New Secretary of State John F. Kerry left the United States Sunday on his first trip overseas in that position. It will take him over 10 days to the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
It has him off to a flying start in his new position. He was confirmed by the Senate Jan. 29 and sworn in Feb. 1. His itinerary is interesting and points to the priorities he will pursue in leading President Barack Obama's foreign policy in his second term. The new secretary already set out some of his positions in a speech at the University of Virginia last week, with more to come.
Mr. Kerry's start in the United Kingdom indicates that the United States will continue to coordinate closely with its most faithful ally, one which sent troops to both Iraq and Afghanistan at considerable political cost to its leaders. Subsequent stops in Germany, France and Italy underline the continued importance to the United States of its relationship with NATO, particularly as America begins to rely less on its own military power and more on alliance assets to achieve goals overseas.
Mr. Kerry's stop in Germany will enable him to discuss two subjects. The first is another drawdown, after 68 years of presence, of U.S. forces from Germany, initially there as part of the post-World War II occupation and then until the fall of the old Soviet Union as part of the Cold War deterrent. Two American brigades will depart, leaving Germany's defense increasingly to its own resources.
The second subject that Mr. Kerry will discuss with German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the key role that Germany plays in keeping the battered eurozone and the threatened European Union afloat, even as Germany itself suffers economic setbacks. In France he will discuss the growing U.S. military role in the Mali conflict, including the establishment of a U.S. drone base in neighboring Niger.
A U.S. Air Force squadron will be withdrawn from Italy as well. Italy has also been supportive as a NATO member in U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. It has just completed elections and the leadership of its coalition government will still be in flux when Mr. Kerry arrives. He also intends to meet, along with other foreign ministers, with representatives of the Syrian opposition in Italy. To get an idea of what that will be like, some Syrian opposition leaders are balking at meeting with Mr. Kerry and the others because they have not yet received as much money as they feel they have been promised.
Mr. Kerry's visit to Turkey reflects that country's increasingly pivotal role in resolving Middle Eastern problems. In Egypt he will meet with Arab League leaders and try to steer President Mohamed Morsi along a more conciliatory track. In Saudi Arabia he will meet with its leaders and also representatives of the Gulf Cooperation Council, key in tackling regional problems such as Syria. The United Arab Emirates bankrolls the Syrian opposition and is a good customer for U.S. arms. Qatar is active in Middle Eastern affairs and has also been willing to host the Taliban for talks with Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai's government.
Mr. Kerry's plate will be full. He is off to a dramatic start.