Some of Kerry's unheralded successes have come in South Asia. Through meetings with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his national security advisor, M.K. Narayanan, Kerry helped build a U.S.-Indian dialogue on civil nuclear technology that culminated in the 123 Agreement. In those discussions, Kerry was cautious in outlining an agreement that would have the support not just of the Indian government and U.S. Senate, but with other international signatories and the Indian public, as well. After the 2008 attack in Mumbai, Kerry worked as an intermediary to help defuse tensions between India and Pakistan. In 2009, Kerry helped coax Afghan President Hamid Karzai into accepting a second round of elections after the first round was not decisive, and when Karzai came out on top, Kerry called the Afghan leader's rival to convince him to concede gracefully.
Kerry has had less luck in Pakistan. He struggled to build up Asif Ali Zardari and Pakistan's civilian government through initiatives like the Kerry-Lugar aid legislation, but could make little headway against the country's powerful military, and his efforts hit a brick wall when Osama bin Laden was discovered living in safety in Abbottabad.
His climate change initiatives foundered, both domestically and abroad. The special tribunal that he pushed for in Lebanon became a political hot potato, and eventually led to the collapse of the Hariri government; nearly eight years later, no one has been held to account for the former prime minister's assassination. In pursuing a Middle East peace agreement, Kerry took the advice of several Arab leaders that, to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel and Syria would have to settle their differences first, and he met -- controversially -- with Assad in Damascus on multiple occasions.
In those meetings, Kerry comes across as accommodating but stern. In December 2006, he reassured Assad that he would be recognized for positive steps he took toward the peace process and in halting the flow of militants into Iraq, and tried to assuage the Syrian dictator's concerns that the steps he had taken already weren't appreciated by the Bush administration. Kerry left the meeting with a warning: "People who think Iran is in the ascendancy," he told Assad, "are making a mistake." He also, according to one cable, "cautioned [Assad] not to be fooled by any temporary feelings of self-confidence his regime may be enjoying because of recent events in the region, as the current course his regime is on holds very negative future consequences for Syria."
This didn't stop Kerry from telling the Qatari emir, in February 2010, that "he took away from his visit to Damascus that [Assad] wants change," one cable reveals, but this seems to have been as much a way of guiding the Qataris -- then one of Syria's closest Arab allies -- to pressure Assad as anything else. In more candid conversations, Kerry conceded that "the U.S. was ‘not expecting great change' from Syria, but it was worthwhile to start the conversation."
If he is indeed confirmed, starting conversations will be Secretary Kerry's job. He has started dialogues both good and bad. Not all of Kerry's efforts have panned out, and he's not likely to develop a golden touch once he gets to Foggy Bottom. But, based on his history, we know he'll at least try.