Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will use Thursday’s hearing to explore the administration’s foreign policy vision for the next four years. In their questions, they should press Senator Kerry on the strategy for U.S. leadership on the issues that define America’s identity and credibility on the global stage. For example,
· LGBT rights: As evidenced by the president’s inaugural address, the Obama Administration has prioritized the advancement of LGBT rights and has made progress in significant and meaningful ways. Secretary Clinton's repeated declarations that "gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights" set the framework for fundamental progress in achieving equality for LGBT people. Senator Kerry should lay out his strategy for how he will further LGBT rights, starting with combating the preposterous criminalization of LGBT persons internationally, especially in Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America.
· Guantanamo: Last week marked 11 years since the Guantanamo Bay detention facility was opened. During those years, the facility has cost the U.S. in both tax dollars and international credibility as an advocate of America’s fundamental values of due process and fair trials. Senator Kerry has been a strong supporter of President Obama’s efforts to finally close the detention facility, but he should now articulate the steps he will take, as secretary of State, to fulfill the president’s executive order to shutter Guantanamo now.
· Drones: The Obama Administration has used refined technology and an unclear state of war to dramatically increase targeted killings of suspected terrorists. The rules by which this program operates are classified, and other countries question the legal and ethical basis for the program, and how these rules apply to them. The opacity has created diplomatic rifts the U.S. cannot afford, and it arguably fuels anti-American sentiment abroad, undermining other aspects of U.S. leadership. Senator Kerry should be asked how he can assure our citizens and our allies around the world, and others that the U.S. Drone Program is used carefully, lawfully, and effectively to fight terrorism, period.
· Religious freedom: Recent events in Egypt, Pakistan, and even the U.S. have proven that religious extremism is a threat to Americans and U.S. national security interests that has demanded the attention of the President on down. One of the first strategies to confronting religious violence effectively is what the Clinton State Department has done: Build a global coalition against so-called “blasphemy laws” that criminalize criticism of Islam in dozens of countries, and set the tone for explosive violent reactions to free expression. Senator Kerry should describe his ideas on the growing threat of religious intolerance, and what strategies he would employ to engage foreign leaders in countries where religious motivated violence could erupt in response to blasphemy.
· Atrocities prevention: In April 2012, President Obama announced the creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board (APB), a high-level, interagency structure responsible for developing atrocity prevention and response strategies for the U.S. government. The APB marks the first time a U.S. president has identified the prevention of mass atrocities as a nations security priority, and he is right. The response must be the product of all the resources of the U.S. government – such as the Departments of State, Defense, Treasury, Commerce, and the intelligence community, and it must be early, before the environment that enables these crimes produces an atrocity we read about in the headlines. Senator Kerry takes this seriously, and he needs to take leadership of this process to make a difference. He should be asked how he will do that.
These are but five issues that Senator Kerry will need to tackle should he be confirmed secretary of State. He should pay close attention because any of these problems left to fester – left at the status quo – will derail U.S. credibility on human rights – and the tide of history that favors democracy and freedom.
Lieberman is the senior advocacy strategist at Human Rights First.