In contrast with a hesitant president, torn between his principles and his promises and his willingness to fulfill them, suddenly there was the secretary of state. Without a teleprompter, without any clever wordplay, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry explained that the U.S. could not stand idly by while a leader of another country used unconventional weapons on his own people. He did not get bogged down with the question of who was behind the use of chemical weapons in Syria. He explained, in a clear and orderly fashion, the moral and strategic logic behind launching an American strike at this time, ignoring big bad Britain and noting the U.S.'s historic friendship with France.
Obama's performance (while his vice president, Joe Biden, appeared to be sunning himself silently next to him on that last day of August) was anticlimactic compared with Kerry's showing. It was as though the two men represented two different countries. For a moment, Obama reverted back to the 2004 Democratic National Convention where John Kerry was nominated as the presidential candidate against Republican incumbent George W. Bush. During that convention, Obama gave a magnificent speech, true, but in the role of supporting actor (a young African-American politician trying to make a name for himself on the national stage) to Kerry's lead. He was only there to give a speech.
Why was it Kerry who gave the address to the nation, on such an important issue, while the president only spoke briefly and anemically? Is Obama trying to distance himself from the topic? Is he trying to pawn the failure off on Kerry -- like former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who presented misleading information to the United Nations on Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction, sparking an unnecessary war in Iraq? Possibly. But it seems that in reality, a new-old figure is emerging as Obama's possible successor in the Oval Office.
It very well may be that a symbolic American strike in Syria will not change a thing, even if Congress approves the attack. It may actually be better to hold off displaying America's military power, and to wait for another opportunity, as long as everyone agrees that a Syria strike would be no more than a punitive measure, designed to deter against further use of chemical weapons. The window of opportunity that has now opened could also be used for dialogue between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, to neutralize Syria's chemical attacks without any need for violence. But clearly something happened over the weekend, in the political sense.
Kerry, unlike his predecessor Hillary Clinton, does not conduct himself as Obama's yes-man. He dictated the U.S.'s renewed involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the president, and gained the latter's support (be it unenthusiastic). He is the leading figure in the administration in the campaign to attack Syria, and now he is also the one to try to sell the campaign to the world, with some degree of success. At his advanced age, Kerry has taken a political risk, which he feels he can afford to take: If both endeavors he has undertaken end up succeeding, he will become a natural candidate for the presidency.