Senator John Kerry (D–MA) has announced that he will bow out of chairing the expected Benghazi hearing featuring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on January 22.
Given that President Obama has chosen Kerry to succeed Clinton, and given that Kerry’s own confirmation hearings might take place the following day, his decision to recuse himself is understandable. The situation would be rife with conflict of interest.
Conflict of interest, however, can be a way of life in the nation’s capital. Kerry could nominate the next senior-most Democrat of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to chair the hearing, Senator Barbara Boxer (D–CA). As it happens, Boxer is related to Clinton by marriage. (Boxer’s daughter married Clinton’s brother in a White House ceremony in 1994.) So the job will likely fall on Senator Robert Menendez (D–NJ), Kerry’s presumptive successor as chairman of the committee, who is also expected to chair Kerry’s nomination hearing.
In fact, a fair and substantive hearing on the unnecessary deaths of four brave Americans serving their country in Libya is still needed. The report by the State Department’s Accountability Review Board cited systemic failures at State but otherwise spread the blame around to Congress for supposed budget cuts, the embassy in Tripoli (read: Ambassador Christopher Stevens himself), the local brigades charged with protecting the mission, etc. All of which argues for the creation of a bipartisan select committee on Benghazi to get to the real answers the nation and the families of the victims deserve.
Specifically, the questions that have to be answered are:
- What counterterrorism and early warning measures were in place to address security threats?
- What risk assessments were performed and what risk-mitigation measures were adopted before the attack?
- What contingency planning was undertaken and exercised to respond to armed assaults against U.S. facilities in Benghazi?
- How is the interagency response to the incident organized and managed?
Kerry, meanwhile, will be preparing his move into Clinton’s office at Foggy Bottom. According to Foreign Policy’s The Cable, he has not been guaranteed the autonomy from the White House given to Clinton when she accepted the job in 2009. Not that this promise had much influence on U.S. foreign policy, which in the first Obama term was dominated by the White House and the National Security Council (NSC), and initially involved numerous foreign policy “czars”—special envoys operating outside the State Department bureaucracy and Senate confirmation process.
Clinton, meanwhile, has almost been a roving ambassador rather than a policymaker in Washington, logging more than 400 days of travel and almost a million miles during her tenure.
Furthermore, the fact is that in Kerry, Obama chose an ideological twin, not another power center at Foggy Bottom. Kerry may have to accept holdover staff from Clinton as well as NSC staff moving to State. This should not be a huge problem for him. On foreign policy, there is no daylight between Obama and Kerry: They embrace international organizations, reject military interventions, and have been known to stress the perceived “short-comings” of America.
In other words, the Obama doctrine will be perfectly safe in the hands of Kerry when he moves into his new digs.