- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2013

Newly confirmed Secretary of State John F. Kerry struck a humble and jocular tone on arriving at the State Department Monday for his first full day in the post held by Hillary Rodham Clinton over the past four years.

Laughter and applause filled the lobby at Foggy Bottom, where Mr. Kerry appeared early in the day to announce that “the big question before the country and the world” is: “Can a man actually run the State Department?”

“I don’t know … As the saying goes, I have big heels to fill,” joked the former Massachusetts senator, whose appointment as America’s 67th secretary of state makes him the first man in the position since Colin Powell was at Foggy Bottom from 2001 through 2005.

Mr. Kerry spoke from the same spot in the State Department lobby where Mrs. Clinton offered departing remarks on Friday. As was the case for Mrs. Clinton, hundreds of department employees packed in to hear Mr. Kerry’s remarks.

As he starts his new job, he faces a widening 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 Mr. Kerry, 69, who has spent the past 28 years in the Senate, appeared equally aware Monday that he also faces the daunting task of winning over the rank-and-file diplomats at the State Department, where outspoken affection for Mrs. Clinton remains on full display.

Critics say Mrs. Clinton’s legacy is marked by a lack of progress on a host of foreign policy issues and scarred, irreversibly, by the Sept. 11 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.

But the initial reception has been warm for Mr. Kerry, who joked Monday that if he is found wandering the State Department during the days ahead, it won’t be because he has meetings but “because I’m lost and I need directions.”

After more laughter, Mr. Kerry sought to strike a brotherly chord with the crowd — suddenly producing an old diplomatic passport that he had been issued as a child when his father, Richard J. Kerry had served as a State Department officer in Berlin.

“I was rummaging through some old stuff, and I found the first evidence of my connection to this great diplomatic enterprise,” the new secretary of state said. “If you open it up, there’s a picture of a little 11-year-old John Kerry.”

He recalled time he spent bicycling around Berlin in the early 1950s when his father was posted in the city. “One day, my sense of 12-year-old adventure, I think it was then, I used this very passport to pass through into the east sector, the Russian sector, and I bicycled around,” he said.

“I really did notice the starkness, the desolation,” he added somberly, before turning back to a humorous tone

“I was thinking about it the other day,” Mr. Kerry joked. “If the tabloids today knew I had done that, I can see the headlines that say, ‘Kerry’s Early Communist Connections,’ you know?”

The performance appeared to have its desired effect.

“He has an insider connection to the Foreign Service and that’s really important to us,” said Thomas Switzer, spokesman for the American Foreign Service Association.

But hopes are also high that Mr. Kerry’s other, “intimate connections on Capitol Hill,” will give him an edge in persuading “Congress to fully sustain the funding for diplomacy and development” during the years to come, Mr. Switzer said.

Mr. Kerry did offer some serious remarks Monday, calling on the diplomatic corps to join him in carrying America’s “ideals out into the world.”

“We get to try to make peace in the world, in a world where there is far too much conflict, far too much killing,” he said.

“We get to lift people out of poverty. We get to try to cure disease,” Mr. Kerry added. “We get to try to empower people with human rights. We get to speak to those who have no voice. We get to talk about empowering people through our ideals, and through those ideals, hopefully, they can change their lives.”

“We get to live the ideals of our nation, and in doing so, I think we can make our country stronger and we can actually make the world more peaceful,” he said. “What other job can you have where you get up every day and advance the cause of nation and also keep faith with the ideals of your country, on which it is founded, and, most critically, meet our obligations to our fellow travelers on this planet?”