William Burns for Secretary of State?

More

With Susan Rice's prospects of becoming secretary of state now uncertain at best, thoughts naturally turn to John Kerry as the alternative candidate. But should they?

Kerry would by most accounts make a fine secretary of state. Certainly, as James Traub recently noted, he's got the visuals down -- solemn, suave, tall, etc. Plus, he's well-traveled and knows a lot about the world beyond America's borders.

Associated Press

But there's that nagging downside to moving Kerry out of the Senate: Now that Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown has lost his reelection bid, he lurks as the likely Republican candidate in the special election that would be held to fill Kerry's seat -- and, unlike other Republican politicians in Massachusetts, he could actually win. Indeed, conspiracy theorists have suggested that the Republican opposition to Rice is motivated partly by a desire to turn Kerry's seat in the Senate from blue to red.

And Kerry wouldn't be vacating just any old seat, but the seat that holds the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee, which he occupies very ably. Robert Menendez of New Jersey would be in line to fill that spot -- a prospect that, according to reporter Laura Rozen, is viewed dimly in the White House because "the White House has a lot of problems with Menendez on foreign policy issues."

With Rice's nomination in doubt and a Kerry nomination having so much practical downside, maybe it's time to consider a third candidate? And who should that be? I'm not qualified to say -- I don't keep close track of all the D.C. foreign-policy players. But a couple of weeks ago, I did an informal email poll of people I know who keep closer track. And the favorite candidate, by a large margin, was William Burns, currently deputy secretary of state.

Regular readers may suspect that any poll I conduct carries a left-wing bias, since I don't spend a lot of time socializing at, say, the American Enterprise Institute. But, actually, the people I consulted weren't all that homogenous. Besides: Regular readers will also know that my Atlantic colleague Jeffrey Goldberg and I often disagree on foreign policy, and that he's not exactly a flaming left winger -- yet he recently opined that, if this job were assigned solely on the basis of merit, William Burns would be at the front of the pack.

That's the point: Burns isn't an ideological candidate. He's just a dedicated and very accomplished career diplomat -- good credentials for the job of running American diplomacy. And he is said to be the overwhelming favorite within the State Department, which means he'd have a highly motivated team to lead. Plus, the things that keep him awake at night are reasonable things to be kept awake by. And, finally: his becoming secretary of state wouldn't mean a lost Senate seat for Democrats or a new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who drives people in the White House crazy.

What's not to like?

__

Postscript: Passing Kerry over as secretary of state (or secretary of defense, the other position he's mentioned for) needn't mean he never makes it into President Obama's cabinet. In 2014, if Democratic prospects for winning a Kerry-less Senate election in Massachusetts have improved, he could always move to the State or Defense department.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Robert Wright is the author of, most recently, the New York Times bestseller The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic. More

Wright is also a fellow at the New America Foundation and editor in chief of Bloggingheads.tv. His other books include Nonzero, which was named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book in 2000 and included on Fortune magazine's list of the top 75 business books of all-time. Wright's best-selling book The Moral Animal was selected as one of the ten best books of 1994 by The New York Times Book Review.Wright has contributed to The Atlantic for more than 20 years. He has also contributed to a number of the country's other leading magazines and newspapers, including: The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, Time, and Slate, and the op-ed pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Financial Times. He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award for Essay and Criticism and his books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

When Will Robots Take Over the World?

"In a sense, we're already becoming cyborgs."


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Video

The Origins of Bungee Jumping

"We had this old potato sack and I filled it up with rocks and dropped it over the side. It just hit the water, split, dropping all the stones. And that was our test."

Video

Is Trading Stocks for Suckers?

If you think you’re smarter than the stock market, you’re probably either cheating or wrong

Video

I Spent Half My Life Making a Video Game

How a childhood hobby became a labor of love

Writers

Up
Down

More in Politics

Just In