WASHINGTON -- Poised to become secretary of state for an administration wrapping up a decade of war, Sen. John Kerry described in his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday a vision for greater trade and engagement with foreign partners to underline that "American foreign policy is not defined by drones and deployments alone."
"We cannot allow the extraordinary good we do to save and change lives to be eclipsed entirely by the role we have had to play since Sept. 11, a role that was thrust upon us," Mr. Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he had chaired for the past four years and on which he has served for more than two decades.
A Senate vote on Mr. Kerry's nomination is expected within days. He is expected to win confirmation, given the strong and vocal bipartisan support for the veteran Democrat. On Thursday, Mr. Kerry was introduced by a trio of high-profile allies: outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren from Mr. Kerry's home state of Massachusetts.
"John has built strong relationships with leaders in governments here and around the world, and he has experience in representing our country in fragile and unpredictable circumstances," Ms. Clinton said in her introductory remarks.
All three supporters told the committee that Mr. Kerry's quarter-century of public service and his experience as a Vietnam War veteran had groomed him for the Cabinet post. Ms. Clinton, for example, praised him as "the right choice" to advance the Obama administration's foreign policy goals. And Mr. McCain said Mr. Kerry showed "masterful" diplomacy as he led efforts to normalize relations with Vietnam after the war in which both men served as Navy officers.
When a woman in a pink hat interrupted the hearing with anti-war protests and shouts of, "I'm tired of my friends in the Middle East dying!" Mr. Kerry quickly defended her right to express her views and reminded the panel that he had once testified before Congress as an anti-war protester in the Vietnam era.
Mr. Kerry's familiarity with world affairs was evident, as he gave in-depth answers, often with statistics or concrete examples, to questions about major policy issues he will face.
A smooth U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan? Mr. Kerry said it hinges on the country holding credible elections and reconciliation talks with the Taliban. Iran's nuclear ambitions? Mr. Kerry said U.S. policy was not "containment of Iran," but he added that Tehran had to allow for intrusive inspections and prove that its program is peaceful. How to deal with the war in Syria? Mr. Kerry said the White House and the State Department were discussing new ways to support the Syrian opposition, but he stressed that policy changes had to be carefully weighed now that al-Qaida elements have joined the rebel cause.
Mr. Kerry also said he wouldn't give up on burgeoning Arab democracies, such as those in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya; that he'd seek warmer relations with the Russians; and that potential successions in Venezuela and Cuba held promise for people in the "outliers" of Latin America.
For all the Obama administration's touting of a renewed focus on the Asia Pacific, there was little discussion of China and its neighbors. Mr. Kerry said he hoped that the new Chinese leadership shared the U.S. goal of closer bilateral ties, and he said Americans should stop viewing the Chinese only as adversaries or competitors.
Republicans made clear to Mr. Kerry that he would be dealing with the legacy of the State Department response to the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on U.S. posts in Benghazi, Libya, telling him they still had questions about what the administration knew and when.
Senators of both parties sought his assurance that he would continue implementing dozens of recommendations made by an independent investigative panel that found systemic State Department bureaucracy problems that contributed to the attacks' chaotic aftermath.
The questions, while mostly thorough and serious, were hardly confrontational, underscoring how different the confirmation would have been had President Barack Obama been able to field his first choice, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.