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4 Big Challenges for Secretary of State John Kerry

It’s official: John Kerry has been nominated to become the next Secretary of State. Here are four great challenges facing the incoming Secy State.

1). It’s all About the $Billions. One of the great structural challenges of American foreign policy is the underfunding of diplomacy and development, at least compared to the Department of Defense. It is often said that there are more members of military marching bands than foreign service officers. The budget for the State Department and USAID is about $50 billion (compared to about $600 billion for the Pentagon.) One of the Secretary of State’s most important jobs is to lobby congress on behalf of development and diplomatic priorities. In this tight budget environment, this task will be as important as ever.

3). Development means Business. USAID is technically separate from the State Department, but also intricately bureaucratically related. Under Administrator Raj Shah, USAID has undergone some profound changes. It is streamlining how aid is delivered, it is demanding better results from contrators and recipient countries; and it is actively trying to promote local ownership of aid programs. This transition sometimes creates conflicts in the foreign policy bureaucracy, and John Kerry will have to intervene at key moments to make sure that USAID can stay on its current path of reformation.

4). Maintain Hillary Clinton’s Legacy!  Hillary Clinton leaves some important programs that deserve to championed by every succeeding Secretary of State. Among the most important legacies of Hillary Clinton was using the tools of American foreign policy to champion status of women around the world. This has been manifested in a few ways. She created an Ambassador-at-Large for global women’s issues which reports directly to the Secretary. Clinton also promoted “public-private partnerships” to enhance discrete programs to support women’s health and well being around the world. This includes the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and Saving Lives at Birth. Secretary Kerry surely supports global empowerment of women on principal. These programs, and a focused attention on gender and women’s issues in general are wonderful legacies that Senator Kerry would do well to maintain.

4. A  climate hawk soars to new heights. John Kerry is one of the few American legislators who has been clearly and constantly elevating climate change to the level of national security. The excellent Kate Sheppard writes in Mother Jones:

Kerry is among the most fierce advocates for climate action in the Senate. Here he is in a floor speech from August talking about why climate change is “as significant a level of importance” as Syria and Iran:

“Well, this issue actually is of as significant a level of importance, because it affects life itself on the planet. Because it affects ecosystems on which the oceans and the land depend for the relationship of the warmth of our earth and the amount of moisture that there is and all of the interactions that occur as a consequence of our climate.”Kerry is also the co-author of the last major climate bill anyone tried to pass in the Senate. At its rollout in September 2009, he called the bill “the beginning of one of the most important battles we will ever face, as legislators and as citizens.”

Just as Hillary Clinton elevated global women’s issues the development and diplomacy, we can expect John Kerry to do the same for climate change.

5. Deliver us an NHL Season! John Kerry becomes the highest ranking American hockey fan-diplomat. I urge him to drop all other priorities and personally intervene in NHL labor negations before the 2013 hockey season is scrapped for good.

In any case, I look forward to seeing what Senator Kerry brings to this job.


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