By Amitabh Pal on November 09, 2012

The parlor game has begun, and according to the grapevine John Kerry will be Hillary Clinton’s replacement.

“John Kerry Is Top Prospect for Next Secretary of State,” reads the headline of a Boston Globe article that has Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Thomas Donilon, President Obama’s national security adviser, as his closest competitors.

How will Kerry serve in his position, if chosen? Probably cautiously, and with little rocking of the boat.

Certainly, Kerry has shown political daring at various times in his life. The most famous example was early on when as a returning (and highly decorated) Vietnam vet he gave an impassioned speech that called into question the wisdom of the war.

“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 famously asked Congress. “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

On other occasions later during his career as a Senator, he exhibited flashes of the same boldness. He was the chair of the Senate committee looking into the Iran/Contra scandal and played a major role in unearthing many of its misdeeds, including official U.S. tolerance of drug dealing .

“It is clear that individuals who provided support for the Contras were involved in drug trafficking … and elements of the Contras themselves knowingly received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers,” the Kerry Committee stated.

Kerry also headed an investigation that exposed massive skullduggery at BCCI, a bank that was involved in every sort of illegal activity possible.

“Kerry fought against intense opposition from vested interests at home and abroad, from senior members of his own party; and from the Reagan and Bush Administrations, none of whom were eager to see him succeed,” David Sirota and Jonathan Baskin wrote in 2004 in the Washington Monthly. “By the end, Kerry had helped dismantle a massive criminal enterprise and exposed the infrastructure of BCCI and its affiliated institutions, a web that law enforcement officials today acknowledge would become a model for international terrorist financing.”

But these displays of courage have been few and far in between. Much of his career has been marked by excessive prudence. So much so that when David Corn of The Nation asked him in 2001 whether he was a liberal, Kerry answered, “Not really, no” and instead called himself a “moderate.”

This character trait showed up most glaringly during the Iraq War. Along with much of the Democratic Party (including the current Secretary of State), Kerry displayed a willingness to believe all the lies that the Bush Administration was then hurling at the country. “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 disingenuousness became obvious to everyone, Kerry pulled back support, a flip-flop that the Bush campaign mercilessly used against him in 2004.

The Iraq War fiasco exemplified a major characteristic of Kerry: a general reticence to take political risks. With Kerry at the helm, Foggy Bottom will continue to implement Obama’s centrist foreign policy with quite remarkable continuity. There’ll be the same fetish for free trade agreements, the same grand strategizing to maintain U.S. dominance, and the same overreliance on drones.

The faces can change. The policy remains.

If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of the Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "Foreign Policy Consensus in Obama-Romney Debate Depressing."

Follow Amitabh Pal @amitpal on Twitter

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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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