Comparing Kerry and Clinton As Secretary of State

We don’t know yet if any of Kerry’s diplomacy in the middle east will pay off, but I feel much more optimistic about his approach than the approach of his predecessor. The New York Times described the difference:

Traveling around the Middle East with Secretary of State John Kerry, particularly for a reporter whose last State Department tour was with Hillary Rodham Clinton, is a seat-of-the-pants experience. Itineraries are notional. Improvisation is the rule.

In the last 24 hours, Mr. Kerry’s aides warned that he might fly back to Israel after his stop in Jordan, then minutes later said that was a false alarm. The next morning they confirmed that he would, in fact, travel to Tel Aviv on Friday for breakfast with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after dinner here with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

And after that? Who can say? Mr. Kerry seems perfectly willing to upend his schedule based on his instinct that staying a little longer, holding another meeting, flying to another capital, can nudge forward peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Shuttle diplomacy, of course, is nothing new in this part of the world. But after President Obama’s first term, when Mrs. Clinton delegated these Middle East milk runs to a special envoy and kept the peace process in general at arm’s length, it is striking to watch a secretary of state grinding it out in this unforgiving arena.

“What separates John Kerry from Hillary is that he’s put himself in the middle of the mix,” said Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East peace negotiator who is now a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Still, it is not clear whether Mr. Kerry’s exertions will make these talks any more fruitful than previous efforts, including the unsuccessful one that Mrs. Clinton oversaw during Mr. Obama’s first term. The mood in Jerusalem and on the West Bank has deteriorated since the talks resumed in late July, with Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas squabbling over issues like Jewish settlements and blaming each other for the lack of progress…

Mr. Kerry’s caffeinated style is emblematic of how he has redefined the secretary’s job — moving it away from the town-hall-style meetings and public diplomacy that characterized Mrs. Clinton’s tenure and toward a dogged emphasis on a handful of issues. Most prominent of those issues is the peace process, which Mr. Kerry has single-handedly kept on the list of the White House’s foreign policy priorities.

His eagerness, Mr. Miller said, stems from being in a different place than Mrs. Clinton and serving a changed White House. For Mr. Kerry, this job is the capstone of his career, a post he coveted second only to the presidency, and his aides say he is willing to take considerable risks to cement his legacy as a peacemaker.

For Mrs. Clinton, who still has a potential presidential run in her future, secretary of state was a steppingstone, allowing her to burnish her credentials but also carrying potential risks, not least in the politically charged terrain of the Middle East. While Mrs. Clinton dutifully made the rounds, she rarely took a big gamble on the peace process.

Kerry might still fail in bringing peace to the Middle East considering what a challenging task that is. Still, I do prefer Kerry’s energy and hands on approach. While I know it is very unlikely to happen, if in 2016 we have a choice of two former Secretaries of State in the race for the Democratic nomination, I will ignore inevitability in choosing who to support, as I did in 2008.

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