Obama Has Nominated Kerry to be the New Secretary of State

PHOTO: In this Dec. 20, 2012 file photo, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., leads a hearing on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Capitol Hill in Washington.J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo
In this Dec. 20, 2012 file photo, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., leads a hearing on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where the ambassador three other Americans were killed Sept. 11, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

President Barack Obama nominated Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) to be the next secretary of state on Friday afternoon.

If confirmed by the Senate, Kerry will replace outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as head of the State Department. Clinton has said repeatedly that she plans to leave early next year.

"I am very proud to announce my choice for America's next secretary of state, John Kerry," Obama said. "'He understands that we have a responsibility to use American power wisely."

Obama added that Clinton "could not be more excited about the announcement that I am making." The secretary of state is currently at home recovering from a concussion.

The former Democratic presidential nominee who ran against George W. Bush in 2004 is expected to be confirmed. U.N. ambassador Susan Rice, his main competitor, withdrew her name from consideration after facing criticism from Republicans for remarks on the Benghazi attack.

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As head of the State Department, Kerry would serve as the president's chief foreign affairs adviser, and carry out the country's foreign policy around the world. The job will involve significant travel – Clinton has traveled to more than 110 countries as the country's top diplomat – and Kerry will be tasked with handling tricky foreign relationships, such as with Syria and Iran.

Kerry, 69, served in the Vietnam War, where he earned multiple decorations, including three Purple Hearts. He was a vocal critic of that war and even testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he now chairs.

As a child he lived abroad, in both Switzerland and Germany.

He has traveled around the world for Obama, including to Afghanistan and to Pakistan after al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden's death caused tension with the country. He has been praised by Democrats for his experience and ability to forge relationships in difficult situations, and he is good friends with fellow Vietnam War veteran and former presidential candidate Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.).

While Kerry has received McCain's stamp of approval, he is not a universally popular choice. He has received some criticism in Israel for leading efforts at closer relations between Washington and Syria's Bashar Assad.

Kerry played a key role in investigations of Panama's Manuel Noriega and his involvement with the illegal drug trade. He successfully promoted the ratification of a nuclear arms reduction treaty in 2010. And he devoted significant time to national security during his speech at the Democratic National Convention this year.

Kerry's nomination means that Democrats will risk losing the Massachusetts Senate seat he has held for five straight terms. Some have worried that defeated Republican Senator Scott Brown could run, but others predict Democrats will be able to retain the seat.

His nomination also means that Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a vocal proponent of immigration reform and an outspoken critic of Cuba's Castro regime, is likely to become chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The chairmanship would give Menendez a powerful role in approving nominees for diplomatic positions and international treaties, and a platform to comment on the nation's foreign policy decisions.

Kerry has traveled multiple times to the Middle East, an area that will take up a significant portion of the next secretary's time. If confirmed, he will face unrest in Syria, the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran and instability in North Africa, among other things.

As Douglas Brinkley noted in an article for Foreign Policy, "As secretary of state, Kerry would no doubt invest enormous time leveraging his relationships on Capitol Hill and selling the president's agenda in the Senate and on the committee he now chairs. And he would make great use of the friends and contacts he's made around the world in his three decades quietly and diligently working on foreign policy. There is no learning curve for Kerry at Foggy Bottom."