Robert Nolan is an editor at the Foreign Policy Association and producer of the Great Decisions in Foreign Policy television series on PBS. You can follow him on Twitter at @robert_nolan.
Sen. John Kerry, President Obama's nominee to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the president's second term, testified in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday—the very committee he used to chair.
While Kerry expressed "a lot more sympathy" for folks brought in to testify now that he himself was in the hot seat, it was, as expected, smooth sailing. There were, however, some hints of what to expect in terms of policy priorities in Foggy Bottom under a Kerry tenure. Here are five takeaways from his testimony.
1. "Foreign policy is economic policy"
The senator from Massachusetts and former presidential candidate opened his testimony with a focus on the American economy. "Foreign Policy is economic policy," he said, noting that the United States cannot tell developing countries how to get their own economies back on track without getting our own fiscal house in order. "American foreign policy is not defined by drones and deployments alone," he added, commenting that the competition for the world's resources and markets would require a new kind of "economic statecraft." Under questioning, Kerry made the case for a stronger U.S. presence in emerging markets like Africa, where Beijing continues to engage at a far greater clip than Washington.
2. Bridging the Branches of Power
A number of questions, particularly from Republican senators on the committee, reflected frustration with the Obama administration's decision making procedures on foreign policy issues that some have seen as exclusionary of lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The Benghazi debacle was of course brought up as one example by Arizona Sen. John McCain and others. The son of a Foreign Service Officer and longtime ranking member of the Senate, Kerry repeatedly stated that he would consult with his former colleagues and serve as a bridge between the White House, Foggy Bottom, and the Hill. He also scored cool points when he sympathized with a young female antiwar protester who interrupted his remarks with shouts of protest against U.S. actions in the Middle East and Iran. "When I first came to Washington and testified, I obviously was testifying as part of the group of people who came here to have their voices heard," he said. "And that is above all what this place is about."
3. Winding down the big wars, fighting the small ones
Kerry made clear that he's on board with President Obama's decision to wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan responsibly, noting repeatedly that "drones and deployments" do not a foreign policy make. He did, however, leave the door open to what a U.S. presence in Afghanistan might look like beyond 2014. On other pressing national security issues like Iran, Kerry offered up support for the president's policies. "The president has made it definitive that we will do what we can to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," he said. "Our policy is not containment," he added, but said that diplomacy and heavy sanctions would continue to be the preferred course of action. Kerry also supported the decision for the United States to provide technical assistance to the French effort against Islamist fighters in Mali, noting that counter terrorism in the Maghreb would be a major challenge in the coming year.
4. Women's Rights
Kerry was asked repeatedly by female members of the committee about the role of women around the world, and American efforts to promote gender equality, a signature priority for the State Department under Clinton. Kerry cited American support for the advancement of girls' education in Afghanistan as a critical step in that country's development and that women's issues would remain at the forefront during his tenure.
5. The Global Opportunity Gap
Perhaps the most thematic thread in Kerry's testimony was the need for the world's developed and nearly developed economies to address the global opportunity gap. Poverty, the lack of jobs, high birth rates, and repressive regimes around the world have led to uprisings, failed states and instability that will continue to create challenges for the United States. Working to create greater opportunities to close this gap, particularly the aspirations of young people in the Middle East and North Africa, will indeed be one of the great challenges of the coming decade. "The developed world can do more to help meet these aspirations," he said.