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Dagens Nyheter, Sweden

The World Awaits Kerry

By Gunnar Jonsson

The Middle East won’t disappear just because Obama wants it to.

Translated By Grace Olaison

5 February 2013

Edited by Hana Livingston

Sweden - Dagens Nyheter - Original Article (Swedish)

Barack Obama has been careful to focus on rebuilding his home nation rather than acting as the world policeman. An economically strong United States is certainly the foundation for international force, and a little self-reflection does no harm to a superpower.

John Kerry will now succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. He is also inheriting a range of problems that neither she nor anyone else managed to tackle successfully. Kerry and the proposed secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, are both veterans who question American wars. However, both are aligned with Obama’s agenda.

During his first term, Obama tried to focus on foreign policy from the Middle East to Asia. Pursuing this course is a challenge in diplomacy. A growing China must be addressed both by trading partners and regional geopolitical rivals. China is in disputes with most of its neighbors over borders and marine territories.

But the Middle East won’t disappear just because Obama wants it to. When he was a newly elected president, he made an unsuccessful attempt to encourage talks between Israel and the Palestinians and then put the question aside. Kerry says he is ready for a new effort but warns that time is running out for a two-state solution. It is unclear whether this indicates confidence or resignation.

Meanwhile, the Arab Spring is proceeding erratically, from the chaos in Egypt to the spread of Islamist violence to Mali. And the bloodbath in Syria? Senator Kerry wanted to arm the rebels, but Obama said no. A clear solution does not exist, but the president’s instinct to stay away bears no resemblance to a plan.

The U.S. has promoted increasingly tough sanctions against Iran because of its suspected nuclear weapons plans, but uranium enrichment has continued. It seems unlikely that Kerry will talk the ayatollahs into submission. But what does Obama’s stance on preventing Iran from getting the bomb really mean?

The longer a second term progresses, the harder it usually is for a president to accomplish anything in domestic policy. The international sphere can be an escape route. But it would be better if Kerry could convince his boss to seriously engage in the world.



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