WASHINGTON (AP) - Sen. John Kerry stands tall as President Barack Obama's good soldier.
The Massachusetts Democrat has flown to Afghanistan and Pakistan numerous times to tamp down touchy diplomatic disputes - in a highly unusual role for the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Kerry has pushed the president's national security agenda in the Senate, albeit with mixed results, and skewered Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at every opportunity before November's election.
Obama is expected to reward that work by nominating the 69-year-old Kerry to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton - an announcement could come this week.
Kerry's prospects soared last week when U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, a top contender for the post, withdrew from consideration to avoid a fierce fight with Senate Republicans.
Meantime, President Obama's top candidate for defense secretary is a contrarian Republican moderate and decorated Vietnam combat veteran who's likely to support a more rapid withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan.
Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel has another credential important to the president: a personal relationship forged with Obama when both were in the Senate.
The 66-year-old Hagel has emerged as the front-runner for the Pentagon's top job. Hagel would succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
An announcement is expected this coming week.
As defense secretary, Hagel would oversee the Afghanistan troop withdrawal and direct some of the steepest cuts in Pentagon spending in years.
Hagel left the Senate in 2009, ending a political career in which he carved out a reputation as an independent thinker and blunt speaker.