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The Shape-Shifting Secretary of State John Kerry

US Secretary of State John Kerry is a man of many convictions–many of them in open conflict with one another.

Recall that back in 2004, while trying to unseat President George W. Bush, he famously told students at Marshall University who wanted to know his stand on the US invasion of Iraq, that he “actually did vote for” a bill funding the war “before I voted against it.”

Now he’s doing the same thing on climate change, trying to say he’s both in favor of taking actions to prevent or slow the earth’s rapid warming, while he’s also in favor of actions that will make the crisis much worse. Specifically, Kerry just warned a group of students in Indonesia that climate change could threaten their “entire way of life” and also warned that “big companies and special interests” should not be allowed to “hijack” the climate debate. This was just days after word that his own State Department did exactly that, allowing oil industry lobbyists to micro-manage an environmental impact study for his State Department of the Keystone XL pipeline that Canada wants to build to bring tar sands oil slurry down from northern Alberta for sale to the US.

That industry-corrupted “study” concluded that if the US approved the controversial pipeline, it would be “unlikely to alter” the amount of carbon put into the atmosphere, because the tar sands would be developed whether a pipeline to the US was approved or not.

That kind of “logic,” of course, could be used to justify just about any kind of crazed energy development project. For example, a new coal-fired power plant being planned in California opposed by environmentalists could be supported with an argument that if it weren’t built in California, it would be built in Nevada anyhow, or a controversial drilling permit for offshore oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska could be supported with an argument that if it were not permitted there, it would be allowed to operate off Canada.

No harm argument is also belied by the reality that the Keystone pipeline, if approved by Kerry and by President Obama (another man with a surfeit of conflicting “convictions”), will be bringing over 800,000 barrels of high-carbon-producing heavy bitumen slurry into the US every day–a quantity of CO2-producing fuel that NASA climate expert James Hansen has warned would mean “game over” in the fight to prevent climate disaster. The environmental impact study fails to note that the pipeline’s oil volume would represent fully a third of the potential production of Canada’s tar sands, and fails to consider that without that export capability, the dangerous exploitation of the Alberta tar sands would be greatly slowed, and perhaps even rendered economically unfeasible.

In any case, internal State Department documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and released by two environmental organizations, Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club, show that the absurdly flawed environmental impact study was in fact the product of close secret cooperation between the State Department under both former Secretary Hillary Clinton and current Secretary Kerry, and TransCanada, the company seeking the Keystone XL pipeline permit.

The documents show that the environmental impact study was produced by Environmental Resource Management (ERM), a company recommended to the State Department by TransCanada. Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club note that the State Department, in handing the task to ERM, conducted no independent inquiry into the company’s potential conflicts of interest, even ignoring previous concerns about the company raised by its own Office of the Inspector General, which noted that ERM had earlier “made false and/or misleading statements to State Department regarding potential bias and conflicts of interest.”

The two environment groups report that ERM has “extensive ties to the oil industry including membership in multiple oil and gas trade organizations that support Keystone XL.” They say that “ERM worked on another TransCanada project during the period covered by their conflict of interest disclosure statement,” and add that the firm “has an extensive list of additional clients that stand to benefit from approval of the proposed pipeline.”

None of these issues and industry links were disclosed by ERM to the State Department, they allege.

So we can say at this point that Secretary of State Kerry is for action on climate change, but if he approves a permit for the pipeline to cross the border into the US, he will also be, in a very concrete way, against any action on climate change.

Secretary Kerry’s comments to the Indonesian students and the FOIA documents released by FOE and the Sierra Club already make it clear that Kerry is both for preventing “big companies and special interests” from “hijacking” the climate debate, and against preventing them from doing just that in his own State Department.

But then, what can we expect from a man who was once, as a combat veteran from Vietnam, an ardent opponent of the Vietnam War, but who later tried to run for president based on his criminal exploits in that war, who once eloquently spoke against sending more young men to fight in a war against a country, Vietnam, that posed no threat to the US, but then enthusiastically endorsed sending more of them to fight against another country, Iraq, that also posed no threat to the US?

It would appear that the only thing Secretary of State John Kerry is consistently for is his own career, and that the only thing he is consistently against is taking a principled stand on anything.

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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