John Kerry

time 100 2016 John Kerry
Alex Majoli for TIME

Diplomatic bruiser

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” the Scriptures say. To which we might add: Sleep-deprived, coffee-stained and stubborn are the peacemakers. It couldn’t be less romantic, if we’re honest. Diplomacy is the art of getting people who disagree on everything to agree on one thing. There are meetings. Many of them. They are long, the rooms are cold, the sandwiches are bad. The white doves of peace rarely appear, and if they do, it’s only after a brutal process that very few have the skill or stamina to navigate.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is one of the few. He has a lot of things, but stamina has gotta be right up there. Under that hard hat of a haircut is a hard head. But there’s a powerful left-brain-right-brain thing happening in there, so uncommon among tough-minded men.
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I’ve known Kerry since he was a Senator, a pioneer of the U.S. effort to end AIDS, which is working, by the way. As Secretary of State he’s been taking on dangers that seem just as intractable—civil wars, climate change, the spread of nuclear weapons—brokering deals that might bring some sanity to an insane world. Peacemakers inch their way into such agreements—even the big ones—slowly, tacking left, then right, navigating dark and uncharted waters like the Navy lieutenant Kerry once was.

It’s parity of pain rather than shared goals that often seems to be the math here. It certainly was in Ireland in the 1990s, and the endurance of that deal ought to be encouraging to those, like Kerry, who are involved in long, drawn-out negotiations.

The word diplomat retains its 19th century starched-collar gentility, but it’s a bruiser’s game today. Kerry, a lifelong hockey player, has shown he can take it. I had a cycling accident and spent six weeks in bed. Kerry had a cycling accident, and I don’t think he even noticed. The man falls off a truck every day. He gets thrown out of a plane every day. Yet he’s always where he needs to be. Blessed are the peacemakers.

Bono, the lead singer of U2, is a co-founder of the ONE Campaign and (RED)

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