Obama is expected to announce as soon as next week that Kerry, a longtime Democratic senator from Massachusetts, will be his choice to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state. Kerry was regarded as Obama’s second choice until Rice withdrew her name from consideration Thursday amid Republican threats of a bruising Senate confirmation fight.
Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska who is regarded as a moderate, would succeed Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta.
Clinton and Panetta have announced plans to leave office soon. Their successors, along with a replacement for disgraced CIA director David H. Petraeus, are expected to be named before Christmas.
Kerry and Hagel share Obama’s pragmatic approach to national security. Assuming they are nominated and confirmed, the two men will quickly face thorny decisions on the diplomatic and military fronts. Among the tough calls will be whether to intervene militarily in Syria and Iran, how to close down the Afghanistan war and how to engage a changing Middle East and a rising China.
No longer focused on salvaging Rice’s candidacy, White House officials Friday began warming to the idea of Kerry as chief diplomat. Officials who previously discounted Kerry’s candidacy hailed his international stature, the missions he has undertaken for Obama in the past four years and the ease with which he would probably be confirmed by his Senate colleagues.
“He’s extremely knowledgeable. He’s creative on foreign policy issues. He’s somebody who wants to solve problems and is prepared to take some risks to do so,” said a former senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because a nomination has not been announced.
During his losing 2004 presidential campaign, Kerry was accused of being an Iraq war defeatist who was too willing to talk to America’s adversaries. But Kerry has found a place in the foreign policy spotlight under Obama. As chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, a job he took over when Joe Biden became vice president, Kerry became an activist in the Senate and a trusted administration emissary.
Kerry traveled to Afghanistan in the fall of 2009 and persuaded President Hamid Karzai to accept a runoff election. The senator played a similar role for the administration in Pakistan, where he helped broker the release of a CIA contractor arrested on suspicion of murder and later persuaded the Pakistanis to return parts of a U.S. stealth helicopter that crashed during the Abbottabad raid that killed Osama bin Laden. He was the first senior U.S. elected official to meet with Mohamed Morsi before and after he became Egypt’s president.