Sen. Kerry Likely Secretary of State Nominee – Expect WikiLeaks Flip-Flop to be Brought Up

According to reports (read: administration leaks to access journalists), John Kerry is set to be nominated the next Secretary of State.

It seems likely that Republicans will be happy to let him coast to the position, as it would lead to a special election in Massachusetts – one that could see Scott Brown return to the Senate.

But if the GOP decides it wants to make life difficult for the administration, one issue it could bring up is the Senator’s inconsistency on one issue that caused the State Department a whole heap of bother: John Kerry was for WikiLeaks, before he was against it.

After the Afghan War Logs were released, Kerry issued a statement – as Chair of the Foreign Service Committee, no less – stating:

However illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan. Those policies are at a critical stage and these documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent.

Seems like an endorsement, albeit not exactly a ringing one. But considering that the majority of lawmakers (Kucinich, Lee, Paul the Elder et al. not withstanding) were disgracefully calling for WikiLeaks to be shut down and worse, Kerry looked like a member of the EFF by comparison.

That is, until he walked back the statement.

The Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima has the details here:

“I think it’s important not to over-hype or get excessively excited about the meaning of those documents,” Kerry said at the start of a committee hearing on prospects for negotiating an end to the Afghan war.

He said the release was unlawful and could potentially endanger U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But he also said the secret documents should be given little weight because in many cases they reflect raw intelligence, not carefully calibrated assessments of trends on the ground. Some of the documents, Kerry said, are “completely dismissible,” but others are not.

Queried about the shift, Kerry spokesman Frederick Jones explained that “all we had before us [on Sunday] was the New York Times piece,” which highlighted the cooperation between the Pakistani intelligence service known as the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Taliban.

Full disclosure (pun intended): I think the net benefit of WikiLeaks has been indisputable. All the sweeping Chicken Little pronouncements about Julian Assange having “blood on his hands” and the “endangerment of the international community” turned out to be fekakta of the highest order. It was offensive, even. If the leaked cables helped topple dictators in the Middle East and North Africa, as it has been argued, and if the Afghan War Logs helped turn the tide of public opinion against the war, which seems to be the case based on the timing of their release, then WikiLeaks has actually helped saved lives (there has been only one instance where a leaked name was found to have done any direct harm. No blood was spilled).

But I digress. The issue here isn’t the merit of WikiLeaks or a fact based National Security State (an oxymoron if there ever was one). Julian Assange’s publication (to borrow language Chuck Grassley uses to blast whistleblower retaliation) is treated like “skunks at a picnic” on the Hill and in Foggy Bottom.

Thus, based on this brief flip-flop, expect John Kerry to be queried about his commitment to safeguarding “national secrets” – most of which should probably be declassified anyway.

Samuel Knight

Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.