Cesar Chelala       New York     

Susan Rice’s withdrawal of her name from consideration as the next Secretary of State, allows the post to be filled by Senator John Kerry. Nobody indentified the problems with her nomination than Ms. Rice herself. “If nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly – to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities,” wrote Rice in a letter to President Barak H. Obama. And she also wrote, “That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country.”

In contrast, it is highly possible that Senator Kerry’s nomination will find fewer obstacles than Ms. Rice’s nomination would have encountered. Mr. Kerry is highly regarded not only among his colleagues at the Senate but in the political spectrum.

Not the least among his qualities are his diplomatic skills. Following Ms. Rice’s withdrawal from consideration Kerry wrote, “I’ve known and worked closely with Susan Rice not just at the UN, but in my own campaign as President. I’ve defended her publicly and wouldn’t hesitate to do so again because I know her character and I know her commitment. She is an extraordinary capable and dedicated public servant. Today’s announcement doesn’t change any of that.”

More than ever, President Obama will need those skills in a person dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum, Syria’s political transition, and conducting serious negotiations with Iran. Because he is widely respected, he is uniquely capable of engaging America’s adversaries at a moment when it is necessary to improve the U.S. relations with Russia and China, particularly after their disagreement over Syria.

Because the nominating process is done by the Senate Foreign Relations committee, Kerry has high chances of an easy nomination. He is a long time member and now a chairman of that committee, and has a friendly relationship with all members of that committee. That position has made him extremely well versed in international issues.

At a time of big climate disruptions around the world, Kerry would bring to his position his long time interest and expertise on climate change issues. In addition, he is an expert on national security matters, and many anticipate that, if he becomes Secretary of Sate, he will probably be an advocate of the position that climate change is a national security issue.

In a Senate floor speech last August, Kerry compared the threat of climate change to the threat posed by war, and stated, “I believe that the situation we face [regarding climate change] is as dangerous as any of the sort of real crises that we talk about” when we talk about Iran, Syria, and other of the world’s trouble spots. Together with his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, he co-authored a book, This Moment on Earth: Today’s New Environmentalists and Their Vision for the Future.

Unlike many other political leaders, John Kerry had a distinguished performance in the military. Although he was an opponent of the Vietnam War, he reported for duty and won two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star for his performance during the war. 

During his Senate tenure, a few months after taking his Senate seat on April 18, 1985, he traveled to Nicaragua with Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa. They met there the country’s president, Daniel Ortega, in a move that was much criticized but that showed, nonetheless, his essential flexibility to deal with all political actors, no matter how removed they could be from his own political beliefs.

Although he is not as close to President Obama as Ms. Rice, he played an important role in helping Obama become a significant national political figure. President Obama may have been responding to friendship in his initial preference for Susan Rice. However, both he, and the country, will be better served with Senator John Kerry as Secretary of State.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is the foreign correspondent for The Middle East Times International (Australia).


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