Jockeying is on for biggest prize — State Department

With President Obama locked in for another four years at the White House, focus has turned to other top Washington posts.

At the Pentagon, there is intense speculation that Defence Secretary Leon Panetta will step aside in early or mid-2013, after four years at the Department of Defence and the CIA.

But the State Department remains the biggest prize, and the jockeying for position is well under way.

John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee and chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, rates high on the star power chart and could be eager to try his hand.

A diplomatic trouble-shooter for the Obama administration, Mr. Kerry would bring decades of experience to face policy conundrums, including the Syria crisis, the W. Asia peace process and the Iran’s nuclear programme.

But Mr. Kerry’s well-formed opinions could work against him in job where he would be expected to follow Mr. Obama’s instructions to the letter, while strategists may fret over potentially losing his vote in the narrowly balanced Senate.

Susan Rice, the Obama administration’s U.N. ambassador, faces roadblocks of her own. Tough-minded and immersed in key issues such as Iran, she is widely regarded as one of Mr. Obama’s most capable surrogates with a direct line to the White House.

But Ms. Rice has found herself uncomfortably in the spotlight after the deadly September attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, with Republican lawmakers questioning her initial description of the incident as a spontaneous outburst rather than a planned attack.

Mr. Obama’s National Security Adviser Tom Donilon has flown below the radar since he assumed charge in 2010 though he has been at the centre of White House policy-making. He is seen as an insider who could align the State Department tightly with White House priorities.

While he could be an effective manager, some analysts say he may not have the chops for the high-wattage public diplomacy that has marked Hillary Clinton’s tenure.

With questions swirling over each of the established candidates, some analysts say Mr. Obama may once again go in for a surprise choice — perhaps by tapping into the Republican ranks. — Reuters