The 2012 presidential election has finally ended, and the principals involved have returned to their normal lives. For President Obama, of course, this means going back to his full-time job of governing the country, a task that, unsurprisingly, was put on the backburner in the weeks and months preceding Election Day. As Obama reacquaints himself with his old White House staff, he is also tasked with assembling a new team of associates to lead the country for the next four years. The position of Secretary of State in particular will require a deft and knowledgeable replacement capable of filling the large shoes currently worn by Hillary R. Clinton. Clinton, who has earned plaudits for her performance, announced last year that she would only stay in the post for a single administration, as is standard for Secretaries of State.
Political journalists have reported a shortlist for each of the positions in the second Obama administration’s Cabinet. For Secretary of State, the two frontrunners are United Nations Ambassador Susan E. Rice and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. While both of these individuals are talented diplomats with impressive résumés, Senator Kerry stands out as the best choice to represent American interests abroad.
To most Americans, John Kerry is known first and foremost as a presidential loser from the Bay State, a similar characterization as the one that will eventually be applied to Mitt Romney. However, in nearly a decade since losing in 2004, Kerry has positioned himself as a leader in his party on issues relating to foreign policy. With the election of Joe Biden to the vice presidency, Kerry acceded to the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In this capacity, Senator Kerry has established himself as an expert on American foreign policy issues. He has traveled throughout the world, serving as the administration’s unofficial envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Two years ago, he conducted the difficult task of representing American interests in the war-torn nation of Sudan, and he is credited for painstaking work in ensuring that country did not erupt into civil violence.
In the past four years, Kerry has also been a strong and loyal advocate for President Obama. This is worth quite a bit in Washington, as America’s chief diplomat should not sway from the president’s designed course. Kerry has supported Obama since day one. After all, we may very not have had a President Obama without Kerry’s selection of the unknown senatorial candidate to deliver his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. That speech is often cited as the launch of Obama’s career.
Kerry’s fealty to the president was not a one-time affair. He was the first major endorser of candidate Barack Obama in 2008, providing necessary credibility to the Illinois Senator’s campaign against Hillary Clinton. It would not be at all undeserved if the president took it upon himself to return the favor and nominate Kerry for his Secretary of State.
In the current discussion of frontrunners for the position, it seems as if Kerry’s steadfast sponsorship of the Obama agenda will not be enough. Susan E. Rice is a member of the president’s inner circle, giving her a leg up on the competition. In addition, Ambassador Rice has an extensive résumé, beginning with her work in the Clinton White House of the early 1990s.
However, Rice has made several remarks detrimental to American interests during her tenure at the U.N. Her sharp tongue has been well documented over the years, and while a penchant for strong language does not put Ambassador Rice in the D.C. minority, it could have negative implications when directed at American partners abroad. For example, she raised the ire of Russia, whose relationship with the U.S. Kerry worked to rebuild, by saying our nation was “disgusted” with their “shameful” behavior. Russian diplomats have publicly expressed their preference for Kerry, noting Rice’s “ambitious and aggressive” manner. Ambition and aggression are necessary traits for surviving in Washington, where Rice, whose father was a governor of the Federal Reserve, was born and raised. However, a tendency to offend other countries does not necessarily make a candidate suited for international diplomacy.
Rice’s impulsive diplomatic style was also evident during and after the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi a couple of months ago. When asked about the incident, Rice blamed a YouTube video for the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. She claimed the violence was the result of a spontaneous outburst of anti-Americanism rather than the premeditated act of terrorism turned out to be. At that point in time, her characterization of the event conflicted with U.S. lawmakers and the Libyan president, whose assertions were confirmed by former Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus. One would hope that America’s Secretary of State would wait for all of information before making potentially damaging statements about events abroad.
The Obama administration’s decision on the next Secretary of State will demonstrate what traits it deems important when it comes to the face of U.S. diplomacy. The president has the opportunity to appoint a candidate with a proven track record and a history of supporting him, both personally and politically. It would be a shame if this remarkable career were forgotten due to Obama’s desire to promote a close friend. In that case, the interests of the United States would ultimately suffer.
John F. M. Kocsis ’15, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Eliot House. His column appears on alternate Fridays.