Following a unanimous recommendation by the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a full Senate vote of 94 to three, President Barack Obama’s nominee, John Kerry, has become the U.S. Secretary of State, succeeding Hillary Rodham Clinton in the post. Mr. Kerry now ceases to be the senior senator for Massachusetts, a State he has served for 28 years and nearly five terms, and also vacates the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. His predecessor at the Department of State will be a hard act to follow for the energy she brought to her duties, in the course of which she visited 112 countries during a time of global turbulence and a decline in direct U.S. influence. Ms Clinton and Mr. Obama also succeeded in devising a working relationship so as not to exacerbate the differences which had emerged between them in the acrimonious and even bitter Democratic 2008 primary campaign. Ms Clinton’s record as Secretary of State is, however, mixed. On the positive side, in 2011 she warned Pakistan about the consequences of failing to shut down safe havens from which Afghan extremists attacked Americans and Afghans; in January of the same year, she criticised West Asian leaders over the risks their countries would face if they did not democratise their political systems and reduce corruption.

Ms Clinton’s less successful ventures will nevertheless leave lasting problems. She took responsibility over the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and some of his staff in Benghazi, but failed to assuage the anger of Congressional Republicans. Secondly, in March 2011, she insisted Washington intervene to prevent civilian casualties in Libya; the results include the Malian civil war, the spread of al-Qaeda in North Africa, and a flood of leftover weapons across the region. Ms Clinton’s legacy on Syria and Iran are not inspiring; her strident rejection of diplomatic initiatives on both of these fronts has pushed the region closer towards confrontation. Israel, for its part, still does as it likes, and ignores repeated Obama administration requests to stop building illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories in full confidence that the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and the powerful American pro-Zionist lobby will paralyse the White House on this. In addition, the U.S. drone warfare policy, which is outside State Department control, will fuel more anti-Americanism in many areas of the world. Therefore, Mr. Kerry’s own strong preference for diplomacy over war will not win universal agreement, but it could turn out to be his strongest asset and may never have been needed more.

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