A recent uptick in violence in Iraq was expected and could get worse as the country seeks to reconcile itself politically after years of bitter sectarian conflict, according to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Kerry insisted that the United States' decision to withdraw troops from Iraq remained fundamentally correct and should not be revisited. But he cautioned that the early results of these troop withdrawals -- dictated in large part by the Status of Forces Agreement between the two countries -- would likely not be pretty.
"I think there is probably going to be an increase in violence because they have not resolved their political issues," said Kerry. "That doesn't mean we shouldn't be changing our posture there. It is time for the Iraqis to stand up and take charge. But there will undoubtedly be some violence because political reconciliation that we have long said was necessary has never been achieved."
The remarks were made last Friday as Iraq witnessed a new wave of violence -- the largest since Barack Obama took office -- that claimed roughly 150 lives. The White House, like Kerry, has cited quick political progress in Iraq (pointing to elections that will be held this year) as an antidote for the rise in attacks. "The status of forces agreement demonstrates that we are not going to... have 147,000 or 145,000 troops there for eternity," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, "so that progress has to be made."
The recent suggestion to keep some troops in Mosul to help quell the violence was opposed by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.
Troop levels in Iraq weren't the only aspect of military engagement that Kerry discussed in sensitive terms. The Massachusetts Democrat acknowledged concerns over increased U.S. engagement in Afghanistan, saying that the recent testimony of an Afghan veteran opposing the dispatch of 17,000 additional troops to that theater mirrored, in some ways, the protests he famously made of Vietnam.
"There are similarities," he said. "There are differences, too. And the differences are as important as some of the similarities... I think Corporal Reyes [the objecting Afghan war vet] very appropriately put his finger on the dilemma on conducting operations in a way that doesn't waste our effort and also wind up being counterproductive -- where you wind up creating more insurgents and terrorists and people who don't like you because of what is happening to their communities. At the same time, the others showed maybe a way forward if you are more thoughtful and sensitive in conducting your mission."
Asked for his biggest concern when it came to Afghanistan, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee replied: "whether we have lost so much time and good will that we are just behind the point [of turning this around]."
Considered at one point to be a candidate for Secretary of State, Kerry has instead managed to make an imprint on Obama's foreign policy from his perch atop the foreign relations committee. On the issue of the day, his support for an independent commission to investigate the Bush administration's detainee interrogation techniques could impact whether such investigations actually taking place. "I think it is a mistake to do it in Congress," he says. "I think it should be done by some quiet and eminent person [who will] conduct an investigation and release a report on it."
On a broader level, Kerry has been a voice of cautious (or realistic) support for the White House's policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, pushing the need for improved governance in the former and greater diplomatic and economic resources in the latter.
His viewpoint of counter-terrorism operations, in particular, has been meticulously detailed since he laid out the policy proposal way back during the dog days of the 2008 presidential campaign. The outline is similar to that which Kerry advocated during the '04 election and for which he was ridiculed by his GOP opponents. But with the public of a slightly different political mindset when it comes to counter-terrorism operations, an approach that doesn't lean entirely on the military but pushes for better intelligence and a stronger law enforcement component is no longer derided as insufficiently macho.
"Those statements were true then and they were true today," Kerry said of this once-lambasted call to make terrorism more of a law enforcement issue. "The people who fought it displayed the kind of ignorance and arrogance of our policy that has gotten us into a lot of trouble. The fact is had they been more honest about it rather than exploiting the war, we would be in a better place today. So I stand by my comments. A military component and military actions are needed at times. But the key to being victorious is to have the best intelligence in the world."