Posted by Amitabh Pal on January 28, 2013

As his recent confirmation hearing showed, John Kerry won’t think outside the box when he is the Secretary of State.

Take his position on nuclear weapons. He said before the Senate Thursday that eliminating them was a “goal” that could take hundreds of years to achieve. In other words, folks, don’t hold your breath on this one. Kerry here was reflecting the establishment mentality—a mentality that is flawed. “Admire Sen. Kerry, but he exaggerates; won’t take us ‘centuries’ to eliminate nuclear weapons, more likely decades,” tweeted Joe Cirincione, a leading arms-control expert.

On Iran, Kerry was Mr. Both Ways, stating that even though the United States would continue to be engaged in diplomacy with that country, it would not take the military option off the table.

“Our policy is not containment,” he said. “It is prevention, and the clock is ticking.”

Kerry also echoed conventional thinking when he stated that a top priority for the United States should be for it to set right its economic state of affairs, which, according to Kerry, would involve debt reduction. But should that be that high up on the agenda? Not according to Nobel laureate and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who in his most recent column chastises the misplaced Beltway attention on the deficit.

Kerry’s performance was so underwhelming that even the New York Times reporter commented: “In a nearly four-hour hearing, Mr. Kerry displayed his familiarity with a broad range of issues but presented no new ideas on how to make headway on the vexing foreign policy problems that he will inherit if he is confirmed, as expected.”

The one subject on which Kerry displayed some boldness was climate change, terming it a “life-threatening issue” and claiming he would be a “passionate advocate” for action on that front. But even here, he undercut himself by declaring that he was undecided on the pending Keystone XL pipeline, a strange position for a “passionate advocate” of the environment.

Kerry’s performance before the Senate was in keeping with his career-long inclination to play it safe.

Certainly, Kerry has shown daring a few times in his political life. The most famous example was early on as a returning (and highly decorated) Vietnam vet.

“We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to dies in Vietnam?” he asked Congress. “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

He has exhibited similar flashes on a couple of occasions during his decades as Senator. He was the chair of the Senate committee looking into the Iran/Contra scandal and uncovered many of its misdeeds. Kerry also headed an investigation that exposed massive wrongdoing at the BCCI bank.

But these episodes have been few and far in between. Much of his senatorial tenure has been marked by an overdose of timorousness.

The most obvious instance was the Iraq War. Along with the current Secretary of State and many other Democrats, Kerry rolled over for President Bush. “I will be voting to give the President of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave threat to our security,” he said. Later on, when Bush’s chicanery became glaringly obvious, Kerry pulled back, a reversal that the Bush campaign mercilessly used against him in 2004.

Kerry’s Senate testimony revealed again his conformist outlook that will not serve the world well when he is at the helm of U.S. foreign policy.

We can expect more of the same with him in charge.

If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of the Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "Obama Repeats Geithner Mistake in Picking Lew for Treasury Secretary."

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