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from David Rohde:

John Kerry will not be denied

The secretary of state's critics call him arrogant, undisciplined, and reckless -- but his relentlessness in pursuit of negotiations might produce some of the most important diplomatic breakthroughs in years.

When John Kerry succeeded Hillary Clinton as secretary of state in February, Clinton’s emotional departure from the State Department received blanket media coverage. Kerry’s arrival received next to none.

“So here’s the big question before the country and the world and the State Department after the last eight years,” Kerry said in a speech to State Department employees on his first day on the job. “Can a man actually run the State Department? I don’t know.”

As the crowd roared with laughter, Kerry pushed the joke too far.

“As the saying goes,” he said, “I have big heels to fill.”

Nearly three weeks later, Kerry’s first foreign-policy speech as secretary, an hour-long defense of diplomacy and foreign aid, was a flop. The Washington Post gave it 500 words. The New York Times ignored it. (He was also accused of accidentally inventing a new country called “Kyrzakhstan,” an apparent conflation of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.)

from The Great Debate:

Fighting for democracy in South Asia

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For the first time in post-colonial history, all of the countries of South Asia are democracies.

From Bhutan to Bangladesh, Kabul to Kathmandu, democratic institutions are taking hold and giving people a voice in how they are governed. But these historic gains could be short-lived if troubling trends in some impending political transitions go unchecked.

from David Rohde:

The Iraq war’s most damaging legacy

American households will be blanketed this week by a torrent of coverage, commentary and regret about the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war. Liberals claim that Twitter – if it had existed - could have stopped the invasion. Conservatives argue that the links between Saddam Hussein and terrorism have, in fact, been underplayed.

The glaring lesson of the war is that American ground invasions destabilize the Middle East, instead of stabilizing it. The 100,000 Iraqis who perished, the 4,500 American soldiers killed and the $1 trillion spent should have halted what Tufts University professor Daniel W. Drezner has called the “creeping militarization of American foreign policy.” Instead, the civilian American institutions that failed us before Iraq have grown even weaker.

from The Great Debate:

On Keystone pipeline, consider Canada

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The Oscar for Best Picture last month went to Argo, the Ben Affleck movie about the Canadian government’s help in spiriting U.S. diplomats out of Iran during the hostage crisis  – which  underscores the United States’ historic relationship with its closest ally, Canada. Back in the real world, however, the Obama administration is on the verge of severely damaging this strategic partnership with its poor handling of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

The State Department’s favorable draft environmental analysis, released on Friday, should pave the way for final administration approval of the pipeline. Of course, the State Department has already gone through this process once before. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deemed Keystone XL to be in the national interest – only to have President Barack Obama shelve the project in January 2012, during the run-up to his re-election campaign.

from David Rohde:

Clinton: International portfolio, domestic concerns

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WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Thursday hosted a working dinner here for Afghan President Hamid Karzai – one of her last official meetings with a foreign head of state.

On paper, Karzai’s talks with Clinton are historic. A famed American political figure is helping negotiate the end of the longest war in U.S. history – a 12-year odyssey that has claimed 2,100 American lives and more than $600 billion in treasure.

from David Rohde:

State fixes are long overdue

This week's scathing report on the death of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya – followed by the resignation of one department official and removal of three others – confirms that the United States has an underfunded State Department is in decay. It also gives the clearest understanding yet of where fault lies for four unnecessary deaths in Libya and how the U.S. can do the vital work of diplomacy in dangerous areas.

The goal of the attackers was to drive American diplomats and aid workers out of Libya. We must not let this happen. Washington’s most effective weapon in the post-Arab Spring is promoting economic growth, trade and technology ‑ not mounting invasions. Diplomats and aid workers are the vital heart of that effort.

from Tales from the Trail:

Demonized in Damascus? Kucinich protests

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One of the Obama administration's sharpest critics on the left is coming in for some sharp criticism himself after what appeared to be a friendly visit to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich -- an Ohio Democrat who has proposed ordering Obama to halt U.S. participation in NATO airstrikes in the Libya conflict -- sat down with Assad in Damascus over the weekend and emerged to face accusations that he was getting too cozy with an autocrat whose security forces have killed some 1,300 people as they attempt to crush a revolt against his rule.

from Tales from the Trail:

Washington Extra – Not enough

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The word is not enough. That was the message from the United States to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who pledged reforms in a speech at Damascus University.

"What's important now is action, not words," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

from Tales from the Trail:

Clinton doesn’t want Iran taking ‘one iota of credit’ for Mideast revolutions

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says when it comes to the pro-democracy movements sweeping through the Middle East give credit where credit is due. And that means not to Iran.

The United States has long been at loggerheads with Iran over its nuclear program -- the West suspects Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons, Iran says it is trying to provide energy for its people. USA/

from Tales from the Trail:

Washington Extra – Same page

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Alarm over Japan's nuclear crisis prompted a slumping stock market to slump some more in a third day of selling.

The United States and Japan weren't quite on the same page in terms of advice to the public. The State Department recommended that Americans living within 50 miles of the Fukushima nuclear plant evacuate or stay indoors, while Japan asked residents within 18 miles to do the same.

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