David Rohde of Reuters describes Sec. Kerry as ‘activist’ who takes risks

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Tuesday, September 24, 12 p.m. | Taubman 275

David Rohde and Richard Parker

David Rohde and Richard Parker

September 24, 2013 – A few hours after President Obama’s speech to the UN General Assembly, the Shorenstein Center welcomed David Rohde, investigative journalist for Thomson Reuters, to speak about his observations in traveling with Secretary of State John Kerry and how U.S. policy is changing in the Middle East.

Rohde has traveled with Kerry for the past few months, beginning with his trip to Moscow where, Rohde said, Kerry met with Putin only after waiting for three hours. Rohde described Kerry as having a “tremendous doggedness about him” — tirelessly and energetically traveling the globe. Two distinct ideologies make up his global outlook, Rohde said, and it reflects the larger question of the United States’ role in the world. One is a “young Kennedy idealist” who sees the U.S. as a force for good in the world, but the other “clearly saw in Vietnam how badly interventions can go.”

Kerry is an “activist Secretary of State in a very cautious and controlling White House,” Rohde said. While Kerry often goes “off the script,” the White House recognizes it’s “not an attempt to influence policy debate — it’s just Kerry being Kerry.” Furthermore, because Kerry is not facing a run for higher office, he has a “huge willingness to take risks,” without necessarily reflecting badly on Obama.

When Kerry delivered the powerful speech using the term “moral obscenity” to respond to Syria’s use of chemical weapons, Rohde said, Obama a few days later “cut his legs out from under him” by going to Congress for a decision. Regarding the “gaffe diplomacy” that some say Kerry has most recently exercised in Syria, proposing that Assad turn over chemical weapons to Russia, Rohde pointed out that Kerry’s statement might have stemmed from his in-depth conversations with the Russian leaders several months ago, and is a sign of his long history of dealings with world leaders.

Article and photo by Janell Sims, Shorenstein Center.