Obama nominates Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., as next secretary of state

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama has nominated Sen. John Kerry as his next secretary of state, saying Kerry's entire life "has prepared him for this role."

If confirmed, the Massachusetts Democrat would succeed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Obama's second-term Cabinet.

Clinton did not attend the Roosevelt Room announcement. She's recovering from a concussion sustained in a fall.

Obama said Kerry's political career and service has established him as a respected American voice around the globe. Obama said Kerry will not need on-the-job training.

Kerry has served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is a decorated Vietnam veteran who was critical of the war effort when he returned home to the U.S.

He has represented Massachusetts in the Senate since 1985.

The senior senator from Massachusetts is noted for the experience, gravitas and relationship-building skills.

Kerry has traveled the globe on behalf of the Obama administration to mend frayed relationships. Most notably, he traveled to Pakistan after a series of incidents, including the raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, that had set relations back.

He has support from Republicans as well as Democrats. The nomination will be sent to the Senate for confirmation.

"There are very few people with greater experience over a longer period of time," said Nicholas Burns, a former career ambassador who has served every secretary of state since Warren Christopher, and was most recently undersecretary for political affairs under Condoleezza Rice. "He would be a very, very impressive choice."

"You really need someone who is a renaissance person with a tremendous range of skill, both political and substantive, with a deep reservoir of knowledge," Burns said in an interview. "You need someone who can drill several layers deep on foreign policy issues."

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice had been seen as a front-runner for the job, but she withdrew her name from consideration after Republicans said her TV talk show comments about the killings of Americans in Libya were misleading.

Kerry soon became the top candidate for the job. Republicans opposed to a Rice nomination have bandied about Kerry's name for weeks, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told CNN that Kerry would be a "popular choice with the Senate."

It's ironic that several prominent Republicans are rallying behind Kerry, just eight years after their party demonized him during his failed 2004 presidential campaign against President George W. Bush.

"In a way, he is the poster child for the job," said Aaron David Miller, Middle East expert at the Wilson Center. "And in a way, it's a job for which, around which he has been preparing for most of his professional life."

Kerry was born in Denver, on December 11, 1943, and he spent much of his childhood overseas. He lived in Berlin, then went to a Swiss boarding school at age 11.

After graduating from Yale University in 1966, Kerry was deployed to Vietnam as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. He was a gunboat officer on the Mekong Delta, earning the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts.

Upon his return home in the early 1970s, Kerry gained public recognition as the head of the group Vietnam Veterans Against the War and for his anti-war testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In 1972, he ran his first campaign, a losing effort for a congressional seat in Massachusetts. He eventually entered politics in 1982 as lieutenant governor under Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. Two years later, Kerry won the U.S. Senate seat he has held for five consecutive terms.

The Vietnam experience came back to haunt Kerry during the 2004 presidential election. A Republican-funded group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth aired campaign ads accusing him of lying to receive two of his five combat decorations and criticizing his anti-war activism. The incumbent Bush won the Electoral College vote 292 to 252 and racked up 3 million more votes than Kerry nationwide.

After winning his fifth Senate race in 2008, Kerry became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the next January. He has a powerful voice outside the Obama administration in his current role, but with Rice out of the running, a path to the Cabinet has one less obstacle for the man Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, jokingly called "Mr. Secretary" last week.

Kerry will come to the post with a full plate of foreign policy crises, from the civil war in Syria, to the nuclear antics of North Korea, to a looming showdown with Iran over its nuclear program.

Anybody who follows Clinton would have some pretty big shoes to fill. Clinton was not just the most popular member of the president's Cabinet for the past four years, she had celebrity status and respect almost everywhere she went around the world.

Burns said it's not a job for "the faint of heart."

"It is for someone with a deep, deep reservoir of knowledge, he said, and "Kerry has that kind of knowledge."

As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for almost 30 years, the past four as chairman, Kerry is a highly respected figure on the world stage.

"I think he has been an unusually effective chairman," Burns said. "He has not only been the chair of the committee in trying to unite Democrats and Republicans on the top foreign policy issues facing our country, but he has been a diplomatic troubleshooter for the administration. So he has really played two roles over the president's first term."

While Obama is not close to a lot of world leaders, Kerry has deep relationships with many heads of state that he can draw on as the nation's top diplomat. Sources close to the Massachusetts Democrat note that the increasing partisanship on Capitol Hill has disillusioned Kerry and he is ready to leave the Senate.

He is no stranger to diplomacy and has often traveled overseas on behalf of the Obama administration as a diplomatic troubleshooter and to mend frayed relationships. Kerry persuaded Afghan President Hamid Karzai to agree to an election runoff in 2009, and he traveled to Pakistan after a series of incidents, including the raid that killed bin Laden.

"The president did not give him tertiary assignments," Burns said. "The president asked him to take on the toughest issues -- the war and peace issues in which we are currently engulfed in trying to determine how do we get out of Afghanistan. How do we stabilize our very difficult and disputatious relationship with Pakistan? How do we stabilize well the nuclear balance between India and Pakistan? He was very much involved in Sudan as well, and so I think this is very good experience, obviously, that qualifies him to be secretary of state. It also means that there is an element of trust already there between President Obama and Senator Kerry."