By Phillip Kurata
Massachusetts’ John Kerry is moving from the U.S. Senate — where he offered advice and consent on U.S. foreign policy — to the State Department, where he will implement it.
On January 29, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved Kerry as the next secretary of state, and a few hours later the full Senate voted overwhelmingly to confirm him for the job.
“From his decorated service in Vietnam to his decades in the Senate as a champion of American global leadership, John’s distinguished career has prepared him to guide American diplomacy in the years ahead,” President Obama said in a statement after the confirmation vote. Outgoing secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton leaves the job February 1.
At his confirmation hearing January 24, Kerry demonstrated broad knowledge of foreign policy issues gleaned from serving on the foreign relations committee since 1984. The son of a U.S. diplomat, Kerry has been immersed in foreign policy all his life and displayed his mastery of it when he ran for president as the Democratic Party’s nominee in 2004. Since 2007, he has chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was a firm supporter of the administration’s foreign policy during President Obama’s first term.
During that time, Kerry guided an arms reduction treaty with Russia to ratification through the Senate and undertook sensitive diplomatic missions for the White House to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sudan.
Kerry told his Senate colleagues during the confirmation hearing that “more than ever, foreign policy is economic policy. The world is competing for resources and global markets.” He added that the U.S. fiscal crisis is a “first priority” that needs resolution because the United States cannot be strong in the world unless it is strong at home.
He said foreign policy addresses a broad range of issues and must make use of a multitude of tools. Economic health, environmental and demographic issues, proliferation, poverty, pandemic diseases, refugees, conflicts and the demands of new technology are “inextricably linked,” he said.
He said that in many countries in the world, “burgeoning populations of young people, hungry for jobs, opportunity, individual rights and freedom, are rebelling against years of disenfranchisement and humiliation.”
As secretary, Kerry said, he will continue to raise human rights concerns and push for greater religious tolerance, gender and ethnic equality, and an end to corruption.
Because of his 28 years as a senator, Kerry is expected to be able to work effectively with Congress.
“You have already built strong relationships with leaders around the world, which will help you seamlessly into the role of secretary of state,” said Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey. “You will need no introduction to the world’s political and military leaders and will begin Day One fully conversant not only with the intricacies of U.S. foreign policy but with an understanding of the nuanced approach necessary to effectively interact on the multinational stage.”
Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the highest ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said there is “almost no one” who has spent so much time and effort as Kerry developing foreign policy expertise.