President Obama's selection of John Kerry as the next secretary of state sends the wrong signal to America's allies and adversaries alike. Though one of the more progressive members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier in his career, Kerry later became a prominent supporter of various neoconservative initiatives, including the invasion and occupation of Iraq, undermining the authority of the United Nations, and supporting Israeli militarism and expansionism.
Kerry was an outspoken supporter of the Bush Doctrine, which declares that the United States has the right to unilaterally invade foreign countries, topple their governments, and occupy them indefinitely if they are deemed to pose even a hypothetical threat against the United States. In 2002, he voted against an unsuccessful resolution authorizing the president to use force against Iraq only if the United Nations Security Council permitted such force under the UN Charter and instead voted for an alternative Republican resolution, which authorized President Bush to invade that oil-rich country unilaterally in violation of the UN Charter.
The October 2002 war resolution backed by Kerry was not like the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution regarding Vietnam, where there was no time for reflection and debate. Kerry had been briefed by the chief UN weapons inspector and by prominent scholars of the region, who informed him of the likely absence of any of the alleged "weapons of mass destruction" and the likely consequences of a U.S. invasion, but he voted to authorize the invasion anyway. It was not a "mistake" or a momentary lapse of judgment. It demonstrated Kerry's dismissive attitude toward fundamental principles of international law and international treaties that prohibit aggressive war.
Kerry and his supporters claim he does not really reject international law. They note that, in voting to authorize the invasion of Iraq, Kerry stated at that time that he expected President Bush "to work with the United Nations Security Council and our allies... if we have to disarm Saddam Hussein by force." He then promised that if President Bush failed to do so, "I will be the first to speak out."
However, Senator Kerry broke that promise. When President Bush abandoned his efforts to gain United Nations Security Council authorization for the war in late February 2003 and pressed forward with plans for the invasion without a credible international coalition, Kerry remained silent. Indeed, when President Bush actually launched the invasion soon afterwards, Senator Kerry praised him, co-sponsoring a Senate resolution declaring that the invasion was "lawful and fully authorized by the Congress" and that he "commends and supports the efforts and leadership of the President... in the conflict with Iraq."
Unlike the hawkish senator from Massachusetts, most Democrats in Congress voted against authorizing the invasion. For example, Senator Robert Byrd introduced a resolution in the fall of 2002 clarifying that authorizing an invasion of Iraq would not diminish Congress' Constitutional authority to declare war and that no additional authority not directly related to a clear threat of imminent, sudden, and direct attack on the United States could be granted to the president unless Congress authorized it. Senator Kerry voted against it, saying "Every nation has the right to act preemptively if it faces an imminent and grave threat."
Senator Kerry's embrace of unilateralism and his rejection of the United Nations system was further illustrated in his attacks on former Vermont governor Howard Dean -- who had been a rival for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination -- for arguing that a genuine international coalition should have been established before the United States invaded Iraq. Kerry claimed that such multilateralism "cedes our security and presidential responsibility to defend America to someone else" since it would "permit a veto over when American can or cannot act." Dean's call for the United States to work in broad coalitions, insisted Kerry, is "little more than a pretext for doing nothing."
In 2004, when the newly elected government of Spain announced that it would fulfill its longstanding promise to withdraw its forces from Iraq unless the mission was placed under the United Nations, Kerry responded by saying, "I call on Prime Minister Zapatero to reconsider his decision and to send a message that terrorists cannot win by their act of terror." Not only did Kerry believe that the Bush/Cheney administration was somehow more trustworthy than the international community in resolving the serious problems besetting post-war Iraq, Kerry was arguing that if a government disagreed with him and insisted that there be a UN mandate in place before participating in the occupation of a foreign country, they were somehow appeasing terrorists.
Even after the Bush administration acknowledged that there were no "weapons of mass destruction" or WMD programs, Kerry said he would have voted for the war anyway because of the oppressive nature of Saddam Hussein's regime and the fact that Iraq could potentially make WMDs in the future. What is disturbing about this is that there are scores of oppressive governments around the world that could conceivably pose some kind of threat at some time in the future. Kerry apparently believes that the president should have the power to go after any of them right now.
Even conservative analysts like Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma and later a lecturer at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, criticized what he called Kerry's "recklessly prowar positions," arguing that Kerry's criteria for going to war were "wildly aggressive." Correctly referring to Kerry as an "uber-militarist", Edwards observed, "I know of no leading American 'hawk,' not even among the most militant of the neocons, who has said he or she would have supported going to war if it were absolutely known that the perceived 'imminent threat' did not exist."
It appears that Kerry has not changed his hawkish view. As recently as November 2011, Kerry voted against a resolution which would have repealed the 2002 authorization for the use of force in Iraq.
Kerry basically rejects the UN Charter and the whole basis of the post-World War II international legal system, which is based on the notion of collective security and the illegality of any nation launching an aggressive war. In Kerry's view, powerful nations like the United States can invade any country they want if they determine that it might hypothetically pose some kind of threat someday in the future. To have someone with this extremist position as secretary of state sends a message to the international community that little has changed since the Bush administration.
Kerry has repeatedly demonstrated an incredible level of hubris and arrogance regarding American military power. Indeed, in supporting the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Kerry apparently worked on the assumption that the United States could get away with an indefinite occupation of a heavily populated Arab country with a strong history of nationalism and resistance to foreign domination.
When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, he promised to not just end the war in Iraq, but to end the "mindset" that led to the war. However, in nominating John Kerry to be his next secretary of state, it appears that mindset is alive and well.