President Barack Obama’s nomination of Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) for secretary of state, along with the potential appointment of former Senator Chuck Hagel for defense secretary, is an important step forward for the under-resourced State Department and the over-stressed Defense Department.
Kerry and Hagel share qualities and experiences sure to resonate with those who execute U.S. national security and foreign policy – on the battlefield and in the increasingly dangerous world of diplomacy.
Both men demonstrated great bravery in war and moral courage throughout their lives. Hagel, as an infantry sergeant and squad leader in Vietnam, was twice wounded, saved by his squad mate brother and then returned the favor. Kerry, not far away, operated riverine craft in an equally dangerous environment and sustained several wounds.
After such experiences, they understand the implications of deciding to use military force like few others in our civilian leadership. They know at a gut level that the decision to put our soldiers in harm’s way can traumatize those who have answered the call of duty, and affect their families, like few of life’s endeavors.
From a soldier’s perspective, I know their profound appreciation may temper Washington’s appetite to respond to foreign policy problems with military force. They can help drive a more balanced, economic or diplomatic response to the challenges we will surely face.