- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2013

In hindsight, Sen. John F. Kerry was the obvious pick for President Obama when he went looking for someone to replace outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Susan E. Rice, the administration’s U.N. ambassador, attracted a wave of heated attention as Mr. Obama’s apparent favorite for the job. But it is the 69-year-old Mr. Kerry who has risen slowly through Capitol Hill’s foreign-policy ranks for nearly three decades, taking over as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2009 upon the ascension of Joseph R. Biden, long the panel’s top Democrat, to the vice presidency.

Now it’s Mr. Kerry’s turn. He will face his colleagues at a hearing Thursday, and his confirmation is likely get a full Senate vote soon afterward — almost certainly in his favor.

“You get to be chairman of that committee by getting re-elected and staying on the committee. It’s all seniority,” said Leslie Gelb, president emeritus and board senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Kerry’s been around for well over 20 years, he’s traveled all over the world and done a lot of reading. He’s a serious guy. You can see he knows his stuff, and I think others recognize it as well.”

For some, though, that means little more than being the last guy standing.

Kerry lobbied hard for the secretary of state job, and there wasn’t anybody else, so he got it,” said Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

Senators usually are given tremendous deference by their colleagues when it comes to nominations, and Mr. Kerry almost certainly will benefit from that — even though, Mrs. Pletka said, “he is not very well liked.”

“He hasn’t made it a habit to win friends or influence people,” said Mrs. Pletka. “That was also his problem when he ran for president.”

The nomination of Mr. Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, represents two small victories for conservatives.

First, he is not Mrs. Rice, whose expected nomination was doomed after she characterized the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya as a spontaneous demonstration that grew out of control.

Second, if he gets the State Department post, Mr. Kerry will open up a Senate seat in Massachusetts, where Republican Scott P. Brown is looking for an opportunity, having narrowly lost his own Senate re-election bid last year.

Mr. Kerry won support from two prominent Republicans, Sen. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both of whom were harshly critical of Mrs. Rice.

Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican whom Mr. Kerry reportedly pursued as a potential vice presidential nominee in 2004, jocularly referred to Mr. Kerry as “Mr. Secretary” when the two appeared together last month at a news conference.

His chief qualification for the job is heading the Foreign Relations Committee — a panel with which he has been linked for most of his public career.

It began in 1971, when the 27-year-old Mr. Kerry became the first Vietnam veteran to testify before the committee about the war. His testimony, which delved into alleged atrocities committed by U.S. forces, infuriated the Nixon White House.

The Nixon administration responded by encouraging another Vietnam veteran, John O’Neill, to challenge Mr. Kerry to a public debate. White House tape recordings from the period reveal how President Nixon took a personal interest in discrediting Mr. Kerry by telling Mr. O’Neill to “give it to him” during the debate, which was watched by millions on Dick Cavett’s popular TV show.

After Mr. Kerry was elected to the Senate in 1984, he quickly won a reputation for being a thorn in the side of President Reagan. A year after arriving on Capitol Hill, Mr. Kerry teamed up with Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, to investigate charges of cocaine and marijuana trafficking by anti-communist Nicaraguan “Contra” guerrillas backed by the CIA.

When Sen. Richard G. Lugar, a moderate Republican from Indiana who was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, got behind Mr. Kerry and Mr. Dodd, their probe became a precursor to the Iran-Contra affair and revealed how Contra aid was being channeled to drug traffickers.

That Mr. Lugar and Mr. Kerry worked as bipartisan allies added legitimacy to Mr. Kerry’s record as an emerging foreign policy heavyweight. His admirers add that the Nicaragua investigation is just one of a string of foreign policy achievements that, over time, have won Mr. Kerry a unique kind of respect.

“He’s supremely experienced in having been head of this committee for so long and dealing with every conceivable issue,” said Winston Lord, who served as U.S. ambassador to China during Reagan’s second term and later as an assistant secretary of state under President Clinton.

In the latter position, Mr. Lord worked closely with Mr. Kerry, Mr. McCain and Sen. Bob Kerrey, Nebraska Democrat — all three men Vietnam veterans — toward the normalization of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Vietnam.

“The three of them were Vietnam War heroes,” said Mr. Lord, adding that the bipartisan group overcame fierce resistance from some veterans groups at home to see the normalization through.

Kerry had the courage, as did McCain and the other Kerrey, to move ahead,” he said. “I saw firsthand his courage in standing up to these pressures and his intelligence and perspective.”

“I always saw him as a heavyweight.”

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