Secretary of State Scorecard: Work Done Not Miles Flown, Please

D.B. Des Roches is an associate professor at the Near East South Asia Institute for Strategic Studies. He recently published a commentary about John Kerry’s first trip overseas and the current ‘success’ metric:

John Kerry’s first trip as secretary of state provides a good opportunity to look at how we evaluate our secretaries. Most recent secretaries have considered travel to be the measure of their terms. When Hillary Clinton returned to work from hospitalization, her staff gave her a football jersey with “112” on it – reflecting the number of countries she had visited. Republicans retorted that Condoleezza Rice still held the record for most miles logged.

Photo via

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This focus on secretary of state travel as a measure of dedication, efficiency and competence is dysfunctional. We should decide, as Mr. Kerry’s first trip (to Europe and the Middle East) gets underway, to abandon this harmful metric and evaluate diplomacy in a way that acknowledges its complexity.

These are real issues which require real leadership, but they are not glamorous and don’t lend themselves to photo opportunities. Our nation would be better served if those of us who watch foreign affairs look at these complicated issues of State Department capacity and measure the secretary of state by this, rather than treating him as a sort of Clark Griswold trekking around Rome checking off a list of fountains. Save the secretary of state visits for those issues which truly require a high-level visit to break up a logjam or push an agreement over the top. America needs a secretary of state who can lead, not one who can travel.

Read in full here.

The author made some excellent points that should be required reading for Secretary Kerry’s incoming team.  We sincerely hope that no one would attempt to nudge Secretary Kerry to top Condi’s miles, or Hillary’s number of countries visited or number of embassy meet and greet. That would not be original or terribly helpful to an institution that is consistently underfunded and unappreciated not just by the Congress but also by the American public.

The real challenges for the 68th secretary of state do not require an airplane ride. The sooner his Seventh Floor recognizes that, the sooner they can develop a strategy for achievable goals during Secretary Kerry’s  tenure and imprint his legacy on the institution.






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