Secretary of State nominee John Kerry has been deeply involved in U.S. foreign policy for many years, and so has left a large trail of policies and statements regarding just about every element of U.S. foreign policy. It's not clear how much Kerry's own personal views on these issues will affect his actions as secretary of state -- he's a cautious person, and so unlikely to agitate too much to make his own policy independent of the White House. And, a review of his record -- including in Central Asia and the Caucasus -- shows that in any case, he's pretty firmly in the mainstream of the Democratic Party, and his views don't differ much (if at all) from those the Obama administration has already been advocating. Most characteristically, this means high-minded rhetoric about human rights and democracy with less indication of how those principles can stand up when confronted with the realities of running international military operations.
In Central Asia, Kerry has consistently advocated democratization and human rights. He was among a small group of senators to write then-Kazakhstani Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev to complain about the treatment of human rights activist Yevgeny Zhovtis.
In 2010, Kerry wrote an op-ed here on EurasiaNet entitled "Washington Must Show Commitment to Kyrgyz Democratization," in which he argues that "the security-democratization debate is not a zero-sum game":
There has been a growing worry within Kyrgyzstan that the United States cares more about its security needs than those of the Kyrgyz people. We must prove this perception false, with actions rather than with rhetoric....
While the transit center at Manas is important for security across the region, so are the democratic aspirations of the Kyrgyz people. We see no conflict between these priorities because both are served by a Kyrgyzstan that is prosperous and free.
He sounded a similar message in a more recent Senate report on the Northern Distribution Network. But that report also highlighted the weaknesses of Kerry's stance: while rhetorically it of couse sounds good to say you can promote both democracy and security, there are plenty of obvious ways in which the two do in fact conflict and the report gave no indication of how the U.S. could have this cake and eat it too. I discussed this in an op-ed shortly after the report came out:
The Kerry report makes the same claim [that U.S. engagement in Uzbekistan is improving the human rights situation there] and as evidence reaches back nearly four years to note only one such bit of progress: that the government began allowing the Red Cross to visit prisoners in 2008. But the overall picture is grim, and, if anything, getting worse.
The report doesn’t back up that assertion, and in the case of Uzbekistan it plainly isn’t true. No sort of political engagement will work, and the irony is that the more U.S. officials believe it, the more likely they are to compromise their principles. In this case, saying nothing may be the best way for the U.S. to stay true to what it believes.
In this sort of wishful thinking, Kerry would be following directly in the footsteps of his predecessor-to-be Hillary Clinton. To go out on a limb a bit, there seems to be a common affliction among high-level Democratic foreign policymakers -- both Clintons, Madeleine Albright and Kerry are all examples. Among these sorts of people, who do strongly care about human rights and in general doing the right thing, when they are forced by the exigencies of power to exercise realpolitik, they seem to need to justify themselves by claiming that their policy is in fact somehow advancing human rights or democracy. Thus:
When Clinton visited Tashkent in October , a State Department official told the reporters accompanying her that “President Karimov commented that he wants to make progress on liberalization and democratization, and he said that he wants to leave a legacy of that for his — both his kids and his grandchildren.” Pressed by an incredulous reporter, the official added, “Yeah. I do believe him.”
Anyway, on the Caucasus Kerry also has closely tracked the Obama administration, strongly supporting the reset with Russia while arguing that "this dialogue will not come at the expense of Georgia’s security and sovereignty."
Some of Kerry's previous stances derive from the fact that he represents Massachusetts, a state with a relatively high population of Armenian-Americans. So, he defended former U.S. ambassador John Evans when Evans was fired for using the word "genocide" to refer to the 1915 events in eastern Turkey. And he also played a key role in passing "Section 907," the U.S. law restricting military aid to Azerbaijan.
Still, it's probably a measure of his skill as a diplomat that more or less all sides in the Caucasus support him, though Azerbaijan seems to be slightly wary. Still, Turkey is enthusiastic about Kerry, Today's Zaman reports.
Again, though, what Kerry personally believes is not likely to be too relevant to his performance as Secretary of State, as he'll mostly be implementing White House policy. That Kerry's views are so consistent with Obama's, and that he is so well acquainted with all of the major issues and players, even in a relatively low priority region like this one, suggests that his tenure will be, if nothing else, smooth.