What to expect from John Kerry

It looks very likely that Sen. John Kerry will be nominated to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Questions:

1. What can (could) Kerry bring to State Department in your opinion?

2. Some commentators underline the fact that after the Afroamerican and women period with Kerry “the white older man” is back to lead the State Department. Would you say that it is somehow important?

Answers:

Kurk Dorsey, Associate Professor of History, University of New Hampshire

1. I think that Senator Kerry is a very safe choice to be Secretary of State. He is well known to the Senate and the international community, and he is in the mainstream of American opinion on most foreign policy issues. Because he has been active on foreign policy issues since the Vietnam War, he is probably better prepared to be secretary than Secretary Clinton was. The only real drawback is that he has been only a senator, and not a member of any administration to have executive branch experience.

2. Race and gender are far less important at this level than ideology.  Kerry is probably going to follow a course fairly similar to Colin Powell and Secretary Clinton.  I don’t expect any major differences in US foreign policy because of this appointment.

Thomas ScottoReader in Government, University of Essex

1. I think Kerry’s experience on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would be a key strength for him if he took the position as Secretary of State.  Although most Americans know him as the failed Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, Kerry has had a long Senate career engaging with world leaders and trying to seek solutions to sticky diplomatic situations.  In recent history, he engaged and took stances on thorny issues such as Syria and the pace of troop withdrawal in Afghanistan.  Although he initially was optimistic that Bashar al-Assad would prove a reformer, he has lost faith during the civil war and has hinted that he supports arming the rebels.  He also is open to the possibility of a speeded up troop withdrawal of US forces in Afghanistan, and he believes there are can be political solutions achieved by negotiating with moderate elements of the Taliban.  Perhaps the most important difference is that Kerry has been at the forefront of the belief that environmental disruptions and climate change could have adverse consequences for political stability.   If he were to become Secretary of State, Senator Kerry might be more outspoken on environmental issues than was Hillary Clinton.

2. Given the challenges in the Middle East, China, North Korea, and elsewhere, I think the President wants and he believes the American public wants a Secretary of State with experience to lead during trying times.  The President has been strong in appointing women and minorities to other posts, so I do not think it will be an issue here—particularly as they can make the convincing case Kerry has the experience.  Kerry is also seen as quite progressive and liberal, so Obama’s base supporters will likely approve.

Charles Kupchan, Professor of International Affairs, Georgetown University, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

1. Senator Kerry would bring to the State Department a wealth of experience on matters of diplomacy and foreign policy.  He has proved adept not only as a senator, but also as an American emissary abroad.  At a time of political polarization in the US, Kerry would also be particularly valuable in helping sustain bipartisan support for U.S. foreign policy.

2. The Obama administration has emphasized the importance of diversity in its appointments and of advancing human development abroad; that emphasis would not change with Kerry at the helm of the State Department.

Sean Kay, Professor, Department of Politics and Government, Ohio Wesleyan University

I do not think that is an issue at all – the gender or race.  I do think it is very unfortunate that some of her detractors accused Susan Rice of “throwing elbows” and having “temperament issues” – which are things that are never seen as a disqualifier among men and as normal among ambitious Washington people trying to affect policy.  John Kerry would be an outstanding choice – the main obstacle all along with the question of the future of his seat in the Senate.  But he has the global perspective and experience to make for a great Secretary of State.  He more than deserves it and America would be very fortunate to benefit from his service.

Jack Goldstone, Professor, Director, Center for Global Policy, George Mason University

The choice of John Kerry as nominee for Secretary of State reflects only Kerry’s extensive foreign policy experience in the Senate, and his long service to the Democratic Party.  That he is an older white male has nothing to do with it — no one has put a ‘reserved for women and blacks’ sign on any office of the U.S. government.  It should just be expected as normal that the important posts in the U.S. government will often go to women, to people of different ethnic background, and sometimes — yes — to white men too.

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