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And Kerry understands that the Middle East is changing in ways that we can’t predict, with ramifications for both the United States and Israel. He has led the Senate’s efforts to engage this new Middle East, including being the Senate’s leading voice for new relations with Egypt and post-Qaddafi Libya. Both Israel and America will benefit from his ability to build new alliances in this turbulent region.
Yet being a strong secretary of state is about much more than just foreign policy smarts. Outside of the president, the secretary of state is the most prominent American face to the world. Doing the job well requires vision, gravitas and the full backing of the president. John Kerry possesses these qualities in spades.
Kerry has the vision, having been a Senate leader on efforts to combat climate change, to end the Iraq and Afghanistan wars responsibly, and to prevent nuclear weapons from ever being used again. He knows how to implement that vision, having guided through the Senate in 2010 a strategic nuclear arms control treaty with Russia that passed with bipartisan support during partisan times.
He likewise has the gravitas, having nearly been elected president in 2004, garnering more than 59 million votes, and having served prominently in the Senate for nearly three decades. For this he is frequently called upon to travel to global hotspots like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt to smooth out relations during crisis moments. Kerry has proved that he commands the respect of America’s adversaries and allies alike before even entering the room.
Perhaps most important, he has the trust of the president. In 2004, Kerry gave then-Illinois’s state senator Barack Obama his first national platform as a keynote speaker at the Democratic convention. Obama returned the favor this year, inviting Kerry to deliver the main foreign policy address at the 2012 Democratic convention. If selected for secretary of state, there will be no doubt around the world that Kerry has a direct line to, and the full confidence of, the president.
American Jews overwhelmingly voted for President Obama, and now they want this president to lead. John Kerry as secretary of state would help Obama do just that — as a powerful voice for America on the world stage, a visionary leader who understands how to deal with complex challenges and a staunch friend of close allies like Israel.
Joel Rubin is the director of policy and government affairs at Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation. He appears frequently on MSNBC as a foreign policy expert and writes a monthly political column for Pittsburgh’s Jewish Chronicle. He can be followed on Twitter at @JoelMartinRubin.