US Senator John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this morning regarding his nomination by President Barack Obama to serve as the next Secretary of State. Kerry addressed new and long-time colleagues as a nominee instead of his usual capacity as Committee Chair, a post he’s held for four years, and as a Committee member for over two decades. He is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Kerry, a former prosecutor, Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor, and 2002 Democratic presidential nominee, was introduced by three high level officials – US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), US Secretary State Hillary Clinton, and US Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.).
McCain said their special friendship, despite strong political disagreements, “endured due to mutual respect.” The Arizona Republican spoke of Kerry’s “extraordinary diplomatic skills”, citing as one example, his work over the lingering questions whether there were remaining American POWs in Vietnam. McCain recalled high charged emotions and even political opportunism among some, yet Kerry managed the investigation with patience, persistence, and showed the skill to find consensus.
The Arizona senator called it a “masterful accomplishment” to finally put to rest that no American POWs remained in Vietnam. This enabled the normalization of relations with Vietnam. McCain ended telling his colleagues, “I commend his nomination to you without reservation.”
“I will always be grateful” for McCain’s partnership, Kerry said, “for his partnership in helping to make real peace with Vietnam by establishing the most significant process in the history of our country for accounting for the missing and dead of any war, and then for lifting the embargo and ultimately normalizing relations with an old enemy. John [McCain] had every reason to hate, but he didn’t. Instead, we were able to help heal deep wounds and end a war that divided too many for too long.”
Kerry, who like McCain also served in Vietnam, reflected humbly, “As a veteran, I will always carry the consequences of our decisions in my mind and be grateful that we have such extraordinary people to back us up.”
The Massachusetts senator said the reputation of the United States is linked to domestic, economic policy. It is “urgent that we show people we can get our business done in an effective and timely way … It is hard to tell the leadership of any number of countries they must get their economic issues resolved if we don’t resolve our own.”
Kerry, a graduate of Yale University and Boston College Law School, wafting eloquently said “American foreign policy is not defined by drones and deployments alone. We cannot allow the extraordinary good we do to save and change lives to be eclipsed entirely by the role we have had to play since September 11th, a role that was thrust upon us.”
He underscored American foreign policy “is also defined by food security and energy security, humanitarian assistance, the fight against disease and the push for development, as much as it is by any single counter terrorism initiative.”
His position on Iran was unclear. “We will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. I repeat here today: our policy is not containment. It is prevention and the clock is ticking on our efforts to secure responsible compliance … I will work to give diplomacy every effort to succeed. But no one should mistake our resolve to reduce the nuclear threat.”
During the question and answer session he said regarding Iran’s nuclear program, “It’s not hard to prove a peaceful nuclear program.” There are international protocols and standards with onsite, unrestricted inspections that are necessary. Iran knows what it needs to do and time is running out.
“So this really is a time for American leadership, a time for fresh thinking,” he told the Committee, in an age when there has never been such a new, complicated, ever changing world order.
“Everyone on this Committee knows well the road ahead is tough,” Kerry said. “But I believe just as deeply that global leadership is a strategic imperative for America, not a favor we do for other countries. It amplifies our voice and extends our reach.”
He added, “It’s the key to jobs, the fulcrum of our influence, and it matters – it really matters to the daily lives of Americans. It matters that we get this moment right for America and it matters that we get it right for the world.” Kerry underscored his belief in the Senate and specifically how he would work with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a collegial, bi-partisan fashion to make America safer and the world a better, more peaceful place.
As Kerry offered closing remarks a lone protestor was heard in the back of the hearing room complaining about US policy in the Middle East. Kerry handled it deftly, calmly, graciously, and with gentle humor. Grace under fire.
Paul Jesep is an attorney, policy analyst, and author of “Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis: Learn to Live and Work Ethically.”