On Newly Appointed Secretary of State John Kerry

Gareth Jones  Assistant Int’l Editor

John Kerry is a good guy. Decorated war veteran, five terms as a Massachusetts Senator, and a chin that could cut rock, all make for an excellent political figure, and despite an inexplicably unsuccessful bid for president, Kerry is a popular figure in the Democratic Party. But President Obama’s choice to nominate him for Secretary of State in lieu of Hilary Clinton’s resignation is surprising (about Clinton’s hiatus; a breather before another, more successful presidential run in 2016? You heard it here first.)

But, is Kerry qualified? Previous holders of that nomination have been at least as involved as Kerry is in Washington politics. Condoleezza Rice came to the post fresh off of National Security Advisor, where she was heavily involved in the biggest political blunder of our generation. That was the false allegations of “weapons of mass destruction” in a country whose “army” still used World War II era assault rifles as standard issue firearms.

Kerry was instrumental in the Vietnam War protests, after earning, amongst other accolades, no less than three Purple Hearts for his service in the late 60s. He was the first soldier to testify before Congress on the subject, as well as the Senate Fulbright Hearings. Several days later he gained further national acclaim for being one of several US armed forces members to be filmed throwing their medals over the White House fence in a sign of protest and solidarity with the soldiers still locked in combat.

All in all, quite the foreign policy issue to make your name off of, but that was 40 years ago, and his record since then has been rather domestic in nature, scant of foreign policy issues. So, why Kerry?

Conservative critics complain he is being thrown a bone for years of loyal service to the Democratic Party, and they may not be as wrong as they usually sound. Kerry got lucky. As a senior ranking Democrat he topped the list not necessarily for his prowess on the international political scene or his savvy in the complicated, subtle, and thankless field of diplomacy, but for just that, his rank.

I am sure he will do a passable job, and frankly Obama’s foreign policy moves have been bland at best, so he doesn’t quite have his work cut out for him. Aside from: wheeling and dealing with an Israel that is used to being showered military favors by the Pentagon and perhaps attempting to keep China off islands of dubious ownership in the South China Sea and in line with Ben Bernanke’s financial agenda (a battle perhaps bigger than I’ve initially let on, I’ll grant,) Kerry has one job. Keeping the nukes away from Iran and North Korea. And perhaps fortunately for Kerry, those issues are so big he basically just has to give ticked-off speeches every time Kim Jung Un or Ahmadinejad tries to play cowboys and Indians, and wait for Obama to step in and make the real decisions.

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Ally Thibault Asst. Managing Editor

Among many accomplishments over the past four years, Hillary Clinton became the most traveled U.S. Secretary of State, covering over 950,000 miles while visiting more than 100 countries. Former Secretary Clinton was one of the most visible members of President Obama’s cabinet during his first term and is now one of the most popular politicians in the U.S.

“I have big heels to fill,” new Secretary of State John Kerry quipped about taking over the post last month.

Kerry has been a fixture in the U.S. Senate for 28 years, serving as the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee during Obama’s first term. As a Senator, he made a name for himself working on Vietnam War veterans’ issues and working across the aisle with republicans, most notably fellow Vietnam veteran Sen. John McCain, on several issues.

Although he was President Obama’s second choice for Secretary of State, (after his first choice, U.N Ambassador Susan Rice, was heavily criticized after the killing of the U.S. Ambassador in Libya) Kerry was easily confirmed by his Senate colleagues. The confirmation hearing was really more of a beauty pageant for the exiting Senator to tout his ideals and the accomplishments of his Senate career.

Kerry has been popular for years among his Massachusetts constituents, but his national image took a blow after his failed 2004 presidential campaign. His vice presidential pick, John Edwards, was embroiled in scandal for years after the election season for cheating on his terminally ill wife with a campaign staffer, but Kerry squeaked by without getting dragged into that media mess.

Instead, Kerry’s problem after the post-presidential election had to do with his personal character. The Bush campaign successfully painted him as an intellectual elitist and the image has stuck. As a Massachusetts politician, this characterization doesn’t harm him much, but nationally there are many Americans who don’t see Kerry as a good spokesperson for their country abroad.

Conversely, the rest of the world seems to see Kerry as a good fit for foreign relations. The French newspaper Le Figaro described Kerry as “an old friend of France, a speaker of perfect French and a Francophile who knows us from inside, something not all that common on the other side of the Atlantic.” A Turkish paper, Cumhuriyet, echoed compliments of Kerry, saying that he and Sen. Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nomination for Secretary of Defense, “are people who care about Turkey and who are very familiar with Turkey’s role in the region. This team is Ankara’s last hope.”

So while it seems the world may welcome Secretary of State John Kerry, don’t expect America to fawn over him the way they did over Hillary Clinton. Perceived as awkward and snobby by many of his fellow citizens, he will not be given the same amount of respect that his predecessor received from the American public.

 

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