But it’s not an argument for nominating Rice to take over the State Department. And with so many potential flashpoints around the world, the job calls for more than a capable bureaucrat.
By all accounts, Rice is an earnest, loyal and effective Obama lieutenant. But she’s never had to appeal to a wider constituency of the American public. By contrast, Kerry is Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, the Democrats’ 2004 presidential nominee, a decorated combat veteran and he’s served as one of Obama’s main shuttle diplomats to Afghanistan during the last four years. He’s an elder statesman with enough stature to fill Clinton’s prominent shoes.
And the intangibles go to Kerry, too: In terms of historic firsts, Rice won’t really be seen as a barrier-breaker, since three of the last four secretaries of State have been women and two of the last three have been African Americans. There’d be a synergy though, to Kerry finishing his political career as Obama’s secretary of State since Obama’s big break on the national political landscape came when he delivered the keynote address at Kerry’s 2004 nominating convention.
Kerry’s reported to want the post at State, but if he’d rather stay in the Senate or possibly replace Leon Panetta as Defense Secretary, then Obama should still consider a figure with a broader profile than Rice—like, say, Gov. Jon Huntsman.
Yes, Huntsman resigned as Obama’s ambassador to China in order to run against the president in the GOP primary. But Obama was shrewd enough to keep George W. Bush’s Defense Secretary Bob Gates during his first two years in office, pull Republicans like Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood into his cabinet, and appoint Huntsman ambassador to begin with. Burying the hatchet with Huntsman, who was once ambassador to Singapore—would be a bipartisan coup.
Which is what the president needs right now. Because even if it’s his prerogative to nominate Rice, that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do, politically. With a congressional battle over the “fiscal cliff” looming, the administration should be looking for easy wins on Capitol Hill that will not only allow them to focus on the economy, but demonstrate to voters that they want to get things done, not simply stand on general principle.
This election year was more about domestic politics than matters of war and peace. But we’re two years away from a scheduled pull-out from Afghanistan, on the verge of another Israeli-Palestinian showdown, and at some point we’re going to run out of things to sanction in Iran.
At the moment, secretary of State isn’t a job for Ambassador Rice. It’s a job for Senator Kerry.
Swerdlick is a contributing editor to TheRoot.com and is also a blogger for the NY Daily News' "The Rumble". Follow @Swerdlick on Twitter.