The case for John Kerry

By EDITORIAL  |  December 4, 2012

It is not that United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice would make a bad secretary of state, but it is reasonable to ask, is Rice the best person for the job?

The Phoenix does not think so.

Despite it being against Massachusetts's best interests, our view is that Senator John Kerry is about as perfect a candidate to be the nation's top diplomat as can be found in either political or policy circles.

President Obama appears to be playing a strange game in picking a successor to Hillary Clinton, who months ago said that she would vacate the secretary of state's office early in 2013.

Obama has said that he wants Rice to take Clinton's place, but has stopped short of saying he will appoint her. At the same time, his White House has kept Kerry's name in play as the logical choice should something change the president's mind about Rice. And against this background, the White House has also floated Kerry's name to be defense secretary. Kerry, for his part, is maintaining a wise silence.

How Rice fares in the aftermath of the circus being staged by Senate Republicans over the Benghazi killings of the US Libyan ambassador is clearly part of Obama's equation. But it need not be.

There is no doubt that the GOP is trying to blame Rice for something that is not her responsibility. But at the same time, we share the view of the levelheaded and sensible Republican senator Susan Rice of Maine that Rice may not have botched her defense, but neither has Rice conducted herself with the vigor expected of a top cabinet officer.

Filling the void Clinton will leave will be a challenge to whomever walks into the cavernous office in Foggy Bottom to take her place.

It is not that Clinton has been a great strategist in the manner of Dean Acheson, who served President Truman, or Henry Kissinger, who aided President Nixon.

Clinton's appointment did, however, create a new paradigm for the office of secretary of state. It reinvigorated the idea that the secretary should be as politically sagacious as she is internationally sophisticated.

Running a viable presidential campaign for your party's nomination, as both Clinton and Kerry did, immediately puts a public figure in a special political class. Winning the Democratic nomination, as Kerry did, and then coming within 2.4 percentage points of besting President George W. Bush is an even more bankable achievement.

Kerry's national political career is just the tip of a vast iceberg-sized Washington career. Kerry began his 27 years in the Senate by convincing Washington graybeards to launch the Iran-Contra hearings. And, as a member and now-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has been at the center of American foreign policy ever since.

Rice served eight distinguished years as a National Security Council staffer and in the sub-cabinet of President Clinton. And Rice has been a star during her four years as UN ambassador. We'll take Obama's word that she would be good secretary of state.

But by any calculation, Kerry has the higher international profile and the broader range of hands-on experience. Why should America settle for second best?


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