There is, the Arizona Republican said, “a very strong impetus that we realize that the present policy is not succeeding, and to look at other options to prevent what is going on for now 22 months.”
“But,” Kerry responded, “I think you would agree with me that whatever judgments you make, they have to pass the test of whether or not, if you do them, they’re actually going to make things better.”
Kerry also voiced support for President Barack Obama’s scaled back plans for transition in Afghanistan, where the shift to Afghan security control has been sped up to this coming spring.
On the United States’ goals for the country after 2014, when all NATO combat troops are slated to depart, Kerry said the mission would be two-fold — supporting Afghan security forces and conducting counterterrorism operations. He made no mention of economic development or support for civil society. And he underscored that any peace process with the Taliban would be Afghan-, not American-led.
He also sought to reassure lawmakers — including the senator who is expected to succeed him as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez, D-N.J. — that the administration’s policy on Iran “is not containment.”
“It is prevention,” Kerry continued, “and the clock is ticking on our efforts to secure responsible compliance.”
But he declined to offer specifics, when pressed by Menendez, an Iran hawk, on what sort of agreement the administration might seek to convince Iran to give up its nuclear enrichment.
“It would be totally inappropriate for me here to begin to negotiate with myself,” said Kerry. “I can tell you this: It is going to be imperative that they come into full compliance” with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and previous United Nations resolutions.
Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul tried to pin Kerry down on his views about Congress’ role in authorizing the use of force in places such as Libya or Syria. Paul has argued that the Obama administration ignored the 1973 War Powers Resolution (PL 93-148) when it helped enforce a no-fly zone over Libya during that country’s civil war.
It was one of the few times when Kerry found himself on awkward ground.
“I believe in congressional authority to go to war,” Kerry said. “I’ve argued that on occasion with respect to some things here, but there are occasions which I have supported where a president of the United States has to make a decision immediately and implement that decision.”
For most of the hearing, however, Kerry demonstrated mastery of a wide range of policy issues — and the loquaciousness — that he has become known for.
Corker noted Kerry’s deep knowledge on foreign affairs and “experience you developed while being on this committee and spending time abroad with world leaders,” in his opening remarks, predicting that his confirmation “will go through very, very quickly.”
The bipartisan tributes to Kerry included a heartfelt introduction by McCain, his longtime colleague and friend.