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John Kerry as secretary of State: expect a more traditional style (+video)

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with her late-night dancing and talks with children, was known for her 'people to people' style. John Kerry is expected to adopt a more traditional version of diplomacy.

By Staff writer / December 21, 2012

President Barack Obama announces his nomination of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., right, as next secretary of state in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Friday, as Vice President Joe Biden stands left.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

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Washington

As secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton has boogied the night away in Bogotá, chatted about life’s dreams with schoolgirls in India, and fended off one persistent African goatherd’s proposal to take her daughter as his next bride.

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When Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts replaces Secretary Clinton as secretary of State – the job that President Obama nominated Senator Kerry for on Friday – expect the tone set by America’s top diplomat to change. In an era when being secretary of State is increasingly about style as much as substance, many foreign-policy experts say, the five-term senator and quiet policy negotiator is expected by many to return the office to a more traditional version of diplomacy.

In announcing his selection of Kerry, Mr. Obama said that, as the son of a Foreign Service officer and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is well known and “respected” by dozens of world leaders, Kerry “is not going to need a lot of on-the-job training.” Kerry still must win Senate confirmation, but he is not expected to encounter much resistance, with key senators like John McCain (R) of Arizona already referring to him as “Mr. Secretary.”

While international experts equate Clinton with “people to people” diplomacy, some cite another “P” word for Kerry – patrician. But they add that, in the world’s diplomatic circles, that won’t necessarily be a drawback.

Kerry may be known for a certain “aloofness,” but “it’s not particularly germane to being secretary of State if you’re seen as the type who has beers with the guys at the local tavern or you’re seen as patrician,” says James Dobbins, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corp. in Arlington, Va., and a former US envoy to Afghanistan.

“In fact in international terms, being seen as a patrician is not a disadvantage,” he adds. “A dignified person with some or substantial familiarity with the elites of the world is not at a disadvantage at all.”

Some foreign-policy experts with diplomatic experience say Kerry is “the right man at the right time” because the tough international issues he’ll face – ranging from Iran’s nuclear program to Syria’s civil war and a rising China – require a serious “issues person” who can hit the ground running.

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