As expected, former Senator John Kerry will officially succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Kerry received nearly unanimous support from both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, with only three senators voting against his confirmation.
Given Kerry’s history in public service, Americans should watch out for two particular issues to be addressed in the near future. The first is Afghanistan: Over the course of President Obama’s first term, Kerry was routinely sent to Afghanistan to serve as a powerful messenger and negotiator for the United States. Kerry has also, however, expressed deep criticism of the war and has called on Obama to speed up the withdrawal process. Now that Kerry has been confirmed, whether he will continue to be as vocal about his personal views of the war remains to be seen. After all, a critical component of the Secretary of State role is to stand by the administration’s foreign affairs policies — not to subvert them.
In the days leading up to the confirmation, many members of the press suggested that Kerry will be the catalyst for new environmental policy-making — the second prominent issue — in Obama’s second term. Indeed, he has strong credentials with regards to environmental policy and was arguably more attentive to this issue than any other member of the Senate. As chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry has pointed out that global climate change is a serious national security threat. Nonetheless, Americans should not expect to see a substantive shift in environmental policy as much as they should with respect to Afghanistan; unless Obama addresses climate change in an international framework, the State Department will not act independently.
Outgoing Secretary of State Clinton leaves behind an impressive and intimidating legacy. It will undoubtedly not be an easy task for Kerry to follow in her footsteps. However, the recent backlash over the State Department’s handling of the Benghazi tragedy has blemished an otherwise untarnished record, handing Kerry an opportunity to solidify his role as chief diplomat and national leader by improving upon the deficiencies of the department under Clinton, such as ensuring the protection of American diplomats and embassies worldwide.
Hopefully the transition process for Kerry will continue to be smooth so he can immediately begin tackling some of the most pressing concerns facing the United States, by exhausting diplomacy before anything else.
A version of this article appeared in Jan. 30 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]