(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Barack Obama’s nomination of John Kerry as secretary of state gives the Senate a critical opportunity to probe the administration’s foreign policy priorities—and many of those policies demand inquiry. The Republicans—who, like Senator John McCain, sniped disgracefully at UN Ambassador Susan Rice—have expressed few coherent reservations about our current course. So it will be incumbent upon Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to lead a responsible review.
Here are a few questions senators should ask the nominee.
§ Presidential war making: Are there any limits to the president’s war powers in the so-called “war on terror”? Contrary to expectations, Obama has broadened the Bush administration’s view that the congressional resolution authorizing the pursuit of Al Qaeda after 9/11 gives the president the right to attack any suspect group in any country as long as there are terrorists—in other words, forever. That prerogative is said to include the power to kill anyone (including US citizens) that the president decides poses a terrorist threat to the United States. How would you reconcile this position with the Constitution? How would you suggest that Congress enforce accountability on a president who targets and kills innocent people by mistake?
§ Climate change: Do you consider global warming a clear and present danger to our national security? In his first inaugural address, Obama raised the hope that we would begin to “roll back the specter of a warming planet.” Yet the United States was essentially AWOL in the recent climate negotiations in Doha, and thus a key contributor to their failure. Do you plan to change course?
§ Global economic recovery: Does mass unemployment in the United States, recession in Europe and Japan, and continued trade conflict with China require new international policies from the United States? Washington is pivoting toward more austerity at home, while economic growth here and abroad is faltering. We are headed for a synchronized global recession with new trade and currency wars, when what we need is a synchronized global recovery. What steps would you recommend to revive sustainable economic growth as a part of our global policy?
§ Militarization of US foreign policy: How can the State Department reclaim from the military its proper role as the lead agency of US policy abroad? The militarization of foreign policy has continued unabated in the first Obama term. Regional military commanders act in effect as proconsuls who have far greater weight than ambassadors in regions around the world. Many countries know the United States only for its military bases, its military trainers or its drone attacks. Our foreign assistance budget is a global disgrace, while military spending is higher than it was at the height of the Cold War under Ronald Reagan. What commitments have been made, if any, by the president in terms of correcting this wrongheaded imbalance?