The Realist Prism: Amid Crowded Field in D.C., Kerry Should Keep Aims Modest

The Realist Prism: Amid Crowded Field in D.C., Kerry Should Keep Aims Modest

As Hillary Clinton prepares to step down as secretary of state, the general consensus among the punditocracy is that she was successful in helping to restore America's image in the world: A "rockstar diplomat," Clinton was willing to put in the frequent flyer miles to help repair or rebuild frayed ties between Washington and many other countries. However, she is not viewed as a transformational figure for U.S. diplomacy, nor can she point to a particularly dramatic event, such as a comprehensive Middle East peace settlement, as a result of her tenure in office. Some of the comments in this vein imply that had someone else occupied the executive suite at Foggy Bottom, things might have turned out differently.

Of course, the effectiveness of any secretary of state is enhanced if he or she has a close personal relationship with the president and is perceived by foreign leaders to be speaking for the White House. In this regard, Condoleezza Rice, who many saw as George W. Bush's personal emissary, may have had an advantage over Clinton. It also helps if the secretary of state emerges as the primus inter pares of the foreign policymaking process. Henry Kissinger, for instance, chose not to relinquish the post of national security adviser when he became Richard Nixon’s secretary of state precisely to hold onto that role.

But the reality nowadays is that there are multiple centers of gravity in any administration, and for foreign governments seeking to deal with Washington, the secretary of state is just one of several options. National security advisers have, in recent years, taken on the role of "fixers," able to undertake quiet diplomacy and behind-the-scenes maneuvering, often with their foreign counterparts. Other key Cabinet positions surrounding the U.S. president have also built up their foreign affairs portfolios, including the secretary of defense, but also the vice president and secretary of the treasury, as we have seen when it comes to the all-important and sensitive U.S.-China bilateral relationship.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.