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What Will Secretary of State John Kerry's Foreign Policy Look Like?

After the GOP embarrassed Susan Rice out of the running, ABC News reported on Saturday that Obama will nominate Sen. John Kerry to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, brings with him a long record on foreign policy—and a little dirty laundry. Below is a collection of his statements and stances on recent foreign policy crises.


Before Syria’s Bashar al-Assad began killing thousands of civilians, Sen. Kerry counted himself among the foreign policy minds hoping that Assad would prove a reformer. To that end, he and Assad had multiple discussions that left Kerry feeling optimistic. In April 2010, he called Syria “an essential player in bringing peace and stability to the region.” In March 2011, he said, “President Assad has been very generous with me in terms of the discussions we have had. … So my judgment is that Syria will move; Syria will change, as it embraces a legitimate relationship with the United States and the West.” Kerry urged moderation at the start of the Syrian war; however, he has since called for discussing safe zones and arming the Syrian opposition.


In 2011, Kerry was one of the leading voices urging a no-fly zone over Libya while White House officials were still skeptical. Speaking to the Foreign Relations Committee, he said, “The international community cannot simply watch from the sidelines as this quest for democracy is met with raw violence. … The Security Council should act now, in my judgment, to heed the Arab League’s call.” He also called for nations to turn over billions in frozen Libyan assets to the rebels fighting to oust Quaddafi.


Kerry, long an advocate for the U.S. to lead on climate change prevention, has compared the threat posed by poor international effort to confront climate change to that of war. In an August speech on the Senate floor, he said, “We all know what’s happening with respect to Iran, and nuclear weapons and the possibility even of a war. … This issue actually is of as significant a level of importance, because it affects life itself on the planet. Because it affects ecosystems on which the oceans and the land depend.” As National Journal’s Coral Davenport points out, “He was the only U.S. senator to attend key UN climate-change negotiations in Bali, Indonesia, in 2007, and Poznan, Poland, in 2008.”


Earlier this year, Kerry led a crusade to shame China over its theft of American companies’ trade secrets and intellectual property. The victims of this practice included a Massachusetts wind-energy corporation that lost the majority of its business when a Chinese firm stole its most prized technology. Kerry explained, “It’s a very clear and, in our judgment, egregious, palpable demonstration of the practice that we are deeply concerned about, but it’s not the only one. There are so many things: cyberattacks, access-to-market issues, espionage, theft. These are major points of discussion between us and China.”


Kerry outlined his thoughts on the end of the war in Afghanistan in a May 2011 hearing: “Despite the tremendous skill and sacrifice of our troops, there is no purely military victory to be had in Afghanistan. What we face is a political resolution. … Our reintegration efforts have had limited impact so far. Reconciliation is more promising in the long run, but it will not be fast and it won’t be a silver bullet. … Still, some Taliban appear willing to negotiate, so the United States must send a strong and consistent message that we support a political solution led by the Afghans.” Shortly afterwards, he called for the president to speed up the troop drawdown.


In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Kerry sent a private inquiry to the State Department seeking information about the circumstances of the attacks. But he loudly objected to GOP politicization of the issue: “My view is that the people of the United States understand that when there is a tragedy that involves the loss of life in an embassy ... you bond together as a country, and you don't make it a political football. I don't remember a political football when 3,000 people died about 40 miles away from here and you had 9/11. … The president called it an act of terror immediately. Everyone understands what happened. There's no secret here.”

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