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Kerry's path goes from Vietnam to State Department

3:16 PM, Dec 21, 2012   |    comments
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Tom Vanden Brook and Aamer Madhani,

USA TODAY

WASHINGTON -- Sen. John Kerry, President Obama's selection to become secretary of State, has spent his 28 years in the Senate building a long record on foreign policy and has served as the president's troubleshooter on issues from Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iraq to nuclear arms reduction.

In May 2011, he was the first U.S. official to visit Pakistan after the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden. He delivered a list of further demands that Pakistan crack down on militants while attempting to smooth relations with the nuclear-armed ally. He also has served as a go-between for the Obama administration and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

In 2010, he shepherded a nuclear-arms reduction treaty through the Senate, committing the U.S. and Russian governments to reduce their arsenals by a third.

Kerry, 69, the son of a foreign service worker, went to boarding school abroad and earned his undergraduate degree at Yale. He volunteered for the Navy and became a swift boat commander in Vietnam. He was awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts for his service in the Navy in Vietnam. He came home and became a prominent anti-war activist, earning the enmity of conservatives.

After returning to the United States, he became a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War and testified in Congress in April 1971, asking the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?"

A future in politics seemed assured for Kerry, who sought a U.S. House seat in his native Massachusetts in 1972. But what initially appeared to be an easy win for him in the only state that year that went for Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern turned into a stunning defeat.

He lost a bid for Congress in Massachusetts in 1972, went to law school and became a prosecutor. He was first elected to the Senate in 1984.

Christopher Hill, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq who formed a strong working relationship with Kerry during his time in Baghdad, said the senator and Vice President Biden are already "working off the same sheet of music."

He said in large part Kerry's world view is similar to Obama's. Both are hesitant about U.S. military intervention and champions of nuclear arms control.

"The issue will be how he establishes his relationship with the president and how the NSC (White House's National Security Council) and State staffs will interact," Hill said.

He divorced his fist wife in the mid-1980s and dated stars such as Morgan Fairchild. In 1995, he married Teresa Heinz, who had inherited a fortune from of her late husband, John Heinz, the ketchup magnate who was also a senator.

Kerry ran for president in 2004, losing to incumbent Republican George W. Bush. Kerry's war service, which had been an asset, was used against him when a group of veterans accused him of inflating his combat record. His vote in the Senate to authorize the Iraq War, and subsequent reversal, was used by Republicans to brand him as a flip-flopper.

He had been considered a contender for the secretary of State post in 2008, but Obama chose Hillary Rodham Clinton instead. Kerry went on to chair the Senate foreign relations committee.

The presumed front-runner for secretary of State in Obama's second term, Susan Rice, withdrew her name from consideration last week. Republicans had criticized her for her role in explaining the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, where four Americans, including ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed.

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