Good Morning Mr. Secretary, Here are Your problems! Good luck Sir!

John Kerry

John F. Kerry’s remarks during his swearing-in ceremony for Secretary of State

“I am proud to take on this job because I want to work for peace and because the values and the ideals of our nation are really what represents the best of the possibilities of life here on Earth.”

Good Morning Mr. Secretary, Here are Your problems! Good luck Sir!

John F. Kerry has just landed his ideal job…and the one phrase he must be thinking as he gets his first morning briefing of the first day in office: “beware of what you wish for.”  Unlike some before him he is well versed in global issues and their many problems, constraints and dangers. He is even further, a “Foreign Service brat,” as the phrase is used in diplomatic circles. Yet, the difference between being Chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and its agenda and writ, is a magnitude apart from that of any Secretary of State…..he must act, and often fast and frequently without sufficient information or even much detailed context.  Yes, that, Mr. Secretary is the reality each day and every hour and without weekend retreats from the world’s realities.

When Kerry came to State he said: “Can a man really run the State Department?” No Mr. Secretary, the State Department and the world’s ills will run you!

He also knows well the “Black Swan” conundrum, that the unpredictable is very much likely and growing more dangerous. One problem is, these “Black Swans” are in all likelihood occurring much too often and mainly with few good options. Witness the horrific conflict in Syria and our inability to manage  stopping of the horrendous killing, or to shape a decent end and future for the Syrian people. All this is made worse with our limited tools for dealing with such contingencies and now likely fewer resources with the stupidity of the sequestration. Welcome to the world of scarce resources in a high risk world, Mr. Secretary!

Kerry is well versed also, on our most “dangerous” challenges that involve weapons of mass destruction. The names are well known: Iran, Pakistan-India, Israel, North Korea and the nukes still abundant and not well cared for in Russia. On the latter, he will have the delight to deal with President Putin who will be thinking all the time they are talking how to make America’s role in the world more difficult.  If he can penetrate that dark soul he may yet get another medal for not just courage, which he has, but also for audacity.

On his desk will be briefing papers on dealing with Iran and possible early negotiations, but also carrying the existing policy burden of “no nuclear weapons” and a “red line,” a likely nuclear blast in North Korea, an Afghanistan where the final “exit” and its consequences are still unknown, an Iraq that may revert to internecine warfare and dark ethnic killing, an “Arab Spring’ that all together is one of the great challenges and unpredictable events of our age. And you know that China “rising” and the pivot to Asia is also in your brief.  Just to add more fuel to the fire, getting the India-Pakistan-Afghanistan conundrum on course for a long term “solution” would make “a world of difference” to global security.  Better get your Policy Planning staff on that quickly!

Let us not forget climate change and persistent avoidance of a global bargain to deal with it. Kerry knows what must be done and we see the consequences of inaction all over the globe. That may prove yet, to be the one key “legacy” accomplishment that could stand for centuries or our major failure.

We should not forget that besides the cuddly Putin, Kerry will be having to do “face time” and chumminess with Benjamin Netanyahu. In fact, he will be getting his early baptism of Secretaryship with a meeting not only with BiBi, but also Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He clearly has the courage of Daniel going into the lion’s den. He now has two lions to stare down and a Congress that will be on his (and likely poor Hagel’s) back with every move he makes in the Middle East. No sleep for the wicked and in this case for the honest peacemaker.  Mr. Secretary don’t forget the “two state solution” nor “settlements” nor the lobbyists here!   Obama is waiting in the wings for a Spring visit to the Middle East so, hurry.

The good news is that you have some wonderful people in the Foreign Service, but they have been overworked, put in danger spots they should never have been exposed to, given impossible assignments in wars and hell holes, and under-compensated, not given the right tools and training, and not often appreciated. But, you know that, and the question is what can you do about it since, neither Secretaries Rice nor Clinton did much to change that reality.

In short, welcome to four brutal years of unrelenting crises, intransigent foes and allies alike, mad trip schedules, often dangerous or risky acts or places, policies gone bad, late night calls, exhausting and sometimes boring meetings and one-on-ones with no hope of progresses, and finally perhaps, if you are lucky and work very hard and smartly, a few nice successes and a few disasters adverted – and many intractable problems still left to your successor. Good Luck Mr. Secretary and here is your bottle of Tums!

John F. Kerry’s remarks at Swearing-in Ceremony:

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