WASHINGTON - After about 15 hours of flying and five hours of meetings, sleep finally caught up with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Baghdad. It was 6:04 p.m.
After sinking into his seat at the centre of the cavernous interior of a C-17 military transport plane, he cradled his head in his palm, put his feet on a desk and shut his eyes.
Visibly tired, too, were his retinue of aides as they took their seats, some clutching briefing papers with notes scribbled in the margin from meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the government he had formed a day earlier on Sept. 9.
Kerry's exhaustion was understandable after nearly 24 hours of non-stop travel and meetings.
America's fatigue in the Middle East could be a different story: the Iraqis who met Kerry may wonder if his boss, President Barack Obama, has the energy or stomach for what lies ahead in a country he has spent most of his nearly six years in office trying to leave behind.
The challenge is highlighted by a Reuters/Ipsos poll on Friday showing that while Americans support Obama's campaign of airstrikes against Islamic State militants, they have a low appetite for a long campaign against the group.
Several important tests loom for the US administration's nascent coalition to "degrade and defeat" the ultra-hardline Islamic State whose militants have seized a third of both Iraq and Syria, declared war on the West and beheaded two American journalists and one British aid worker.
The complexity of eliminating Islamic State, which requires stabilizing Iraq, building up its armed forces and creating a western-backed rebel force in Syria, could take years, testing Obama's commitment and that of whoever succeeds him in 2017.
"There's a real general distrust among our regional allies about our commitment to this because we've been missing in action for the last three years," said David Schenker, a specialist on Syria at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former Pentagon adviser on Syria during President George W. Bush's administration.
In Baghdad, Amman, Jeddah, Ankara, Cairo and Paris in the last week, Kerry laid plans for a US-led coalition of regional and outside powers. It would hammer the black-clad fighters of Islamic State militarily, dry up its funding, eliminate its safe havens in Syria, block its ability to recruit fighters and try to extinguish its extremist ideology.
Kerry, who will report on his trip to Obama and Congress this week, insists this is different from past US operations in the region.
"This is not the Gulf War of 1991," he told reporters in Paris on Monday. "And it's not the Iraq War of 2003 ... We're not building a military coalition for an invasion. We're building a military coalition together with all the other pieces for a transformation, as well as for the elimination of ISIL itself,"he said, invoking an acronym for the Islamic State group.