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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.

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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

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 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.

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.

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