Long rumored, much anticipated, and strongly welcomed, U.S. President Joe Biden has announced that Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, as the next U.S. ambassador to Australia. A lawyer, author, and former ambassador to Japan, the 64-year-old Kennedy’s appointment is a cause for celebration in Australia not just due to her strong credentials and famous family name, but chiefly due to the position finally being filled.
In recent years Australia has become somewhat accustomed to prolonged vacancies between ambassadorial appointments and grew fond of the two charges d’affaires that have since held down the fort. Former Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop joked on numerous occasions that then Charge D’Affaires James Carouso, who was in his position for over two years, should just be handed the role officially. Carouso’s tenure concluded when President Donald Trump endorsed the appointment of Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr. to the post in Canberra in 2019. However, since Culvahouse’s departure in early 2021, in line with convention, Australia has been strongly served by senior diplomat Michael Goldman.
Symbolically, Kennedy’s appointment comes in the 71st year of the ANZUS alliance and soon after the diplomatic ruckus caused by the formation of the trilateral AUKUS security partnership, which also includes the United Kingdom. It also follows the recent meeting between Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Liverpool, England. The subsequent readout noted that both diplomats “agreed on the importance of having a Senate-confirmed ambassador in place in Canberra as soon as possible in light of the scope and scale of shared challenges we face.”
While diplomatic nominations have been subject to the fracas of the political process in the U.S. Senate during Biden’s presidency, Kennedy’s nomination is not expected to be hindered by the Republicans. It comes as Blinken has continued to openly lobby the U.S. Senate to stop hindering the confirmation of U.S. officials and State Department appointees, adding that “for the sake of our national security, the Senate must act… virtually every challenge we face, including dealing with Russia, with China, with non-state factors, we’re hampered by the fact that we don’t have our full national security and foreign policy team on the field.”
Following the announcement, Kennedy paid tribute to the Solomon Islanders and Australian coast watchers in the Pacific who rescued her late father during World War II, after his plane was struck by the Japanese in August 1943. She also specifically underscored the challenges presented by “vaccine access during this terrible pandemic and the urgent climate crisis.”
The appointment is expected to be strongly welcomed by both major political parties in Australia and subject to the date of confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Kennedy’s tenure may well begin in the midst of a federal election campaign in Australia. Such ambassadorial appointments warrant celebration partly due to legacy, too. While Kennedy’s CV alone positions her as a strong appointment, the legacy of Kennedy family provides a degree of mysticism that will capture the attention of many in Australia, not just the politicos.
It was on September 12, 1962, that John F. Kennedy thundered, “we choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.”
These sentiments expressed nearly 60 years ago are applicable today to the multitude of challenges facing both countries and are not limited to the well-documented geopolitical contest with China. From cooperation on climate change to countering those who threaten to undermine the foundations of liberal democracies, the appointment is another step towards closer collaboration on a spectrum of challenges faced by Americans and Australians alike.