When he arrives at Foggy Bottom on Monday, Secretary of State John F. Kerry will face a wide slate of foreign policy challenges, from Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Washington’s shaky relations with Moscow, to the rise of China and Syria’s increasingly bloody civil war.
But first, Mr. Kerry will be confronted by a more internal — albeit equally daunting — task: winning over the rank-and-file diplomats at the State Department, where outspoken love of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton remains on full display.
The challenge likely will be on Mr. Kerry’s mind when he speaks Monday morning from the same Foggy Bottom lobby where hundreds of department employees crammed to bid a cheerful and tearful farewell to Mrs. Clinton last week.
Many conservative argue Mrs. Clinton’s legacy is one marked by a lack of progress on a host of foreign policy issues and scarred, irreversibly, by the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
Such contentions have done little, however, to erode the passion of Mrs. Clinton’s fans. And they are many at Foggy Bottom, where the hallways remain adorned by dozens of photographs showing the former secretary in action at diplomatic events in far-flung corners of the world.
Mrs. Clinton’s supporters remain steadfastly awed by the unabashed way in which she advocated for women’s rights, education and health care for the world’s poor as a secretary who traveled to more nations and spoke to more foreign populations than any other in history.
“From that first day on, you’ve touched the lives of millions and millions of people around the world,” Under Secretary of State Patrick F. Kennedy told Mrs. Clinton at an official farewell ceremony Friday. “You have left a profoundly positive mark on American foreign policy.”
While the event came just hours after a suicide bomber had struck the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, on Friday, Mrs. Clinton embraced a sanguine posture, asserting that she is “more optimistic today than I was when I stood here four years ago.”
“I have seen, day after day, the many contributions that our diplomats and development experts are making to help ensure that this century provides the kind of peace, progress and prosperity that not just the United States, but the entire world, especially young people, so richly deserve,” she said.
Her tone was notably less optimistic during a farewell speech at the Council on Foreign Relations a day earlier, when she acknowledged that the Syrian government “continues to slaughter its people” and noted how “Iran is pursuing its nuclear ambitions and sponsoring violent extremists across the globe, and we continue to face real terrorist threats from Yemen and North Africa.”
“I will not stand here and pretend that the United States has all the solutions to these problems,” Mrs. Clinton said. “We do not.”
While questions may linger over Mr. Kerry’s ability to achieve Clinton-like popularity at Foggy Bottom, when it comes to the policy challenges at hand, the former Massachusetts senator has attempted to portray himself just the man for the job.
For instance, Mr. Kerry struck an optimistic, albeit sober, tone toward Syria, during his recent Senate confirmation hearing when he claimed to have intimate insight into the complexities behind Russia’s long-standing support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“I’ve had personal conversations prior to being nominated as secretary with [Russian] Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov, which indicated a Russian willingness to in fact see President Assad leave, but they have a different sense of the timing and manner of that.”
He added that he hopes to use his new stature as secretary of state “to really take the temperature of these different players.”