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.
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.