After hearing the news that John Kerry will be nominated to replace Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State, my reaction was ambivalence. Kerry has a wealth of foreign policy experience, is the current Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and has already been given diplomatic responsibilities by the Obama administration, like when he was asked to go to Pakistan following the Bin Laden raid. He’s a slight improvement over a warmonger like Susan Rice, but would also be the fourth consecutive Secretary of State who supported the Iraq War. Is it too much to ask for that the most important foreign policy-related cabinet position be filled by someone who was opposed to the worst foreign policy disaster of our generation?
Another concern with nominating Kerry is that it leaves his Senate seat in Massachusetts open, which would allow Scott Brown, Wall Street’s favorite Senator, to weasel his way back into office. This is why Republicans worked so hard to torpedo Susan Rice’s nomination (not Benghazi), and are showing support for Kerry now. Brown already has a 17 point lead over potential Democratic opponents.
But my biggest frustration is that the best person for the job was not even given any real consideration, former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold. Feingold was on the Foreign Relations Committee for 18 years during his time in the Senate, and was the only Senator on that committee to also be on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. I can’t think of a more perfect blend of expertise for the 21st century terrorism-driven national security paradigm. He was also one of only 23 Senators to vote against the Iraq War Resolution. But perhaps most impressive is a resolution he proposed back in July of 2010 calling on Hosni Mubarak to move towards free and fair elections, almost an entire year before the Arab Spring. Unfortunately, the resolution died in the Senate “due to a fatal mix of divided loyalties, lobbying influence, and secret Senate holds” (business as usual in Washington), but you’d be hard pressed to find someone more knowledgeable of the current political dynamics at play in the Middle East.
All of that being said, Kerry could still prove adequate to the most important task of President Obama’s second term, avoiding war with Iran. If Kerry plays an important role in preventing that catastrophe, his tenure will have been a success. But if he repeats the mistakes he made in the lead-up to Iraq, Kerry may go down as one of the worst Secretaries of State in American history. For all of our sakes, let’s hope he’s up to the challenge.