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With Rice Out, Attention Shifts To Sen. Kerry For State Post

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listen to President Obama speak at the State Department in May 2011. With Rice withdrawing her name from consideration to succeed Clinton, speculation has turned to Kerry. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listen to President Obama speak at the State Department in May 2011. With Rice withdrawing her name from consideration to succeed Clinton, speculation has turned to Kerry. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

BOSTON — Speculation is growing that U.S. Sen. John Kerry could be the next secretary of state after U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew her name from consideration for the post Thursday.

Following Rice’s announcement, Kerry’s Republican colleagues in the Senate praised Massachusetts’ senior senator, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, saying he would likely be confirmed if nominated.

Diplomacy, In The Senate And Abroad

Kerry has been a loyal supporter of President Obama’s foreign policy. But when that policy has come under attack from Republicans, they give Kerry credit for paying attention to their concerns.

“He’s been a very fair chairman, and a good leader,” said U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Republican from Georgia.

Isakson serves with Kerry on the Foreign Relations Committee. He praises Kerry for letting Republicans investigate the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, when the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed.

“The current situation we have over the handling of the Benghazi case and what happened to Ambassador Chris Stevens is a good example,” Isakson said. “I have been really adamant about getting to the bottom and getting answers on why we lost an ambassador, first ambassador since 1979. We’ve been slow getting answers from the secretary of state’s office, not from the chairman.”

Isaakson praises Kerry for the open way in which he runs the committee.

“We’ve never had a surprise that I can think of in the four years that he’s been chairman of the committee,” Isakson said. “He’s always been forthright in the agenda.”

Isakson cites the way Kerry successfully managed the renewal of the treaty with Russia limiting nuclear weapons.

“I ended up being supportive of that treaty primarily because he gave us the time and the hearing ability to get our questions answered,” Isakson said. “A lot of times the chairmen will try to run big things through.”

When he’s on a mission abroad, Kerry displays different qualities.

“I had an opportunity to see Sen. Kerry in action on several occasions in Afghanistan, very difficult situations, one in which Sen. Kerry had many meetings with President Karzai in the wake of the September 2009 presidential election,” said Karl Eikenberry, who commanded U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan and was later President Obama’s ambassador to Afghanistan during the troop surge.

Eikenberry says it was Kerry who persuaded a reluctant Hamid Karzai to hold a runoff election in order to bring more legitimacy to the presidential election after the first round was riddled with fraud.

“Sen. Kerry is an extraordinarily good diplomat in my mind,” Eikenberry said. “He has a great ability not only to be patient and persuasive, but he has a hard edge as well.”

Veteran diplomat Nicholas Burns, now a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, points out that Kerry has already had a lifelong impact on American foreign policy.

“He made a major contribution to our foreign policy when he came back as a distinguished combat veteran from the Vietnam War, and spoke out very courageously about that war as a young man, and he’s been at the center of our foreign policy pretty much ever since,” Burns said.

Burns’ colleague at the Kennedy School, Joseph Nye, sees similarities between Kerry and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“They’re both moderate Democrats who have a strong political presence of their own and are well respected in the Senate,” Nye said.

Nye says wherever she’s gone, Clinton has been able to shine a light on issues that matter to her: the rights of women and children. He predicts if Kerry becomes secretary of state, the issue that would get more global attention is climate change.

If President Obama does tap Kerry for the post, it would mean another special U.S. Senate election for Massachusetts.

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