Daily Hampshire Gazette - Established 1786
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Editorial: John Kerry’s new challenge

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a ceremonial swearing-in at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a ceremonial swearing-in at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

John Kerry, upon reporting for work last Monday as our nation’s newest Secretary of State, said that he had “big heels to fill” as Hillary Clinton’s successor. While Kerry was only trying to lighten the moment while acknowledging Clinton’s performance, it’s worth noting that he certainly has “big shoes” to fill if we look back at our greatest secretaries of state.

William Seward rightfully tops the list. He served Abraham Lincoln as they navigated their way through our country’s Civil War. George Marshall comes in a close second, as he served Harry S. Truman as they led the rebuilding of Europe after WWII. And Thomas Jefferson served George Washington as they grappled with the founding of a new nation. Pretty impressive list.

And while Kerry and Obama may not live in such pivotal times as those, they do live in a time of major unrest around the world, both politically and economically. Obama needs a secretary of state with the political skills and personal gravitas to navigate our time’s treacherous waters, from the ongoing threat of terrorism to countries on the verge of economic ruin to societies awash with religious confrontations.

In just his first days in office, Kerry has already spoken to leaders in Israel, Palestine, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, Canada and Mexico. And he issued a warning to North Korea over its threat to carry out a nuclear test.

Kerry is highly qualified to do the job. He is the son of a diplomat and has served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for 28 years. He was its chairman the past four years. A decorated veteran of Vietnam, he has experienced first-hand the horrors of war. We are confident he can help Obama steer our nation’s ship through these rough seas.

On Saturday in Wyoming, former Vice President Dick Cheney said he believes President Obama is doing a “dismal” job filling positions on his national security team, a reference to both Kerry and Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel. The charge is baseless. One of Kerry’s main challenges, as it was for Clinton, will be to undo the damage to America’s reputation among nations inflicted by Cheney and President George W. Bush.

We wish Kerry well in his new global endeavor, after having served our own state so honorably, first as our lieutenant governor in 1982 and then as our junior senator since 1984. He became our senior senator upon Ted Kennedy’s death in 2009.

We have two nuggets of wisdom to pass along.

Remember what Winston Churchill said: “Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions.”

And also remember what Will Durant said: “To say nothing, especially when speaking, is half the art of diplomacy.”

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