The Washington Post

Kerry’s ‘Home Alone’ at Foggy Bottom


US Secretary of State John Kerry, right, with with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and U.N-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, center, on stage following the conclusion of their joint news at the US Ambassador's residence in Paris, France, Monday, Jan. 13, 2014. Kerry is in Paris for meetings on Syria to rally international support for ending the three-year civil war in Syria. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Pool) Secretary of State John F. Kerry, right, with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, following their joint news conference in Paris  Jan. 13, 2014.  (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Pool)

Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s feeling a bit lonely these days in Foggy Bottom. 

 After  about  a year in the job, he said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, more than “one-third of my top leadership team, including half of my undersecretary positions, remain vacant.”

We’re talking 58 top officials, Kerry told them, including some “absolutely critical national security positions, such as under secretary for arms control and international security” to handle things like Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile and nuclear agreements.

Others include the counterterrorism coordinator which, Kerry wrote, “means I am without my principal adviser on counterterrorism”  or the assistant secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, where the nominee (Tom Malinowski), an expert on human rights, is “an expert on Burma,” a country with a spotty human rights record and a place that is “of profound importance to” McConnell.

The letter, sent to the senators before Kerry took off for Europe last weekend, included short handwritten notes to both men, urging their help in getting the Senate to move on the nominations.

Our sense is that’s not gonna happen in the post-nuclear Senate, where Republicans remain furious over Reid’s getting rid of filibusters on presidential nominees. Republicans are now thinking it’s up to Reid and the Democrats, since they can confirm nominees with just 51 votes,  to let the D’s put everyone to a floor vote, a time-consuming process.

Barring some unlikely breakthrough, Kerry may be understaffed for quite some time.

Meanwhile, the only recent addition to Kerry’s inner circle appears to be career diplomat Tom Shannon, former assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs and ambassador to Brazil, whom Kerry has tapped to be the new counselor to the secretary of state. Shannon’s been working most recently on issues involving the Edward Snowden disclosures of NSA  surveillance and now becomes essentially Kerry’s primary trouble-shooter. Predecessors in that post include legendary diplomats George Kennan, who in 1946 forged the U.S. Cold War strategy against Moscow and Chip Bohlen, who succeeded Kennan as ambassador to the Soviet Union.

Shannon’s job doesn’t require Senate confirmation.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.



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Al Kamen · January 16, 2014

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