President Barack Obama is demonstrating that he knows where to pick his battles. By choosing to nominate U.S. Sen. John Kerry as secretary of state, Obama has made a choice popular with both Senate Democrats and Republicans that virtually guarantees a smooth confirmation process. The Massachusetts Democrat has decades of experience in foreign policy and a proven track record of dealing with temperamental world leaders. Kerry will seamlessly succeed outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a time when it is in our national interest to project stability and continuity.
Kerry was Obama's second choice for the post. The president had first settled on U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who pulled her name from consideration after she became the focus of controversy over inexact statements she made on the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans. Initially, Obama seemed willing to take on Republican resistance to Rice, but with the "fiscal cliff" negotiations ongoing and partisan rancor continuing to disrupt the nation's business, Obama sensibly moved on to a more universally acceptable nominee.
As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry is well versed in world affairs. He has already proven himself pivotal in assisting the administration in its guidance of American foreign policy. In 2009, Kerry personally persuaded Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai to accept the need for a runoff election. On the ground in Kabul, Kerry spent long hours with Karzai, eventually winning over the leader with stories of his own presidential defeat in 2004. Kerry helped the president get an arms reduction treaty with Russia through the Senate and has handled diplomatic issues in Pakistan and Sudan.
As a decorated combat veteran during the Vietnam War, Kerry famously spoke out against the war upon his return. He understands the costs of war better than most. His new role would be to avert war with relationships and words that advance America's agenda for a peaceful world. Although he doesn't have the international star power that Clinton has, Kerry would bring a depth of knowledge and experience that would serve the country as it deals with Iran's nuclear program, China's changing role in the world, Pakistan's multiple personalities and the constant challenges of the Mideast.
Kerry should have little trouble getting confirmed by his colleagues in the Senate, where Republicans like Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine have already telegraphed their support. Collins said Kerry would be "an excellent appointment" soon after a disappointing meeting with Rice, who was attempting to repair relations after her Benghazi comments. Obama's willingness to follow the vocal suggestions of Republican senators to move beyond Rice and make Kerry his nominee demonstrates that he is not looking for partisan battles when they can be avoided.