BY ADEYEMI OSHUNRINADE
Recently, Senators John Kerry and John McCain appeared at a news conference in Washington, in which both cracked jokes and teased each other about high executive and cabinet positions they could or could have had. Sen. McCain referred to Sen. Kerry as “Mr. Secretary” while the latter returned the favor, calling Sen. McCain “Mr. President.” With the nomination for Secretary of State about to be released by President Obama, top on the list of succession to the outgoing Secretary of States Hillary Clinton is Sen. Kerry.
The latest development since UN Ambassador Susan Rice pulled out of consideration over the Benghazi fallout is that, the President has decided to nominate Sen. Kerry as his choice for the highest cabinet position. The haste to fill the position is of paramount importance, considering the incident this week in which the current Secretary of States Hillary Clinton, suffered a concussion and fainted due to stomach virus. Also, the desire of Ms. Rice to pull out early may have saved the President the headache of fighting with the Senate Committee over her nomination, when there are other issues of pressing need to the nation especially, the fiscal cliff impasse.
Now that Sen. Kerry is tapped as the likely U.S. Secretary of State, it is important to know what his nomination means to the Obama administration. A former journalist and Vietnam veteran, Sen. Kerry has spent more than 30 years in politics both as a Senator and member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. For the past four years he has been chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, a position that has exposed him to foreign policy issues and gave him the opportunity to rob shoulders with heads of states and foreign officials.
He has made extensive travels to troubled regions including Afghanistan and Pakistan to help promote and make case for American foreign policies. As a no stranger to diplomacy, Kerry was instrumental in persuading the Afghan President Hamid Karzai to agree to an election runoff in 2009. A move many believed helped quell the political flame that could have engulfed the rivalry between President Karzai and the opposition. Kerry has also been in Pakistan several times to mend the relationship between the U.S. and the Pakistani government, during disagreement over the 2011 raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad.
Analysts have indicated that Kerry would be a competent Secretary of State, based on his great skill and knowledge accumulated over more than three decades as a Washington politician, who is also respected for his critique and opposition to the Vietnam war though, some Vietnam veterans disagree with his position against the war and have indicated that, a Kerry for Secretary of Defense would be an insult to Vietnam vets.
Like President Obama, Kerry opposed the Iraq war and based his Presidential run in 2004 on his disagreement with the U.S. invasion that cost American lives and led to U.S. troops’ presence in the Arab nation for a little over ten years. Unlike Susan Rice Kerry is not regarded as a confidante of President Obama however, he has used his position as the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations to help shape the administration’s policies abroad. In the just concluded Democratic National Congress, Kerry expressed his support for Obama by delivering a speech that could only be described as a harsh critique of Mr. Romney. He also acted as the President’s surrogate by taking Romney’s position in a preparation for the Presidential debate.
Kerry has also shown interest in climate change and energy issues which are becoming a foci point for the Obama administration, after receiving unexpected accolade on climate change from the New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His ability to lead the Committee on Foreign Relations is seen by many as a demonstration of guts and credentials to serve as a Secretary of State, a position that involves managing an agency of more than 6,000 people including hundreds of diplomatic posts around the world.
As Kerry prepares to take over as Secretary of State, the current instability in the Middle East among others is expected to occupy his agendas over the next four years. He must bring to the foreign arena the kind of skill, dedication and popularity with which Hillary Clinton shaped American foreign policy, though, many believe that as an experienced politician who is regarded as a player in government and foreign matters, he would bring effective change to the way America does business abroad.
A Secretary Kerry is expected to tackle the Syrian crisis and help manage the political transition in the nation. He must be prepared to guide the Obama administration through maintaining peace in a post Assad Syria and work towards ridding the nation of insurgents likely to pose threats to U.S. interests in the Middle East. Though, Egypt may have established a democracy, the one in place is at infancy and may face the challenge of a possible chaos as the nation’s minorities fight over the new constitution. He would work with the President to stabilize Egypt and retain it as a friend of Israel in the region. Kerry cannot overlook Libya as a point of interest to the Obama administration. The embassy attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stephen and three other Americans, is an indication of how fragile the situation is since the removal of Gaddafi. A Secretary of State Kerry must work to ensure insurgents don’t set up shops in the nation and then use the leverage against U.S. interests.
Iran is another issue that would be a challenge to his office as Secretary of State. But as a well traveled foreign policy adviser who is well known in the Middle East, he would use his experience to shape policy for the region and employ diplomacy to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran. On the issue of Israel and the Palestinian question, Kerry is unlikely to change U.S. position on the matter. The possibility that the current peace agreement between Israel and Hamas may last for the next four years, could mean he won’t delve much into the impasse, unless there is a return to conflict.
One problem for Kerry may be his years of experience as a politician which if compared to those of the President is more. Many politicians in Washington still believe Obama got lucky by becoming President after just one term as a Senator and few years as a community advocate. Kerry might challenge the President’s position on foreign policy and present a different viewpoint from what the President believes. But nonetheless, there will always be a meeting point at which the President’s viewpoint and that of the Secretary of State, come together to create a foreign policy that serves America’s interests.
Dr. Adeyemi Oshunrinade [E. JD] is an expert in general law, foreign relations and the United Nations. Follow on Twitter @san0670