Posted: 2:30 am EDT
In November 2013, David Rohde, a columnist for Reuters, and a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize penned a lengthy piece for The Atlantic on How John Kerry Could End Up Outdoing Hillary Clinton. Below is an excerpt:
“… (If you ask long-serving diplomats—the vast majority of whom are politically liberal—to identify their favorite secretary, they will name Powell.) Before taking office, Kerry conducted long interviews with every living former secretary of state—Kissinger, George Shultz, Baker, Madeleine Albright, Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Clinton—and set out to model himself after Shultz, who, in six and a half years serving under Ronald Reagan, was seen as a combination of the two prototypes, both a great diplomat and a good manager. “Beyond going around doing things as secretary of state,” Shultz told me in an interview, “you have to recognize that you have managerial responsibilities.”
Richard Armitage, who served as Powell’s deputy secretary of state, praises Clinton but says she was poorly served by her aides. “My view is that she was pretty sheltered,” he told me. “They were not interpersonally pleasant, and they were very protective of her. You can get into a cocoon.”
Kerry also works in a cocoon, albeit one of a different sort. Very quickly he earned a reputation in the State Department for being aloof, keeping to himself, and not bothering to read staff memos. Diplomats outside Kerry’s inner circle complain that they have little sense of his priorities or plans. One former aide told me Kerry is “lovably unapproachable.” Career State Department officials complain to journalists that, under Kerry’s leadership, power has become so centralized among the secretary and a small coterie of his aides that decision making in the building slows to a crawl during his frequent overseas trips. Others in the State Department say Kerry has a kind of diplomatic attention deficit disorder—he shifts from topic to topic, changes his schedule often, and fails to focus on long-term strategy. State Department employees say morale in the building is lower now than under Clinton, despite Kerry’s early diplomatic achievements.
Colin Powell told me that before he became secretary of state in 2001, he received a letter from George Kennan, the famed foreign-policy thinker, then in his 90s. Kennan warned Powell about the dangers of traveling too much—of prioritizing activist diplomacy over providing the White House with solid foreign-policy analysis. “This office has in recent decades, in my view,” Kennan wrote, “been seriously misused and distorted.” Kennan urged Powell to minimize his travel and focus on advising the president. Powell gave a copy of Kennan’s letter to Kerry. So far, Kerry is not following the advice.
The Rohde piece was written slightly over two years ago. As Secretary Kerry winds up his tenure in the next 12-13 months, it is likely that somebody will revisit this topic again. Meanwhile, it doesn’t look like his globetrotting days are going to let up anytime soon. In late November, Secretary Kerry travelled to France, Belgium, Kosovo, Serbia, Cyprus, and Greece (November 30-December 4, 2015). He came back briefly and is now off again, to Paris, from December 7-11, 2015 to attend the 21st UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP21).
Since assuming office in February 2013, Secretary Kerry has traveled 422 days. As of this writing, he has traveled a total of 957,744 miles with visits to 77 countries according to state.gov. (Secretary Clinton covered 956,733 miles in her four years on the job. Condoleezza Rice’s record is 1.06 million miles in the air).
About that small coterie of aides, below is an album of sorts with some members of the Kerry inner circle in the last couple of years:
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with his chief of staff, David Wade, and State Department Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki before his airplane departs Moscow, Russia, on May 8, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
9:59 p.m., September 11, 2013 – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits in the aisle of his Air Force jet as he chats with, from left, Executive Secretary John Bass, Deputy Chief of Staff Jonathan Finer, Counselor to the National Security Advisor Salman Ahmed, and Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman about upcoming negotiations with Russian officials focused on eliminating Syrian chemical weapons. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry prepares with his Deputy Chief of Staff, William C. Danvers, for a joint press availability in Istanbul, Turkey, April 7, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom, and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah discuss the Secretary’s upcoming trip to Africa during a meeting at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on April 25, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, flanked by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and State Department Executive Assistant Jennifer Davis, bangs the gavel to begin a meeting of more than 60 anti-ISIL coalition parties held on December 3, 2014, at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. [State Department photo /Public Domain]
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry leads his staff in an airborne rendition of “Happy Birthday” on April 15, 2015, as they celebrate the birthday of and final trip for State Department Executive Director Kathleen Hill, a career Foreign Service Officer departing to a new assignment after organizing Secretary’s visit to Lubeck, Germany, and his 59 preceding international trips across 765,000 miles since he assumed office in February 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
State Department Chief of Staff Jon Finer speaks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on July 29, 2015, before he joined U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey, U.S. Energy Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in testifying about the Iranian nuclear deal before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, D.C. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and a group of advisers – State Department Executive Assistant Lisa Kenna, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Egypt and Maghreb Affairs John Desrocher, and Chief of StaffJon Finer – sit with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain and his advisers on March 14, 2015, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, at the outset of a bilateral meeting amid an Egyptian development conference. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry chats with State Department Chief of Staff Jon Finer and Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations Frank Lowenstein before addressing reporters on November 24, 2015, following his meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Muqata’a Presidential Compound in Ramallah, West Bank. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Senior Aide Jason Meininger laugh as bar patrons at the Navigator Inn invite the Secretary in for a drink as he walked through Iqaluit, Canada, just below the Arctic Circle, after the United States assumed a two-year chairmanship of the body during a meeting of its eight member nations and seven Permanent Representatives on April 24, 2015. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, accompanied by State Department Deputy Chief of Staff Tom Sullivan, walks through the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France, after addressing members of the bilateral Mission, UNESCO, USOECD and their families on November 17, 2015. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
Ambassador to Seoul Mark Lippert with Jonathan Finer and Jennifer Park Stout, @JohnKerry’s Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff. May 17, 2015 via Twitter
And let’s not forget Ben F. Kerry, Secretary Kerry’s best friend in Washington, D.C. who apparently performs ribbon-cutting events on occasion, and all he gets is an extra homemade kibble.