He’s been in the job for 313 days, traveling 128 of them. In that time, he’s logged almost 577 hours in the air, which translates to more than 24 days spent on a plane.
He has visited 36 countries, accumulating 265,560 miles, for which, unfortunately for him, the U.S. Air Force does not award frequent flier points.
By the time he reaches the anniversary of his appointment in February, John Kerry will be the most traveled first-year secretary of state in history. And like Robert Frost, he has miles to go before he sleeps.
Kerry has stewarded a deal by which Syria is supposed to give up its chemical weapons. He is trying to midwife an even more significant deal by which Iran will forgo pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
It has been a remarkable, dizzying, ambitious first year for John Kerry. He is no spring chicken, but says the grueling schedule has been manageable.
“I feel good,” he told me Monday, stealing some time away as he prepared to appear before a House committee in Washington on Tuesday to assure skeptical congressmen about the Iran deal. “I’m just trying to maintain a discipline on the road. Not enough exercise, but I’ve been biking a lot.”
After nearly 30 years in the Senate and a failed presidential bid during which people who never wore a uniform scandalously denigrated his military service, his skin is thick. It’s had to get thicker still as even old friends second- and third-guess him. He insists he was not bothered by his old friend John McCain referring to him as a “human wrecking ball” in his singular pursuit of the Iranian deal.
“We’ve talked about it,” Kerry said. “I don’t think it was something that was meant in any other way than a joke. John and I are good friends. You just move on.”
If Kerry took to heart every criticism leveled at him, he wouldn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. But he dismisses much of that criticism as partisan and ideologically motivated. When he was threatening Syria with air strikes, he was denounced as a warmonger by some people who then called him a wuss when the Russians helped him strike a deal that averted bombing.
As for the deep reservations of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, about the deal with Iran, and his less optimistic rhetoric about reaching a settlement with the Palestinians by May, Kerry said simply: “We disagree on a tactic. Not on a strategy.”
It isn’t just the Israelis who are wary of Iran. A new Pew poll suggests only a third of Americans approve of the preliminary Iran deal, while 43 percent oppose it. Even Kerry admits he doesn’t trust the Iranians at face value. To paraphrase someone who was not especially his hero, they’ve got to verify, then trust.
“We’re taking nothing on the basis of trust,” Kerry said. “It’s a verifiable program. I have personal reservations about whether the Iranians are willing to put the proof at the level it needs to be.”
But not to try, Kerry says, is irresponsible, a wasted, rare opportunity to create momentum in the Middle East that could have a knock-on effect in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He doesn’t think much of predictions that his frenetic pace as secretary of state means he’s running for president again.
“I’m focused on what I’m doing,” he said. “My last stop on the road of public life.”
On Wednesday, John Kerry will turn 70, and he’ll land in Israel for the ninth time in nine months. Then it’s on to Vietnam, where he and his sometimes critical friend John McCain showed you can make peace with your enemies, and then to the Philippines, where American might in the wake of disaster shows the power of American benevolence.
When I asked him what he was going to do for his birthday, Kerry sounded like a Super Bowl MVP, cornered on a cacophonous field for a commercial.
“I’m goin’ to Asia!” he said.
Kevin Cullen is a columnist for The Boston Globe.
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