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Nominated Secretary of State: John Kerry – What’s in Store?
by Tom Mckay
On Friday, a senior administration official made the announcement that President Obama would nominate Massachusetts Senator and 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry to be Hillary Clinton’s successor as Secretary of State.
The nomination followed the withdrawal of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice from the nomination process. Rice was criticized for statements she made following the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, as well as for her “aggressive personality.”
Kerry is considered one of the strongest remaining choices for the position, “noted for the experience, gravitas and relationship-building” which he brings to the role. Notably, he recently traveled to Pakistan following the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and has traveled the globe on behalf of the United States to bolster the Obama administration’s relationship with key foreign leaders.
The only thing we can say with 100% certainty is that Kerry is not using his Secretary of State nomination to build up his resume for president.
So just where is John Kerry on the issues, and what role will he play in an Obama administration?
1. Climate Change: Secretary Kerry would likely make climate change a primary focus of the next four years in international relations. He has already made a reputation as one of the Senate’s biggest climate hawks, and supports comprehensive international action to reverse global warming. Much of the chatter around his nomination reflects a debate on his commitment to elevating climate change as a foreign policy priority for this and subsequent administrations. E&E Daily claims Kerry will make this the “banner issue” of his term:
— Kerry would push China to join the U.S. in taking a long-term leadership role on Climate Change.
— Co-sponsored, with Sen. Joe Lieberman, cap-and-trade legislation.
— Believes climate change is “biggest long term threat” to security.
— Reportedly one of the most knowledgeable senators on the science and diplomacy of climate change.
— Prioritized action on the Law of the Sea treaty that addresses melting polar ice caps.
— In 2007, wrote This Moment on Earth: Today’s New Environmentalists and Their Vision for the Future with his wife, Theresa.
Should we expect a major reversal of the U.S.’ longstanding opposition to signing major climate change and CO2 reduction treaties? Unclear. While Kerry is personally committed to the issue, whether or not American policy undergoes major changes will depend on what amount of time and effort the Obama administration is willing to sink into talks. That is doubtful.
2. War on Drugs: Kerry is slightly more liberal than other members of the Obama team on marijuana legalization, but leans conservative on other drugs. With Rahm Emanuel gone and Hillary Clinton planning on leaving the administration, Kerry may be a good choice to help the president transition to a more relaxed stance on the recent Colorado/Washington marijuana legalization laws, but do not expect him to be an opponent of the Drug War in general:
— Kerry admits to smoking marijuana in the past (come on, he’s from Massachusetts).
— Mild support for removing criminal penalties on the possession or use of small amounts of weed, as well as similarly tepid support for medical marijuana. No particular courage on this issue.
— In favor of barring convicted drug dealers, but not users, from receiving federal loans for education.
— In 2004, tapped anti-drug “zealot” Rand Beers to serve as a security advisor, who supported defoliating the Colombian-Ecuador border and then accused farmers affected by the spraying of having relationships with Colombia’s FARC.
Kerry as Secretary of State would likely support aggressive overseas action to fight drug trafficking, as well as efforts to shore up Central and Latin American countries’ legal systems in pursuit of more effective anti-drug operations. However, there will be no real change to the status quo.
3. Women’s Rights: Kerry is a lifetime social moderate who usually plays to his liberal Massachusetts base on those issues. However, like everything Kerry, he is far from the Senate’s most fiery advocate of women’s rights, instead taking a safer centre-left position:
—Kerry is a strong supporter of abortion rights. During the Bush years, refused to support the appointment of a Supreme Court justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade while the court was 5-4.
— Catholic who believes life begins at conception, but will not legislate faith.
— Either does not believe in a right to terminate “post-viability” pregnancies, or voted for Tom Daschle’s Comprehensive Abortion Ban Act of 1997 as a political move.
— Strong supporter of equal pay for women.
— In 2004, told GQ what he looks for in a woman: Someone who “wears her womanhood. Who knows how to flirt and have fun. Smart. Confident. Has a sense of self. Strong. And obviously sexy and saucy and challenging” (note: PolicyMic does not endorse readers imagining John Kerry with a woman).
What does this mean for the State Department? Kerry would continue Secretary Clinton’s assertive programs to assist women internationally. While Secretary Clinton has continually emphasized women’s’ rights in relation to the Arab Spring and establishment of new democracies in the Middle East, Secretary Kerry’s record indicates he will likely make this less of a focus of his diplomatic mission.
4. Economy / Fiscal Cliff: Far from his portrayal in the 2004 campaign, Kerry is no socialist but a rather milquetoast welfare-state liberal. Kerry has supported most major Obama administration policies, including the stimulus and Obamacare, and is a relative moderate who plays to Beltway centrists on this issue, supporting the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction plan (despite its fuzzy math). Again, we see no signs of Kerry leaving safe territory:
— In 2004, Kerry supported raising the minimum wage to $7 (it’s now $7.25). This was such a weak and overdue increase that it enjoyed broad political support: in 2006, President Bush endorsed the increase.
— Voted yes on an additional $825 billion for Obama’s economic recovery package.
— As a member of the Congressional super-committee on the deficit, accused Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist of acting as a de facto 13th member and thus partially responsible for derailing negotiations.
— Supports the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction package.
— Blamed Republicans for failing to reach a deal during 2011’s debt ceiling negotiations, claiming that Democrats were willing to put serious entitlement reform on the agenda.
— Strong opponent of offshore tax loopholes, and supports efforts to close them by any means possible.
Under Kerry, the U.S. would continue to liaise with organizations such as the International Monetary Fund to assure “confidence” in the U.S.’ long-term fiscal stability. A deficit-reduction package signed by a bipartisan committee will doubtless be bragged about to the rest of the world as a model for ending the international financial crisis. He will likely help coordinate efforts to work with international agencies in ending overseas tax loopholes, as well as emphasize that we are getting our fiscal house in order. Kerry will be an excellent pointman in highlighting America’s continued financial stability and restoring our international image as a good place to do business. Secretary Kerry will blame continued instability or the inability to finalize a deal on knuckle-dragging Congressional Republicans, minimizing damage to the Obama administration’s reputation abroad.
5. Israel: Kerry is one of the most pro-Israel senators. A Kerry nomination for Secretary of State would be a nomination for strengthening the U.S.-Israel partnership. The Senator supports a two-state peace deal, but only if Israel’s interests are taken into account foremost:
— After the 2010 raid on a Palestinian aid flotilla, stated that he did not believe Israel was becoming a strategic burden to the United States. Israel “has every right in the world to make certain weapons are not being smuggled in,” said Kerry.
— Signed a 1999 resolution expressing opposition to the formation of a Palestinian state.
However, in 2009 urged Israel to do more to support a Palestinian state.
— Emphasizes continually a perceived lack of credible Arab or Palestinian bargaining partners.
— Embarrassingly, in 2010 said that Syria’s Bashar al-Assad could be a force for change in the conflict. al-Assad is now best known for readying chemical weapons to deploy against a massive insurrection in his country.
Obama selecting Kerry is a clear indication that the U.S.-Israel partnership will continue, and that major concessions to Palestinians are not on the agenda, regardless of the U.N.’s recent recognition of a theoretical Palestinian state.
6. Iran: Like virtually every person in Washington, John Kerry feels that the Iranian nuclear program is a menace to regional stability. However, he is opposed to ‘saber rattling’ and represents the standard Beltway consensus on Iran:
— Voted against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization, siding with Democrats who dubbed it needlessly antagonistic.
— Helped unanimously pass severe sanctions on Iran, the same ones described by Vice President Joe Biden as the toughest in history.
— Stated in April that he thinks Iranian leaders will act rationally on the discussion of nuclear issues.
— Thinks we can work harder to solidify “common interests” with Iran, including eliminating the Taliban and fighting drug trafficking.
— Says military action on Iran is a last resort after diplomatic possibilities have been exhausted.
7. China: Kerry has a nuanced view of U.S.-Chinese relations, and seems focused on continuing the Obama administration’s first-term policy of emphasizing broad commonalities for cooperation and a stable long-term trade relationship.
— Voted in favor of normalizing trade relations with China, but voted against an amendment tying this request to Congressional oversight of human rights issues in that country.
— Does not support transferring clean energy technology to China.
— Said, “I don’t think that we’re here to rupture [the Chinese-American] relationship. I think we’re here to send a message to the Chinese about the urgent need to repair it,” speaking in favor of a bill to add new duties on imports from countries with undervalued currencies which infuriated Chinese officials.
— However, says we need to counter China’s rise not by fighting, but competing with our own economic resurgence: ” … economics is not war. We can both come out well ahead of where we are now.”
Kerry will continue to engage U.S.-Chinese relations as a cooperative, rather than purely competitive effort.