Kerry’s moment in spotlight

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Secretary of State John Kerry is stepping into the spotlight as the Obama administration confronts a series of foreign policy challenges that has helped stunt any momentum the White House sought to gain on its domestic agenda.

Kerry will appear on all five of the weekly news programs on Sunday seeking to explain President Obama’s plans moving forward on Russia, the Middle East and Iran.

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It’s the second time in less than a year that Kerry has run the gauntlet known in Washington as the “full Ginsburg” for Monica Lewinski attorney William Ginsburg, who was the first to accomplish the feat in 1998.

On Aug. 31 of last year, Kerry was seeking to make the case for military action against Syria.

This week, Kerry’s challenge feels even tougher.

It will be up to Kerry to defend Obama from criticism the president has been too passive in the face of Russia’s incursion of Ukraine, violence between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and difficult nuclear talks with Iran that are set to drag on for at least another month.

The stakes are also high. Obama has struggled with low approval ratings all year that have been a drag on Democratic candidates running for the House and Senate. Republicans need to win six seats to take back the Senate majority in November, and many political handicappers have made them the favorites.

Conservatives have railed non-stop for months against what they characterize as Obama's aloof and retiring approach to foreign policy.

"It means nothing" when Obama draws a red line against an opponent like Russia, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer recently said on Fox News. 

"A warning there to the Russians: 'you have hours to stop your support of the Ukrainian rebels.' It's been weeks. Nothing has happened ... We have nobody behind us. That's why there's such disarray in the world and fear among our allies," he said.

Kerry will be seeking to take on this criticism on Sunday as he meets the hosts of the weekly Sunday shows that help set the agenda for Washington.

Obama and his team point to public opinion polls showing that Americans do not want the government to become more involved in world crises.

Fearing repetition of the long and divisive involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the administration says caution and small-scale foreign policy moves are the best path.  

The president this week cautioned that patience is necessary in fixing the problems of a complex world while speaking to the nation on foreign policy.

In Ukraine, the U.S. is pressing for international investigators to gain full access to the scene where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 fell from the sky after being shot down by a surface-to-air missile.

It is believed that militants tied to Russia’s government are behind the downed plane, and the White House and Kerry are seeking to build an international case that would result in deeper economic pressure being applied to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Still, the U.S. has struggled to get Europe to apply meaningful sanctions against Russia. 

But many believe outrage over the killing of 298 civilians on the Malaysian flight could be a turning point for the administration, particularly given the number of Europeans who died in the crash. 

In Israel, Obama and Kerry have sought to offer support for Israel’s right to defense itself from Hamas missile attacks even as they have urged the government to be mindful of civilian targets.

Tensions between the Obama administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government are well-known, and were revealed recently when Israeli officials reacted strongly to Kerry’s plans to work with a Palestinian government that would include Hamas.

White House efforts to reach a deal to end Iran’s nuclear program were dealt a blow on Friday when Kerry announced talks would be extended until Nov. 24.

On this issue, the administration has faced criticism from both parties who have sought to impose tougher sanctions on Iran. Kerry so far has been able to get Democratic allies in the Senate to resist moving sanctions legislation, but that will become tougher now that the talks are extended.

Among those Kerry will joust with on Sunday are Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a vocal critic of the administration’s foreign policy. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a key player in the sanctions debate, will appear on Fox’s “Fox News Sunday.”