The Wikileaks dump has put some high government officials in, shall we say, rather awkward positions. But the flood of raw diplomatic cables may actually suit the purposes of one prominent foreign policy figure: John Kerry. The cables are filled with references to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman’s active diplomacy around the world. And while Kerry naturally doesn’t come across as flawless (he was mistakenly optimistic about the prospects for moderation in Syria, for instance) they support the idea that Kerry has been an effective envoy for the Obama administration–a kind of utility player who can lay diplomatic groundwork for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or step into a crisis where other officials can’t–as when he assuaged an ornery Afghan president Hamid Karzai during last year’s elections at a moment when Karzai wasn’t willing to deal with Richard Holbrooke. Kerry has also waded into the politics of Middle East peace, international climate change, US aid to Pakistan, and preventing civil war in Sudan. Here’s how the Boston Globe sums it all up:
While the cables do not differ dramatically from statements that Kerry, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has made publicly, they portray him as a statesman who is constantly seeking a middle ground and appearing to hold out hope that longtime foes of the United States — such as Syria and Iran — might be prodded into friendlier relations with the United States.
The documents land at a particularly busy moment for Kerry, who has been laboring for a top White House foreign policy priorities: passing the New START with Russia. On Friday Kerry wrote a scathing response to an op-ed criticizing START by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romey, a likely 2012 GOP presidential candidate. (It wasn’t the first time Kerry has gone after his fellow Bay Stater over the nuclear arms deal with Russia.) Behind the scenes, meanwhile, Kerry has been working quietly but diligently to broker a deal with Republicans that will allow the treaty to move forward–and, not incidentally, hand Obama a major foreign policy victory. (During his trip to Sudan last month, for instance, Kerry stayed up until 3 a.m. talking on the phone with Senator John Kyl, trying to convince the treaty’s chief Congressional opponent to sign on to the has accord.)
This has prompted a recent spike in the long-running chatter about Kerry’s prospects to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. It’s a job Kerry is known to have wanted, even lobbied for, when Obama first took office. People close to Kerry wave away such talk as a Beltway parlor game, and although Clinton has said she won’t serve more than one term, there’s no sign her departure is imminent (although she has often spoken of the exhausting nature of her job). At a minimum, though, Kerry is positioning himself nicely for the State job if and when it does open up.
P.S. One tricky issue to watch: Afghanistan. A properly-functioning Senate Foreign Relations committee would serve as the White House’s toughest watchdog on the agonizingly inconclusive conflict (much as William Fulbright’s Foreign Relations Committee did a generation ago, when Kerry himself famously testified against the “mistake” in Vietnam). Kerry often frets openly about Obama’s Afghanistan strategy–but in typically genteel terms, and he has yet to hold a blockbuster Foreign Relations hearing that truly puts the White House on the spot. The concern would be that in his desire to succeed Clinton at Foggy Bottom, Kerry might pull his punches. With the approach of Obama’s June 2011 date to begin gradual troop withdrawals from the country, watch to see whether that’s the case.