In nominating John Kerry to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, President Barack Obama called the veteran US senator the “perfect choice” as America’s top diplomat. The world will soon see how perfect Kerry really is as he deals with the components of Obama’s foreign policy which Republicans and some Democrats have sharply criticized.
Kerry must tackle an array of tough issues, including efforts to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran, as well as the American response to the bloody uprising in Syria. He will also help direct the administration’s approach to China’s rise, winding down the war in Afghanistan, relations with Pakistan, and how the US will manage the upheaval in the Middle East.
It is said Kerry would want to play a big role in shaping Mideast policy and will delve heavily into the peace process. However, what he comes up with in terms of a settlement is highly dubious. Although as the 2004 presidential candidate he attacked the George W. Bush administration’s negligence of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, at the same time he asserted that history “and our own best interests” demand that the US maintain a steady policy of friendship and support for Israel. His once lambasting of a US official for proposing that Washington adopt an “even-handed” approach to the conflict is telling.
For Kerry, the burden of renewing stalled peace talks will not rest on Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he will probably equate with then prime minister Ariel Sharon as willing to make peace but unable to find a committed partner in peace on the Palestinian side. Kerry will not have changed his past view that violence is triggered by “militant Palestinian groups bent on destroying the peace process” rather than by Israeli actions in the West Bank and Gaza.
With this understanding of a cycle of Arab aggression and Israeli self-defense, it would be expected and only natural that Kerry will insist that Palestinians must stop violence - his fundamental building block of the peace process. After this step, Israel might be asked to alleviate hardships on the Palestinian people, a plea which evidently does not involve dismantling the vast majority of settlements which are currently cropping up at fever pitch in the wake of the enhanced Palestinian status in the UN.
While rejecting Bush’s Middle East approach, Kerry’s interpretation of the region’s problems apparently borrowed heavily from neo-conservative philosophy. Whereas many liberals emphasize the necessity of solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in order to improve relations with the Arab world which is becoming increasingly Islamist and antagonistic toward the West, Kerry would demote the issue to its barest denominator: Israel is America’s closest ally in the region.
The Middle East would be sure to take up a good part of the secretary’s time. Kerry is well-traveled to the Middle East, has a good feel for the region and knows many of the players. But a broad reorientation of White House Middle East policy is unlikely if Kerry is confirmed. There has been very little difference in any president’s commitment to Israel over the last several administrations. John Kerry would continue that support without question.