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John Kerry, Chuck Hagel: Vietnam vets to lead US foreign and defense policies?

Sen. John Kerry is the leading contender to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel could be Obama's next Defense Secretary.

By StaffAssociated Press / December 14, 2012

Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts meets Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi (R), who is chair of Myanmar's National League for Democracy (NLD), in Washington this fall. With Susan Rice's withdrawal, Senator Kerry is the leading candidate to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.

REUTERS/Gary Cameron/File



 With U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice suddenly withdrawing from consideration for U.S. secretary of state to avoid a contentious confirmation fight with emboldened Republicans, Democratic Sen. John Kerry has vaulted to the head of President Barack Obama's short list of candidates.

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The exit of Rice and elevation of Kerry — who unsuccessfully sought the presidency in 2004 and has pined for the job of top diplomat — shook up Washington on Thursday. It was coupled with the potential for even bolder second-term changes in Obama's national security team next month. Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator, emerged as the front-runner to serve as defense secretary.

The possible selection of Kerry and Hagel would put two decorated Vietnam War veterans — one Navy, the other Army — at State and the Pentagon.

Official word on replacements for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is expected to step down soon, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in an Obama Cabinet remake could come as early as next week.

Obama was scheduled to meet with Rice privately on Friday.

Democrats blamed politics for Rice's withdrawal. They insinuated that Republicans who failed to get any traction in using the deadly September attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, to derail Obama's re-election bid instead took her down.

"Their behavior was a disgrace to the Senate's tradition of bipartisan cooperation on national security issues and beneath the stature of senators with otherwise distinguished records on national security," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a blistering statement.

Rice had been widely attacked for a series of interviews five days after the Libya attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Relying on intelligence community talking points, she attributed the cause to widespread protests throughout the Middle East over an anti-Muslim video rather than a terrorist attack by al-Qaida affiliates.

Obama was defiant in defending Rice. House Democratic women cast the attacks as sexist and racist — Rice is African-American.

In a letter to Obama, Rice said that "if nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly — to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities. That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country."

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