Susan Rice

Geoff Dyer

Barack Obama and Chuck Hagel in Jordan in 2008. (Salah Malkawi/Getty)

The shadow boxing over the potential nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next Pentagon boss intensified on Thursday when allies of the former Republican Senator leapt to his defence.

Mr Hagel has emerged as the clear frontrunner to take over from Leon Panetta as secretary of defence but has come under attack in recent days for comments he made several years ago about the “Jewish lobby”.

Amid a drip-feed of criticisms and insinuations about Mr Hagel, nine former senior diplomats released a public letter on Thursday describing him as an “impeccable choice” for the Pentagon. “Time and again he chose to take the path of standing up for our nation over political expediency,” they wrote.

Given that Mr Hagel has been criticised by one pro-Israel group for views that they say “border on anti-Semitism”, one of the interesting features of the letter is that five of the signatories are former ambassadors to Israel – Daniel Kurtzer, Thomas Pickering, Sam Lewis, William Harrop and Edward Djerejian. “He has invariably demonstrated strong support for Israel and for a two state solution,” they write. 

Edward Luce

It may not be official. But it seems a fair bet that John Kerry will be the next US secretary of state. Susan Rice’s decision to withdraw her name from consideration – a supremely wise one given how much poison is in the air – leaves the Massachusetts senator somewhere close to being a slam dunk for the job. 

Geoff Dyer

Susan Rice – a successor to Hillary Clinton? (Getty)

North Korea’s rocket launch has injected itself into American politics in an unexpected way: it has become a real-life test of the diplomatic skills of Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN.

Ms Rice was a strong favourite to become the next secretary of state until she became the main target for Republican anger over the way the Obama administration handled the September attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya. But unlike the Benghazi attack, where her role was simply to appear on a few Sunday political talk shows, the North Korean rocket is a central part of Ms Rice’s job at the UN. And the pressure is now on to see if she can manoeuvre the UN into taking a much tougher line on North Korea. 

Gideon Rachman

It is looking increasingly probable that President Obama is going to nominate Susan Rice as America’s next Secretary of State. But there are plenty of people who doubt both the political and diplomatic wisdom of that choice, says Gideon Rachman.