Senator John Kerry
Yemi Adebowale with agency report
President Barack Obama has nominated U.S. Senator John Kerry to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, marking his first major step in the overhaul of his national security team on the cusp of his second term.
“He is not going to need a lot of on-the-job training. Few individuals know as many presidents and prime ministers or grasp our policies as firmly as John Kerry,” Obama said yesterday at the White House, standing alongside Kerry.
Hillary, who is recovering from a concussion sustained in a fall, did not attend the announcement ceremony. She plans to leave Obama’s cabinet early next year.
Obama settled for Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, after U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew from consideration last week. The Massachusetts Democrat is expected to win easy confirmation from his Senate colleagues.
Kerry, 69, a stalwart Obama supporter known to have long coveted the job of America’s top diplomat will also have to pick up the pieces after a scathing official inquiry found serious security lapses by the State Department in the deadly September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya – a report that has tarnished the final days of Clinton’s tenure.
Kerry’s nomination follows a political firestorm that engulfed Rice, seen as the early favourite for the job, spearheaded by Republicans fiercely critical of her role in the administration’s early explanations for the Benghazi assault.
Rice, defended by Obama, said last Thursday that she was withdrawing her name from consideration to avoid a potentially lengthy and disruptive confirmation process.
Kerry, known nationally through his presidential run and for his role as a Democratic power broker in the Senate, offers no such challenges.
The selection of Kerry sets a pragmatic tone as Obama begins reshaping his national security team, which will include a new CIA director.
Kerry will be the leading cabinet member charged with tackling a range of thorny global challenges, including Middle East upheaval, Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West and winding down the war in Afghanistan – all at a time of fiscal austerity at home.
Kerry has forged close ties with Obama, and gave him the keynote speech assignment at the 2004 Democratic convention that boosted him to the national stage and opened the way for his meteoric rise.
After losing narrowly to Republican George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election, Kerry forged a new identity as a congressional leader on foreign policy.
He often served as a low-profile emissary and diplomatic troubleshooter for the Obama White House in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria.
But White House aides acknowledge that Kerry could be handicapped somewhat for lacking the close personal bond that Rice has with Obama.
Obama is expected to roll out other members of his new security team next. The top candidates for CIA director, to replace David Petraeus who stepped down over an extramarital affair, are believed to be Michael Morell, currently acting CIA director, and John Brennan, a top counter-terrorism adviser to Obama and former CIA official.