September 4, 2013

He ran a lousy campaign in 2004 and I’ve never been a fan, but Secretary of State John Kerry is a poised and elegant guy. He makes others in the Obama administration look small. Someone more insecure might have felt undercut by the president’s sudden and embarrassing decision to go to Congress about a strike on Syria, but Kerry was able to gracefully turn on a dime and become the most able voice within the Obama administration.

John Kerry
Secretary of State John Kerry pauses prior to testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, before a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Syria. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Granted, he is selling a flawed concept and steering the United States toward a regrettable course, but I admire the way Kerry has stuck with his team, put his shoulder to the wheel and effortlessly taken the point for the president. A lesser person would be looking for a way to hide, leaking his doubts to the media or even heading for the door.

Among the most regrettable things Kerry said yesterday in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was his dismissal of the notion that it may become necessary to commit American soldiers to Syria to secure and account for Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons after an attack. There is no way our bombing campaign could be so tidy that we would be certain all the weapons were destroyed — or that their storage sites were not vulnerable to looters or, even worse, knowledgeable al-Qaeda pickers.

Kerry was also able to keep a straight face when he earnestly demanded that this action was not about the president’s “red line.” The secretary isn’t pious: He can look directly into the camera, deepen his voice, strike a pose and tell a whopper. Actually, a cynic would say that’s a valuable skill in diplomacy. But saying the Syria action is not about the Obama red line is, at the very least, today’s equivalent of saying, “It’s not about oil.”

Again, the plan appears to be to launch some bombs, perhaps restore a modicum of the president’s credibility and then hope for the best. Do we really think those actions will cause Iran to think twice or make Assad any less committed to doing anything to hold onto power?

As able as Kerry is, he probably didn’t change any votes yesterday — but he did make it easier for lawmakers who are predisposed to support an attack to vote with the president. Secretary Kerry made it seem as though there is a knowledgeable adult leading the effort.  He’s Obama’s most valuable player.

 

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