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.
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.