Foreign Policy Blogs

John Kerry soldiers on


The first time I wrote a story about John Kerry, in 1986, he got very angry. So did his press person. It was, to paraphrase Richard Blaine, the start of a beautiful professional friendship.

It has now been almost three decades since that story and the professional relationship took off, grew strong and beneficial to both of us. Kerry never was going anywhere but forward in his insistence of following political leads, attacking challenges, dealing with issues, and being unrelenting and untiring in attempting to shed light on thorny problems.  There were many men and women like Kerry on Capitol Hill — elected and not elected — who “off camera” toiled and tried to make a difference. Often they did.

It is funny to joke about Kerry being “off camera” because for years he was often referred to as a “live shot” — one of those folks who had a knack, an eye and a desire for publicity. Probably true. Yet that was part of what made him tick, to call attention to his work, to put himself on the line.

And it’s though often not covered, he was usually proven right when it became trendy to talk about issues he first unearthed in lonely Senate hearings. His Iran contra work was derided as publicity seeking — yet born out important truths that still resonate today. His probe in the financial misdoings was not given proper attention, and, again, unearthed issues that later resulted in the banking crisis.

Now he is focused on a quest for peace in the Middle East, which tops most people lists as the most thankless job in the world. Don Quixote reality. Yet he steps in.

Talk about putting one’s self out there.  The biggest stage in the world, on one of the biggest issues, and one where most people are betting nothing can be accomplished.  He is leaning in to do the work.  As the Australian noted: “If Kerry isn’t around, Netanyahu won’t have to squirm and dodge the secretary’s efforts to promote negotiations and the Palestinian state – against which Netanyahu wrote books that are hundreds of pages long.”

So the latest round of headlines suggests what many who have covered Kerry for years already discovered. He does not give up. His smile is as determined as his energy. Having been shot at in the war zones and the political zones, having been told “no” many times, Kerry has the mission focus to keep moving as best as the moment permits — all while seeing other options to that destination.

In Syria, he laid out one set of plans and reached for the best options a few weeks ago. Some of them worked and for those that did not, he pivoted and found new routes. For the Israeli-Palestine morass, Kerry has surprised many with his zeal.

Here is how the Washington Post lauded the Kerry determination in a recent page one story:

No one will ever be able to say John Kerry didn’t try hard enough.

Whether he brings the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table or ultimately fails where so many have failed before him, Kerry seems a man obsessed. Currently on his fifth trip to the region since becoming secretary of state in February, he met Friday afternoon with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, just 15 hours after the two had ended marathon talks that extended well past midnight.

Between the two sessions with Netanyahu, Kerry drove in a convoy across the West Bank to Amman, Jordan, where after taking a nap, he had a lunchtime meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The Jordanians, whose King Abdullah II has served as a valued consultant, brought him back here in a military helicopter.

“So soon,” Kerry told Netanyahu with a grin for the cameras. They sat in the same chairs in the same suite at Jerusalem’s David Citadel Hotel. Same handshake. Different ties.

In the past, critics has sneered that Kerry had been groomed to play a show horse senator. They were, in some regards, jealous. He proved to be a workhorse. He does hope to establish a legacy, and his lifetime of foreign policy experience, intensely loyal relationships, dogged determination and political wins and loses prepare him well to move knotty issues down the road.

There is a point when his smiles fade and the steel is there.  One must always remember that his time in Vietnam was on a boat up a narrow river with reed on each side, danger every second.

When I was in that part of Vietnam, on those same narrow rivers, it came home to tell clearly what he and other endured. It stays in you and is a resolve that never goes away if needed. When I returned to Washington and told him where I had been, Kerry smiled and said, “scary isn’t it?”  Not bragging. Just a shared realization of something that makes a person a different person.

Who knows if peace is possible in the Middle East? That is a musing for another set of words. Resolve and ideas, determination and drive are elements that have to be part of the equation. Bravery helps as does a willingness to take it on the chin. Kerry is soldiering on.

(Photo credit: AP)



Tom Squitieri

Tom Squitieri has spent more than three decades as a journalist, reporting overseas for the Lowell (Mass.) Sun, the Boston Herald and USA TODAY. He won three Overseas Press Club awards and three White House Correspondents' Association awards for his reporting from Haiti, Bosnia, and Burundi. He is a newly-elected board member of the Overseas Press Club.

In academics, Squitieri was invited to create and then teach a unique college course that combines journalism, public affairs, ethics, philosophy, current affairs and war zone survival skills into a practical application to broaden thinking and day-to-day success. The class "Your 15 Minutes: Navigating the Checkpoints in Life" has a waiting list each year.

Born in Pittsburgh and raised in western Pennsylvania, Squitieri has been on all seven continents and in dozens of places he intends to keep secret.