Kerry for Secretary of State: Obama Nominates a Seasoned, Willful Diplomat

The senior Senator from Massachusetts is poised to succeed Hillary Clinton in Foggy Bottom.

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As a freshman Senator in 1985, John Kerry was obsessed with the Philippines. Troubled by what he saw as America’s blind support of strongman Ferdinand Marcos, Kerry began introducing amendment after amendment calling for free and fair elections in the Philippines. Ronald Reagan reluctantly named Kerry to the delegation of election observers, and once there, Kerry choppered all over the country interviewing poll workers. What he found was troubling: evidence of massive fraud. He held a press conference and took his findings back to Reagan, who eventually dropped his support of Marcos and threw his weight behind Corazon Aquino, who was then declared the democratically elected leader of the country.

The episode won Kerry few friends , but was typical of the Massachusetts politician. Over the years, Kerry has hardly been Mr. Popularity in the clubby Senate, but his colleagues have begun to appreciate his stubborn smarts. When it looked like President Obama might name U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of State, many protested – even those from the other side of the aisle. “[Kerry] would get a lot of support in the Senate because we all know John,” says Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican. “I often disagree with him on foreign and domestic policy, but he’s a collaborative guy by nature. I think he’s got a lot of experience. He knows most of the people on the world stage.”

In naming Kerry his nominee to his top cabinet post, Obama will get a nominee with a long and distinguished foreign policy record, a politician with experience and gravitas, but also one with very much his own mind. Whereas Rice got herself into trouble for sticking too closely to the talking points, from his perch as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Kerry has often stretched Obama’s patience. Long before it was U.S. policy, Kerry called for the imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya, writing op-eds encouraging the Administration to follow suit. He also called for the U.S. to end its support for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak well before the White House did. In an April 2011 speech at the Brookings’ Saban Center, he blasted the Administration for “wasting” time on “the wrong approach” on Middle East peace that was “unachievable.” That same month he criticized the Administration’s Pakistan policy as “not a real strategy” in an interview with USA Today’s editorial board. And in 2012 he held a hearing encouraging the Administration to arm Syrian opposition groups, a move the Administration is reportedly now weighing.

That’s not to say Kerry can’t also be a good foot solider. To some criticism he’s avoided holding gotcha oversight hearings. He played Mitt Romney in debate prep for the President during the campaign this year. In 2009 he flew to Afghanistan to persuade Afghan President Hamid Karzai to allow a runoff election instead of grabbing power in undemocratic fashion. He flew to Pakistan to negotiate the release of CIA operative Ray Davis. He also delivered the President’s messages to north and south Sudan before the referendum that split those countries and helped push through the stalled Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in the 2011 lame duck session.

Indeed, Obama owes some of his political success to Kerry. On the day that Kerry won the 2004 Democratic nomination, he flew to Illinois for a fundraiser with Obama, then a Democratic nominee to represent Illinois in the Senate. Later that year, he also gave Obama the keynote spot in at the Democratic National Convention, a speech that launched Obama onto the national stage. And Kerry bucked pressure from his longtime friends, Bill and Hillary Clinton, to become one of the first sitting Senators to endorse Obama for President in 2007.

Both men enter Obama’s second term with an eye toward legacy, particularly in the foreign policy arena. And there’s much to tackle. Already Israel’s flare up in Gaza has brought the peace process back to the fore. Iran has hinted they might be ready for direct talks with the U.S., as Israel grows more nervous by the day at Tehran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon. Tens of thousands of protesters line the streets in Egypt. Syria stands at the brink with Bashar Assad’s finger on the chemical weapons’ trigger. Russia is getting impatient on missile defense, among other issues. As their economy struggles, Eurozone nations are still squabbling about banking integration and bailing out Greece. And there’s still the much-hyped and little-achieved pivot to Asia that Obama announced in his first term.

Barring a major surprise, Kerry will easily be confirmed and will presumably dig right into these issues. The question is, in building his legacy, will Kerry keep Obama’s in mind? He has, after all, been his own boss for almost his entire career. As Vice President Joe Biden – himself a longtime chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee — once wryly noted, subsuming one’s ambitions to another’s is no easy feat for a Senator. Kerry has proven that when his interests align with Obama’s, Obama has no greater ally on foreign policy. But will those interests always align? As with the Philippines, Kerry has a knack for publically forcing foreign policy changes; his challenge now will be to privately steer change from the inside.

34 comments
eagle
eagle

I hope he won't endorse Obama's complacent stance on Isareal!

Donna Hall
Donna Hall

Yea, he's quite prepared. He's got the lying, thieving, sneakiness part down to a science. He should fit into this muslim commy comedy just fine. Like a glove on O. J.

notsacredh
notsacredh

OT, but we got the word this afternoon that Obama is giving federal employees the day off Monday. Since Christmas is Tuesday (if the world doesn't end today) I get doubletime Monday and Tuesday. Thank you Santa Obama.

notsacredh
notsacredh

I like the idea of kerry as SoS, but I'm with outsider2011. I don't like the idea of us possibly losing a senate seat because the democrats have more seats open in 2014. About the only good scenario I see if Scott brown wins is the possibility that he sees the writing on the wall and bucks the republican party line if he wins. He got booted for a real liberal and he's smart enough to see what the republicans are doing to themselves. It rhymes with duck.

Peter Minton
Peter Minton

His entire life? Eating crayons and making mud pies prepared him for this huh?

Andrew 'Andy' Thomas
Andrew 'Andy' Thomas

yet again the Democrats playing right into the Republicans hands, by allowing Rice to withdraw and putting Kerry in the position it opens up his seat which the Republicans believe they can win and was their intention from the start *claps hands slowly and sarcastically while rolling eyes*

Roger Layton
Roger Layton

The man is a traitor to his country and the uniform he wore.

VatoGourmet
VatoGourmet

@TIME @TIMEPolitics why am I following you again? #unfollow

KJonez
KJonez

@VallonAllan YES! I always thought I would be.

pnr9
pnr9

@TIME @TIMEPolitics Kerry is a puke & has no bizz in DC period!!!!!!!!!! SEMPER FI and yes I am a Viet Nam VET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

guanunez8
guanunez8

@TIME @TIMEPolitics Are you kidding me?

outsider
outsider

What i mean is - if Kerry is SecState, then the Dems lose a seat in the senate; i haven't heard who would run for his seat. Ben Affleck aside, anyway. 


There is the presumption that Brown will run again for the GOP - but who would for the dems? 


And it weakens their already tenuous majority in the Senate.. 

outsider
outsider

What about the senate seat?

Heian
Heian

@pnr9  Being a veteran does not give you the capacity to bypass intellectual discourse. If you throw that you're a veteran around to justify your opinions, you are cheapening the service and sacrifice of veterans everywhere.

Tero
Tero

@pnr9 

Kerry had the balls to tell the truth about Vietnam.

KevinGroenhagen
KevinGroenhagen

@outsider2011 I wouldn't fret too much. Massachusetts has a long history of electing low-quality Democrats, e.g., Warren, Kerry, and Ted Kennedy.

JNSmall
JNSmall moderator

@outsider2011 I head the Teddy's widow Vicki will likely temporarily take the seat until a special election can be held. Likely to run in the special election: Scott Brown and Teddy Kennedy Jr.

JNS

outsider
outsider

@KevinGroenhagen @outsider2011 


If Kennedy was so low quality, please explain his longevity. 


Or were you just bashing Massachusetts in general for having the temerity for having different views/values than your own? 


I'm kinda curious. .

outsider
outsider

@KevinGroenhagen @outsider2011 


incidentally, until you man up about the bet, your opinion about another person means nothing. 


Just so we're clear. 


If you can't govern yourself in any respectable manner, why would anyone else care what you think of another person?


My reason for asking about Mass has less to do with your opinion of Mass residents, and more to do with your blind prejudice against anything other than your own opinion. 


Your opinion doesn't change anything; i'm just wondering how honest you can be. Call it a social experiment into the reptile mind, if you will. 

outsider
outsider

@KevinGroenhagen @outsider2011 


So we're once again back to the only way you can be a viable person, in your eyes, is by serving? 


That's what you're saying?


You didn't answer about Mass, Groeny. 


You just complained about the Lion of the Senate. Avoiding the issue. 


I'm asking honestly: isn't it true that you'll just vilify anyone who doesn't share your opinion??

KevinGroenhagen
KevinGroenhagen

@outsider2011 @KevinGroenhagen Pat Roberts is a far better man than Ted Kennedy ever was. He served in as a captain in the Marine Corps (for the benefit of you and the other ignoramuses here, Captain Roberts outranked Private Kennedy), was never kicked out of college for cheating, and had a real job before entering politics. Ted Kennedy was a degenerate. He could not get elected in states that put quality over legacy.

KevinGroenhagen
KevinGroenhagen

@outsider2011 @KevinGroenhagen Where's the connection between quality and longevity? Kennedy was kicked out of Harvard for cheating, enlisted in the Army for four years, but his father got him out after two years. He never advanced beyond the rank of private. His only job was as an elected official. He caused a woman to die. When Roger Mudd asked him why he wanted to be president, Kennedy was so inarticulate that he could not give an answer. Outside of Massachusetts, Kennedy was unelectable.