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."

Follow Amitabh Pal @amitpal on Twitter

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I’m at my third American Exchange Legislative Council (ALEC) conference, this time in Dallas, and on my first day,...

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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