In Transition | Secretary of State

Saturday, November 15, 2008

John F. Kerry

Current job: Junior senator from Massachusetts

Credentials: 2004 Democratic nominee for president; 19-year member of Senate Foreign Relations Committee and prominent voice on foreign affairs since emerging as a young critic of the Vietnam War; during the Iran-contra scandal in the mid-1980s, his staff released a report detailing the activities of White House national security aide Oliver North; played key role in lifting trade restrictions on Vietnam.

What he offers: Kerry is well-steeped in the issues that he would handle as secretary of state, and has wide contacts in world capitals. He would present an articulate defense of Barack Obama's foreign policy.

Vetting: Some colleagues consider Kerry arrogant, and it's not clear that many on Obama's national security team would want to deal with that. Potential difficulty keeping him on message.

Quote: "When we walk away from global warming, Kyoto, when we are irresponsibly slow in moving toward AIDS in Africa, when we don't advance and live up to our own rhetoric and standards, we set a terrible message of duplicity and hypocrisy," he said in January 2007.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Current job: Junior senator from New York

Credentials: Member of Senate Armed Services Committee, where she has immersed herself in policy debates on Iraq, NATO and Afghanistan; like Kerry, voted for the 2002 Iraq war resolution but has become strong critic of the conflict; as first lady, accompanied her husband, President Bill Clinton, on numerous foreign trips, as well as her own celebrated trip to Africa in 1997.

What she offers: Instant star power, and the potential for healing remaining breaches between Obama and Clinton camps. Imposing, high-profile figure on the world stage, with substantive expertise and negotiating savvy.

Vetting: Obama will have to think carefully about bringing the Clintons into the fold, because they could stir controversy. Some in the Obama camp would wonder how Hillary Clinton fits into an organization that prides itself on teamwork and collegiality. Questions may arise about Bill Clinton's financial dealings.

Quote: "I will pursue very vigorous diplomacy, and I will use a lot of high-level presidential envoys to test the waters, to feel the way," Clinton said in a July 2007 Democratic primary debate. "But certainly we're not going to just have our president meet with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez and, you know, the president of North Korea, Iran and Syria, until we know better what the way forward would be."

Bill Richardson

Current job: Governor of New Mexico

Credentials: Longtime troubleshooter on the international stage; served as Bill Clinton's ambassador to the United Nations; helped secure 1994 release of the remains of a U.S. soldier who had been killed when his helicopter strayed into North Korean airspace; as governor, traveled to Sudan to negotiate with President Omar Hassan al-Bashir the release of an American journalist.

What he offers: Richardson would be a charismatic figure in the international arena and a potentially skilled negotiator on the Middle East, North Korea, Iran and Sudan. As the first Hispanic secretary of state, he would help solidify Obama's political position in Florida and the Southwest.

Vetting: As energy secretary in the 1990s, Richardson named Wen Ho Lee as a suspect in giving nuclear secrets to the Chinese government. Lee was later cleared of all charges and won a settlement from the government.

Quote: "In my career, I've been able to get results not with harsh words, but hard work," he said in June 2007. "You talk to your adversaries. You listen. You get to know them well if you want them to hear what you're saying. And with understanding comes resolve and with clarity comes cooperation. It's how I have approached foreign policy."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company