Peace in Our Time? Obama's New Foreign Policy Team Faces First Test with Kerry

In his second inaugural address, President Barack Obama spoke of “peace in our time” as a foreign policy goal. The next steps toward pursuing that lofty--if ill-starred--ambition will unfold at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today, where Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) will face hearings on his confirmation as Secretary of State. The other two Obama nominees, Chuck Hagel (Defense) and John Brennan (CIA), face hearings in the next several days.

Kerry is widely expected to breeze through the confirmation process. He will face easy questions from the committee he has chaired for several years, and which showed little stomach yesterday for questioning current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about her role in the Benghazi scandal. Prominent Republicans, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have already indicated that they favor Kerry’s appointment to the position.

Yet Kerry has a troubling record on foreign policy issues, and a history of backing the “wrong” side, most recently attempting to shore up Hugo Chavez ally Manuel Zelaya in Honduras. He also led efforts by Democrats to rehabilitate the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, criticized the life-saving Israeli security barrier, recognized “legitimate complaints” of the FARC terrorists in Columbia, and opposed the first Gulf War.

Kerry was not the Obama administration’s first choice. UN Ambassador Susan Rice was to have been nominated for a position she is long thought to have coveted, having been brushed aside in 2008 to make way for Clinton. However, Rice’s role in misleading the American public about the role of an anti-Islamic video in allegedly provoking the attack caused several key Republicans to indicate their strong opposition to her appointment.

Regardless, Kerry is a choice who fits President Obama’s ideological mould. While his infamous slander against U.S. troops in the “Winter Soldier” investigation, and his flip-flops on the Iraq War, made Kerry unpalatable to many Americans as a potential commander-in-chief, his enthusiasm for multilateralism, his eagerness for reconciliation with America’s enemies, and his strident criticisms of war match Obama’s priorities.

It is likely, given yesterday’s hearings on Benghazi, that Kerry will be asked about his commitment to strengthening the State Department’s security operations. He will also face a variety of questions about contemporary foreign policy issues, such as Iran, the Arab Spring, relations with Russia, Chinese ambitions in the wester Pacific, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Falkland Islands, and international climate change protocols.

These are questions for which Kerry will have answers at the ready. What he will not likely be asked is whether the Obama administration has lived up to its promise of “tough diplomacy”; why the United States is less respected around the world today, including in the Middle East, than we were under President George W. Bush; and whether the weak approach by the Obama administration to conflict has encouraged America’s enemies.

Kerry will take his place in the Cabinet of a president who won the Nobel Peace Prize just months after taking office, but has made no significant steps for peace; whose war in Libya--not authorized by Congress--has triggered widening violence in north Africa; and whose promise of “peace in our time” has a very troubled history. The only question is whether Republicans on the committee will use the day to articulate an alternative.


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