John Kerry Secretary of State: 5 Issues He Should Focus On

Stepping into a very successful secretary of state's shoes can be a challenge. And for Senator John Kerry (R-Mass.) to do so, when outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's popularity ratings are higher than those of President Obama's is no cakewalk. Given the challenges in the Middle East to U.S Foreign policy, and the region being mired in violence and instability, there are few things that Kerry should do right away as secretary of state to help provide stability and also a modicum of order to the region. I believe there are ways for the U.S to be involved, without direct intervention, and achieve desired results. Here are five ways:

1. Aggressive Diplomacy in Syria:


The civil war in Syria rages on, with unsuccessful efforts from everyone including Lakdar Brahimi — the UN-Arab envoy. Brahimi has warned that the civil war could claim more than 100,000 lives this year, if it continues. Russia and China have been key players who actively blocked this issue from being resolved through the U.N and the situation has reached a point of no return. Unless the U.S. steps up, and lobbies through the UN and other global diplomatic channels to push this issue forward, there is likely to be more regional instability and continued war in Syria. It is about time the U.S. stepped in actively and took a stand in Syria. Kerry has a big role to play in this.

2. Re-imagine Diplomacy and Tact:


In a rapidly changing world, with global shifts of power taking place in an unprecedented way, the old paradigm of "carrots and sticks" must change. While the State Department under Sec. Hillary Clinton sought to use soft-power to pursue U.S. diplomacy throughout the world, there needs to be a greater realization that the challenges of the future will be largely economic and not military — as Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter has rightly pointed out.

3. Middle East Peace Process:


With the weakening of the far-right coalition in Israel, international recognition for Palestine through the UN General Assembly in November 2012 is finally happening. Kerry needs to push for Israel to stop settlements, sit down at the table and negotiate. There is only one country that can do this and it is the U.S. It is about time that Kerry exercised this power and did this — not only for the region but also for global security.

4. Iran:


Sanctions on Iran continue, with the state of Iran not buckling much. The ones to pay a real price for this are the ordinary Iranians — who continue to suffer on a daily basis. "Our policy is not containment, but prevention," pointed out Kerry during his Senate confirmation hearings. I believe Kerry should push for aggressive diplomacy with the Iranians and try to work out a solution to get them to start talking with the U.S. A continued impasse will only lead to passive aggressive behavior by groups inimical to peace in the region.

5. U.S.'s Standing in the World:


While the perception of U.S leadership was terribly low following the Bush years, falling as low as 43% in 2011, it is a fact that the biggest threat to U.S has been the slow economic recovery. While trade, commerce, and all economic activity are crucial to a country, they are not isolated from other geopolitical forces. This is where the U.S can play a key role; in providing stability and order by retaining its own position as the world's largest economy.  

While questions have been raised about his anti-war stance in the past, there is no doubt that with his experience, vision and a pragmatic approach Kerry is the man to "get the house in order" and lead the State Department — and the country — into building stronger partnerships and better foreign policies in the years to come. 

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Sabith Khan

Sabith Khan is a social entrepreneur, researcher and founder of MENASA, a think-tank and policy shop engaged in issues related to MENA and South Asia. Sabith has worked for several years in the field of strategic communications, public affairs and nonprofit management, trying to understand and communicate issues pertaining to civil society, development and youth in the US and MENA region. Sabith has worked with several large global public affairs firms, on award-winning campaigns in healthcare, entertainment and government relations. During his stint at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, he ideated and executed a global award-winning campaign for Apollo Hospitals (Abby and Clio Awards). He has also worked in the Middle East managing accounts as diverse as Dubai Film Festival, Mohammed bin Rashid Foundation, Dubai International Film Festival, Dubai School of Government. Most recently, he served as the Executive Director of Muslim Public Service Network in Washington D.C, an NGO that engages and inspires young American Muslims to do public service. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Planning Governance and Globalization at Virginia Tech. He has been involved as a team member and leader in several international development projects including consulting for the Near East Foundation, in helping set up their Monitoring and Evaluation system for their offices across the MENA region. Sabith has a Master of Public administration and a Master of Arts in International Relations from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. In Summer 2013, he conducted research on American Muslim philanthropy at the Lilly School of Philanthropy, Indianapolis, in an attempt to map giving behavior among Muslims over the last ten years i.e., 2002- 2012. Sabith’s research interests include Religion and Philanthropy, Youth issues in USA, Middle East North Africa and South Asia, Governance and Civil Society. Sabith is also the co-editor of Millennials Speak: Essays on the 21st century, a snapshot of the ideas and opinions of the global Millennial Generation. Twenty writers from five continents, a diverse mix of young academics, policy professionals, and future thought and creative leaders, cover topics from the legacy of the Arab Spring, the global food system, the U.S. student loan crisis, youth unemployment, to popular culture. Currently working: Founder and Executive Director, MENASA Publications: 1. Humanitarian Aid and Faith-Based Giving: The Potential of Muslim Charity - Unrest Magazine, George Mason University. May 2013. Accessible at http://www.unrestmag.com/about-unrest/past-issues/#sthash.GEqNfv0U.dpuf 2. Arab American Diaspora and American Muslim Philanthropy: impact of crisis situations on mobilization and formation of a “community.” American University in Cairo Press. Cairo. (NP). Expected Fall 2013. 3. Middle-East Peace Talks 2010: Investigating the Role of Lobbying and Advocacy Groups in Washington, D.C. as Spoilers. Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Spring 2011. Accessible at : http://www.maxwell.syr.edu/parcc/Research/intrastate/Spoilers_of_Peace_Project/ Blog: www.sabithkhan.wordpress.com

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