The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to vote as soon as next week to confirm Kerry (D-Mass.). The full Senate could take up his bid quickly. Senate insiders said Kerry could take over for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in early February.
After shaking hands with Democrats and Republicans on the committee, which he has chaired for four years, Kerry moved to the witness table and said it was “humbling” to sit before his colleagues in his new role as a nominee.
“I’m particularly aware that in many ways, the greatest challenge to America’s foreign policy will be in your hands, not mine,” Kerry told the senators. “I am especially cognizant of the fact that we can’t be strong in the world unless we are strong at home,” a challenge in these days of fiscal stress, he added.
Kerry outlined no grand agenda for the next four years. The closest he got to a foreign policy mission statement was the observation that “more than ever, foreign policy is economic policy.” That means the United States must do better in the global competition for resources and markets, where it is being outmaneuvered by more nimble or aggressive nations, he said.
“Every day that goes by where America is uncertain in that arena, unwilling to put our best foot forward and win, unwilling to demonstrate our resolve to lead, is a day in which we weaken our nation itself,” Kerry said.
Asked about the personal bond he once had with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Kerry said the hopes he once had for an opening with Syria are moot. “Sometimes there are moments where you may be able to get something done in foreign policy, and if the moment somehow doesn’t ripen correctly or get seized, you miss major opportunities,” Kerry said.
He has been called naive for thinking Assad might become a political reformer. Now he sounds resigned to a continuation of the bloody factional fight.
“Right now, President Assad doesn’t think he’s losing, and the opposition thinks it’s winning,” Kerry said. “That is not an equation that allows you to reach some accommodation for transition.”
But when pressed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) about getting more directly involved in helping the Syrian rebels, Kerry said he needs time to understand the situation better.
On Iran, he said that negotiation is the better path but that if Iran refuses to talk in a meaningful way, “we will do what we must.” That was a sum-up of the Obama administration’s two-pronged, and so far unsuccessful, attempt to offer Iran a deal while threatening military action if it pushes on toward a nuclear weapon.