Saturday, January 5, 2013

Tough Questions for John Kerry

Tough Questions for John Kerry

The Editors of The Nation

January 2, 2013

January 21, 2013 edition of The Nation.

Barack Obama's nomination of John Kerry as secretary of state gives the Senate a critical opportunity to probe the administration's foreign policy priorities - and many of those policies demand inquiry. The Republicans - who, like Senator John McCain, sniped disgracefully at UN Ambassador Susan Rice - have expressed few coherent reservations about our current course. So it will be incumbent upon Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to lead a responsible review.

Here are a few questions senators should ask the nominee.

* Presidential war making: Are there any limits to the

president's war powers in the so-called "war on terror"?

Contrary to expectations, Obama has broadened the Bush

administration's view that the congressional resolution

authorizing the pursuit of Al Qaeda after 9/11 gives the

president the right to attack any suspect group in any

country as long as there are terrorists - in other words,

forever. That prerogative is said to include the power to

kill anyone (including US citizens) that the president

decides poses a terrorist threat to the United States. How

would you reconcile this position with the Constitution?

How would you suggest that Congress enforce accountability

on a president who targets and kills innocent people by


* Climate change: Do you consider global warming a clear and

present danger to our national security? In his first

inaugural address, Obama raised the hope that we would

begin to "roll back the specter of a warming planet." Yet

the United States was essentially AWOL in the recent

climate negotiations in Doha, and thus a key contributor

to their failure. Do you plan to change course?

* Global economic recovery: Does mass unemployment in the

United States, recession in Europe and Japan, and

continued trade conflict with China require new

international policies from the United States? Washington

is pivoting toward more austerity at home, while economic

growth here and abroad is faltering. We are headed for a

synchronized global recession with new trade and currency

wars, when what we need is a synchronized global recovery.

What steps would you recommend to revive sustainable

economic growth as a part of our global policy?

* Militarization of US foreign policy: How can the State

Department reclaim from the military its proper role as

the lead agency of US policy abroad? The militarization of

foreign policy has continued unabated in the first Obama

term. Regional military commanders act in effect as

proconsuls who have far greater weight than ambassadors in

regions around the world. Many countries know the United

States only for its military bases, its military trainers

or its drone attacks. Our foreign assistance budget is a

global disgrace, while military spending is higher than it

was at the height of the Cold War under Ronald Reagan.

What commitments have been made, if any, by the president

in terms of correcting this wrongheaded imbalance?

* Afghanistan: Do you support the continued waste of lives

and billions of dollars on this war? And what will you do

diplomatically to ensure that our exit is not delayed

beyond 2014? Reports are circulating that the

administration plans to keep a military force of unknown

size in Afghanistan past 2014, and has pledged another

decade of financial support for a regime that at least one

US official has called a "vertically integrated criminal

enterprise." What limits would you urge for this misguided


* The Middle East: What should US priorities be in this

region, as the promise of the Arab Spring looks

increasingly like the Arab Fall, with a proliferation of

regional militias in Libya, increasing tensions in Egypt

and growing sectarianism among Syria's rebels? How can we

claim to support democracy in the Arab world when the

monarchy in Bahrain - our ally and host of the US Navy's

Fifth Fleet - imprisons and kills peaceful protesters?

Given the shredding of the peace process between Israel

and the Palestinians, do you believe our "Israel right or

wrong" policy adequately protects America's security

interests? Is it more, or less, important now for the

United States to push for a fair settlement of the

conflict by establishing a viable Palestinian state?

* Iran and nuclear peril: Do you believe our current

strategy of ratcheting up sanctions while retaining the

option of using military force prevents Iran from joining

Israel, Pakistan and India in developing a nuclear weapon?

Is it possible that these threats are actually

accelerating Iran's nuclear efforts and helping to create

support in the country for a nuclear weapons capability?

Iran has often said it does not want nuclear weapons,

especially if countries like Israel give up theirs. Would

you be willing to test Iran's interest in what is known as

a "grand bargain" (in which, among other things,

Washington would renounce regime change and accept

normalized relations in exchange for Tehran's agreeing to

intrusive inspections by the International Atomic Energy


This is only a small sample of the questions that any nominee should answer. We are facing monumental foreign policy challenges. It's time for the Senate to get beyond partisan cheap shots and exercise its constitutional responsibility to ask John Kerry how the administration plans to address them.

Back in 2001, David Corn wrote an incisive piece on "Defining John Kerry."


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