Before he took the job of Secretary of State, John Kerry interviewed seven of his predecessors, prompting him to declare an intention to be both D.C. manager and overseas world-changer. But Kerry, secure only in his determination to leave his mark on the world, has so far set that advice and his stated intentions aside.
In The Atlantic's December cover story, David Rohde profiles President Obama's No. 2 choice to be the second person to lead the State Department. (Choice No. 1, Susan Rice, was submarined by Republican opposition.) The portrait is bipolar: an eager, ambitious man with impeccable international pedigree who often stumbles, baffles, and yet insists in his own capability. His efforts to sound blasé about his role often seem transparently insincere, as awkward as the details about Kerry "sipping a Sam Adams" as his jet crosses an unnamed ocean. Kerry tells Rohde that he "could care less about" criticism of his job performance and that he doesn't "care about risk, honestly," when it comes to international negotiations. Nearly everything else in the profile depicts a man who is far from carefree.
The contrast between Kerry and his immediate predecessor, Hillary Clinton, is drawn quickly. Like Clinton, Kerry is depicted as an insular leader reliant on aides; unlike Clinton, his days of running for president lie in the past, not future. He's enormously hands-on, leading to hours-long negotiations with foreign leaders and tied hands at State Department headquarters when he's absent, with no one empowered to make decisions. He's known for being "aloof, keeping to himself, and not bothering to read staff memos."