WASHINGTON – Poised to become secretary of state for an administration wrapping up a decade of war, Sen. John Kerry described in his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday a vision for greater trade and engagement with foreign partners to underline that “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 Sept. 11, a role that was thrust upon us,” Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on which he’s served for more than two decades.
A Senate vote on Kerry’s nomination is expected within days. He’s assured an easy confirmation, given the strong and vocal bipartisan support for the veteran Democrat. On Thursday, Kerry was introduced by a trio of high-profile allies: outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren from Kerry’s home state of Massachusetts.
“John has built strong relationships with leaders in governments here and around the world, and he has experience in representing our country in fragile and unpredictable circumstances,” Clinton said in her remarks.
All three supporters told the committee that Kerry’s quarter-century of public service and his experience as a veteran of the Vietnam War had groomed him for the Cabinet post. Warren noted Kerry’s 90 overseas trips in his 28 years in the Senate. Clinton praised him as “the right choice” to advance the Obama administration’s foreign policy goals. And McCain said Kerry showed “masterful” diplomacy as he led efforts to normalize relations with Vietnam after the war in which both men served as Navy officers.
When a woman in a pink hat interrupted the hearing with anti-war protests and shouts of, “I’m tired of my friends in the Middle East dying!” Kerry quickly defended her right to express her views and reminded the panel that he’d once testified before Congress as an anti-war protester in the Vietnam era.
“People measure what we do,” Kerry told the committee. “And in a way that’s a good exclamation point to my testimony.”
Kerry’s familiarity with world affairs was evident, as he gave in-depth answers, often with statistics or concrete examples, to questions on major policy issues.
A smooth U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan? Kerry said it hinges on the country holding credible elections and reconciliation talks with the Taliban. Iran’s nuclear ambitions? Kerry said U.S. policy was not “containment of Iran,” but he added that Tehran had to allow for intrusive inspections and prove that its program is peaceful. How to deal with the war in Syria? Kerry said the White House and the State Department were discussing new ways to support the Syrian opposition, but he stressed that policy changes had to be carefully weighed now that al-Qaida elements have joined the rebel cause.
Kerry also said he wouldn’t give up on burgeoning Arab democracies such as those in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, that he’d seek warmer relations with the Russians, and that potential successions in Venezuela and Cuba held promise for people in the “outliers” of Latin America.