Kerry is the right choice to lead US di­plo­macy

The Pak Banker - - Front Page - Jonathan Al­ter

FOR all the talk of tax in­creases and debt-cut­ting, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama's big­gest and most- re­veal­ing de­ci­sion this year may be which can­di­date he chooses to be his new sec­re­tary of state. It will tell us whether the pres­i­dent al­lows com­fort to trump qual­i­fi­ca­tion. The two can­di­dates are Su­san Rice, the U.S. en­voy to the United Na­tions, and Se­na­tor John Kerry, chair­man of the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee. Both would be im­pres­sive, though they bring dif­fer­ent strengths.

Rice's ad­van­tage is that she has a closer per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with the pres­i­dent, mak­ing her bet­ter in­te­grated in the ad­min­is­tra­tion's pol­icy-mak­ing ap­pa­ra­tus. Kerry's edge is that he's a heavy­weight who would be more ef­fec­tive rep­re­sent­ing the U.S. around the world.

Rice has the in­side track for now, and she got an un­in­ten­tional boost last week from Se­na­tor John McCain, who was shoot­ing from the hip, as usual. McCain, who is Kerry's old friend and fel­low Viet­nam veteran, hounded Rice mer­ci­lessly over the tragedy in Beng­hazi, Libya. Her only sin was that on the Sun­day shows in Septem­ber she con­veyed ex­actly what she was told by the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency about the at­tack on the U.S. con­sulate.

Just be­fore his first post-elec­tion news con­fer­ence, the pres­i­dent heard that McCain and his San­cho Panza, Se­na­tor Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Carolina, were threat­en­ing to block Rice's nom­i­na­tion with a fil­i­buster. This made the pres­i­dent an­grier than he has been in months, ac­cord­ing to a se­nior White House of­fi­cial I spoke with. "For them to go af­ter" Rice and "besmirch her rep­u­ta­tion, is out­ra­geous," Obama said at the news con­fer­ence.

Obama says he hasn't made a de­ci­sion. But re­ject­ing Rice in fa­vor of Kerry would make the pres­i­dent look like he's buck­ling to pres­sure from McCain, the Repub­li­can op­po­nent he de­feated in the 2008 elec­tion. And yet, if how some­thing looks is the is­sue -- and ap­pear­ances are crit­i­cal in di­plo­macy -- then Obama should choose Kerry.

Kerry, a prom­i­nent se­na­tor for 28 years, would sail through his Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings. Rice would be pinned down not just by Beng­hazi but by some of her past state­ments, in par­tic­u­lar th­ese two: In 1994, when she served on Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton's Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, she re­port­edly asked about the pos­si­bil­ity of in­ter­ven­ing in Rwanda: "If we use the word 'geno­cide' and are seen as do­ing noth­ing, what will be the ef­fect on the Novem­ber elec­tion?"

In 2011, as Euro­pean coun­tries were push­ing for a UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion cre­at­ing a no-fly zone over Libya, she re­port­edly told the France's UN am­bas­sador, Ger­ard Araud, that the U.S. wouldn't be pulled into France's war and she dis­par­aged the con­flict with an ob­scen­ity. Dredg­ing up the lat­ter in­ci­dent is es­pe­cially un­fair, con­sid­er­ing that Rice joined Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton and the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil of­fi­cial Sa­man­tha Power to push the men in the ad­min­is­tra­tion to in­ter­vene in Libya. Still, Kerry's col­leagues wouldn't hes­i­tate to use any am­mu­ni­tion on hand against Rice Kerry would be much-bet­ter re­ceived than Rice not just in the Se­nate but in the rest of the world -- which should be more than a lit­tle rel­e­vant in this de­ci­sion. Af­ter 27 years on the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, he knows ev­ery player of con­se­quence. His on-the-job train­ing would be min­i­mal.

Lest we for­get, Obama prob­a­bly wouldn't be pres­i­dent with­out Kerry, who asked him to de­liver the key­note speech at the 2004 Demo­cratic Con­ven­tion that started his ca­reer.

In 2008, Kerry gave then-Se­na­tor Obama crit­i­cal early sup­port in his pri­mary cam­paign against Hil­lary Clin­ton. When Obama picked Clin­ton over him as sec­re­tary of state, Kerry was a loyal sol­dier. He helped per­suade Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai to hold elec­tions, smoothed over tense re­la­tions with Pak­istan and shep­herded the Start treaty through the Se­nate. He even played Mitt Rom­ney in the mock de­bates this year.

Grat­i­tude, loy­alty and ex­pe­ri­ence shouldn't be the only fac­tors in the pres­i­dent's de­ci­sion, but don't they count for some­thing?

If Kerry giv­ing up his Se­nate seat jeop­ar­dized Demo­cratic con­trol of the Se­nate, the ap­point­ment would be too risky. But Democrats in the new Congress will have a five-vote mar­gin in the up­per cham­ber, and it's un­likely a Repub­li­can could win a spe­cial elec­tion next year in Mas­sachusetts. This de­ci­sion isn't as much about Rice and Kerry and the po­lit­i­cal an­gles as it is about Obama and how he views gov­ern­ing. We know that the pres­i­dent is of­ten leery of hav­ing other big fish in his ad­min­is­tra­tion, less be­cause of ego or in­se­cu­rity than his in­sis­tence on har­mo­nious pol­icy mak­ing, free of turf fights.

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