Kerry’s deeds just stunning, State Department officials admit

Secretary of State John F. Kerry is obviously on a roll lately, working out a deal with the Russians in September  on Syrian chemical weapons  and over the weekend with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on U.S. forces in the country after 2014.

National Journal's Michael Hirsh weighs in on how John Kerry has done so far as Secretary of State. And there is reason for cautious optimism after the P5-plus-1 meeting last week in Geneva. Truman Project fellow Laicie Heeley joins in the conversation. Reid Wilson guest-hosts. (The Washington Post)

Reporters flying with Kerry back from Kabul asked State Department officials  how he pulled off the draft Afghan deal, offering, as one reporter  put it, a “chance for you to talk up your boss,”  and talk about what Kerry “brought into this that got it done . . . how did he change the dynamic to get something done.”

“Just don’t make it too hagiographic,” the reporter cautioned.

 Too what?” the briefer, known in the transcript as “Senior State Department Official Two” asked.

 Hagiographic,” the reporter repeated.

 Hagiographic?” Official Two asked.

Someone defined hagiographic, a word you might read but don’t often hear.  (Means over-the-top flattering.)

“Okay. Too – okay,” Two said, citing Kerry’s and Karzai’s “long personal relationship,” Kerry’s “persistence” in going to Kabul to hammer something out and his “patience,” as “somebody who will sit there for hours and talk through the substantive issues. . .”

This tracks with Two’s recounting of the deal with the Russians, which reportedly almost did not happen. It was written  by the U.S. side and agreed to in an impromptu poolside conversation between Kerry and Russian officials who dragged over chairs to join them.  Kerry edited the draft on an iPad in his hotel room.

Meanwhile, not to get too hagiographic, but Kerry’s two-week, 23,000-mile jaunt to Japan, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia and Afghanistan brought his travel total, according to State Department figures, to 213,000 miles this year,  more than Secretary of State  Hillary Rodham Clinton’s total 2009 mileage and on a pace to come close to, perhaps even best, Secretary Condoleezza Rice’s 241,499 first-year miles. Of course, the more successful he is, the less he’ll need to travel.

(Hint: If you want to best Rice, simply take on the endless, fruitless Middle East peace process.)

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.

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Emily Heil · October 15, 2013

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