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What Now for Kerry? Faculty Weigh In on New Secretary of State

02/14/13
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John Kerry, JD '76 (Photo by Judy Sanders)

By Office of News & Public Affairs |

Published: Feb. 14, 2013

On Feb. 1, Boston College Law School graduate John F. Kerry JD ’76 officially became the 68th United States Secretary of State, after serving as a US senator since 1985. Chronicle invited BC faculty members — including two of Kerry’s former professors — to offer their views on the qualities Kerry brings to the job, and the challenges he is likely to face.

Prof. Robert Bloom (Law):
As a first-year law student, he had a lot on his plate – John was a father of a young child and traveled in from Lowell. Nevertheless, he took law school seriously. In his second year, John seemed to thrive. He really enjoyed debate – he and classmate Rona Schneider won an inter-school moot court competition and did well in national competition. He was a good listener and was able to quickly understand difficult issues and concepts. John enjoyed the Socratic dialogue. I think he will continue to use the Socratic method so that he can make informed decisions about any issue.

Prof. Marc Landy (Political Science): In his first term, President Obama appointed strong-minded, exceptional, people to the two crucial posts of Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense. Replacing them with two of his Senate cronies is a big step down. Obama himself is not a clear strategic thinker; he needs to appoint people who can challenge and prod him even if they have rough edges. Kerry’s edges are smoother.

Prof. Robert Ross (Political Science): Kerry’s major strength is his experience. As the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he held hearings on virtually every matter related to US foreign policy, so he has great insight into American interests. We’re fortunate to have someone who can step right in and go to work without much of a learning curve.
As for challenges, Kerry tends to speak his mind.  This is an advantageous in the U.S. Senate, but it is not always helpful in the foreign policy arena. In diplomacy, precision in speaking is required, or else the wrong impression can be very easily conveyed. So learning and mastering this sort of rhetoric will be crucial for him.

The Middle East, including the humanitarian crisis in Syria, will certainly test Kerry. But I think the most pressing issue will be how to manage Asia, which is at its most unstable since the end of the Cold War. China is, in fact, the security issue of the 21st century — how to defend our interests while trying to work cooperatively with China.

That said, as the new secretary of state, Kerry may have an advantage. The Chinese are looking for an opportunity to forge better cooperation with the US, and hoping for a change from what they experienced with Hillary Clinton. So Kerry goes in with a clean slate, and the possibility of building an effective working relationship with China.

Asst. Prof. Peter Krause (Political Science): There is any number of foreign policy challenges ahead for Kerry, especially in the Middle East. Syria, for example: Can the US work out something with the Russians that will cut off the conflict and usher in a post-Assad era? Any negotiations with Iran — which might include discussions about Syria — would mean a big role for Kerry.
Closer to home, in North America, are some critical issues that will involve Kerry. With Canada, there is the Keystone pipeline, and the dilemma of balancing economic gain versus environmental concerns. And the US has to deal with Mexico on matters of immigration and drugs.

Kerry also has a huge issue that has to do with the security of US embassies abroad in the wake of the attacks in Benghazi and Turkey. Whatever the fall-out for Hillary Clinton, it’s now Kerry’s task to fix the problem. But consulates perform a valuable role in American foreign policy because of their engagement with the local populace, so if you make them inaccessible you create another set of difficulties.

It’s important to realize that the secretary of state doesn’t have as much influence on foreign policy as the president or the secretary of defense. State has a broad focus but a small budget, so the secretary is essentially a top diplomat who helps to enact the policies pushed by the president. My impression of Kerry is that his tenure will be one of a generally solid stewardship with no radical changes.

Libby Professor of Law Sanford Katz: John Kerry was an excellent student of mine in Family Law. One would ordinarily not think of John as interested in the field, but he was and he showed real insight in family law issues that must have helped him in his senate career in his support of social legislation.

On Feb. 1, Boston College Law School graduate John F. Kerry JD ’76 officially became the 68th United States Secretary of State, after serving as a US senator since 1985. Chronicle invited BC faculty members — including two of Kerry’s former professors — to offer their views on the qualities Kerry brings to the job, and the challenges he is likely to face.
Prof. Robert Bloom (Law): As a first-year law student, he had a lot on his plate – John was a father of a young child and traveled in from Lowell. Nevertheless, he took law school seriously. In his second year, John seemed to thrive. He really enjoyed debate – he and classmate Rona Schneider won an inter-school moot court competition and did well in national competition. He was a good listener and was able to quickly understand difficult issues and concepts. John enjoyed the Socratic dialogue. I think he will continue to use the Socratic method so that he can make informed decisions about any issue.

Prof. Marc Landy (Political Science): In his first term, President Obama appointed strong-minded, exceptional, people to the two crucial posts of Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense. Replacing them with two of his Senate cronies is a big step down. Obama himself is not a clear strategic thinker; he needs to appoint people who can challenge and prod him even if they have rough edges. Kerry’s edges are smoother.

Prof. Robert Ross (Political Science): Kerry’s major strength is his experience. As the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he held hearings on virtually every matter related to US foreign policy, so he has great insight into American interests. We’re fortunate to have someone who can step right in and go to work without much of a learning curve.
As for challenges, Kerry tends to speak his mind.  This is an advantageous in the U.S. Senate, but it is not always helpful in the foreign policy arena. In diplomacy, precision in speaking is required, or else the wrong impression can be very easily conveyed. So learning and mastering this sort of rhetoric will be crucial for him.
The Middle East, including the humanitarian crisis in Syria, will certainly test Kerry. But I think the most pressing issue will be how to manage Asia, which is at its most unstable since the end of the Cold War. China is, in fact, the security issue of the 21st century — how to defend our interests while trying to work cooperatively with China.
That said, as the new secretary of state, Kerry may have an advantage. The Chinese are looking for an opportunity to forge better cooperation with the US, and hoping for a change from what they experienced with Hillary Clinton. So Kerry goes in with a clean slate, and the possibility of building an effective working relationship with China.

Asst. Prof. Peter Krause (Political Science): There is any number of foreign policy challenges ahead for Kerry, especially in the Middle East. Syria, for example: Can the US work out something with the Russians that will cut off the conflict and usher in a post-Assad era? Any negotiations with Iran — which might include discussions about Syria — would mean a big role for Kerry.
Closer to home, in North America, are some critical issues that will involve Kerry. With Canada, there is the Keystone pipeline, and the dilemma of balancing economic gain versus environmental concerns. And the US has to deal with Mexico on matters of immigration and drugs.
Kerry also has a huge issue that has to do with the security of US embassies abroad in the wake of the attacks in Benghazi and Turkey. Whatever the fall-out for Hillary Clinton, it’s now Kerry’s task to fix the problem. But consulates perform a valuable role in American foreign policy because of their engagement with the local populace, so if you make them inaccessible you create another set of difficulties.
It’s important to realize that the secretary of state doesn’t have as much influence on foreign policy as the president or the secretary of defense. State has a broad focus but a small budget, so the secretary is essentially a top diplomat who helps to enact the policies pushed by the president. My impression of Kerry is that his tenure will be one of a generally solid stewardship with no radical changes.

Libby Professor of Law Sanford Katz: John Kerry was an excellent student of mine in Family Law. One would ordinarily not think of John as interested in the field, but he was and he showed real insight in family law issues that must have helped him in his senate career in his support of social legislation.