is­lam film when it really was a planned ter­ror­ist at­tack that co­in­cided with the protests. Re­gard­less of this, Clin­ton’s ser­vices in her ca­pac­ity as Sec­re­tary of State have been mag­nan­i­mous and that will be the legacy she leaves be­hind… till the time she de­cides to run for Pres­i­dent in 2016.

Al­lud­ing to his pre­de­ces­sors, Hil­lary Clin­ton and Con­doleeza Rice, it is no sur­prise then that on his first day at work at the State De­part­ment, Kerry jok­ingly re­marked, “So here’s the big ques­tion be­fore the coun­try, the world and the State De­part­ment: Af­ter the last eight years, can a man ac­tu­ally run the State De­part­ment? As the say­ing goes, “I have big heels to fill.” Even though Kerry has not been in the for­mal po­si­tion till re­cently, he has served as an in­dis­pens­able diplo­matic rep­re­sen­ta­tive to Pres­i­dent Obama and his for­eign pol­icy agenda. Over the past four years, as Chair­man of the SFRC, Kerry has vis­ited con­flict-rid­den zones on be­half of the U.S government and has forged valu­able per­sonal ties with Amer­ica’s strong­est al­lies. Kerry has ex­ten­sively trav­eled to Afghanistan, Pak­istan, Egypt and Su­dan, among other places, to ad­vance U.S aims, of­ten at times of great an­i­mos­ity. Along with Sen. John McCain, Kerry pro­posed a “no-fly” zone over Libya as Gaddafi’s forces mas­sa­cred civil­ians. It was also Kerry who ad­vised Pres­i­dent Obama to bol­ster the Egyp­tian peo­ple in de­mand­ing an end to Hosni Mubarak’s rule in Egypt and usher in a new era of democ­racy. He has helped to bro­ker agree­ments, bi­lat­eral ties, con­duct backchan­nel di­plo­macy and ease ten­sions, thus cul­ti­vat­ing work­able part­ner­ships and a wor­thy rep­u­ta­tion.

In the South Asian con­text, Kerry’s work in Afghanistan and Pak­istan has been of no­table in­ter­est. He has al­ways served as a softer voice of rea­son, re­frain­ing from a bel­li­cose per­sona thus strik­ing the right bal­ance be­tween co­op­er­a­tion and real de­liv­er­ance. While the lead­er­ship in the Af-Pak re­gion of­ten faces strong an­i­mos­ity with U.S State of­fi­cials, Kerry is able to coax the lead­ers to co­op­er­ate. A strong ad­vo­cate of U.S diplo­matic lead­er­ship, time and again, he has fur­thered non-mil­i­tary pro­pos­als to ad­dress se­ri­ous chal­lenges. He con­vinced Pres­i­dent Karzai to al­low runoff elec­tions in Afghanistan in 2009 and in Pak­istan, in­tro­duced the $1.5 bil­lion Ker­ryLu­gar-Ber­man Bill that al­lowed for non­mil­i­tary aid to be dis­bursed over five years. Though the bill even­tu­ally suc­cumbed to the pol­i­tics of a dwin­dling bi­lat­eral mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship, it cer­tainly eased ten­sions, al­beit for a tem­po­rary pe­riod. Loyal to U.S poli­cies and prac­tice, it was Kerry who se- cured the re­lease of Ray­mond Davis: the CIA con­trac­tor who shot and killed two Pak­ista­nis in La­hore and later se­cured the re­turn of heli­copter parts still ly­ing in Bin Laden’s com­pound in Ab­bot­tabad fol­low­ing the May 02 Navy SEAL raid. As the war in Afghanistan winds down and re­la­tions with Pak­istan con­tinue to be in free-fall, a diplo­mat well-versed in re­gional pol­i­tics will be nec­es­sary and there are few more qual­i­fied, or en­thu­si­as­tic, than Kerry.

Kerry’s term as Sec­re­tary of State is ex­pected to bring pos­i­tive changes in the Af-Pak re­gion with which he is, sur­pris­ingly, di­rectly in­volved. While some call him naive, other term him a “re­al­ist” who mea­sures ground re­al­i­ties and ad­vo­cates en­gage­ment rather than a mil­i­tary strike. Pa­tient, rig­or­ous and in­formed, Kerry is a ca­pa­ble suc­ces­sor to Clin­ton and one who will di­rect a more en­gaged and aware ap­proach to Obama’s for­eign pol­icy dur­ing the sec­ond term. How­ever, many are skep­ti­cal about Kerry’s own pol­icy strate­gies. It re­mains to be seen whether he will draft out new ap­proaches or whether he will sim­ply toe the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s line and serve merely as a mouth­piece around the world. Flex­ing some ag­gres­sive diplo­matic mus­cle in the State de­part­ment might be some­thing Kerry will have to learn on the job. Cli­mate change, poli­cies to deal with Iran’s nu­clear am­bi­tions, se­cur­ing the safety of diplo­matic work­ers around the world to pre­vent an­other Beng­hazi at­tack and for­mu­lat­ing a re­sponse to the Syr­ian cri­sis are al­ready high on the agenda.

For an un­suc­cess­ful pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, en­ter­ing the se­nior most diplo­matic post in Washington, DC is both well earned and well suited for a man with such ex­pe­ri­ence. Kerry has numer­ous chal­lenges ahead of him but there is lit­tle doubt that he will fos­ter in­formed en­gage­ment, per­haps adding a des­per­ate level of sta­bil­ity and re­spect in Amer­ica’s re­la­tion­ships with the rest of the world. Arsla Jawaid is As­so­ciate Ed­i­tor at SouthA­sia. A Bos­ton Univer­sity grad­u­ate, she holds a Bach­e­lors de­gree in In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions, with a fo­cus on for­eign pol­icy and se­cu­rity stud­ies.

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