THE BLOG
09/03/2013 03:49 pm ET Updated Nov 01, 2013

Levels of Discourse: Obama and Kerry

Barack Obama's decision, announced Saturday, to pull back from attacking Syria by first involving Congress is reputed to have resulted from a late-Friday-night walk with his chief-of-staff. It was a decision that stunned his staff.

After Britain refused to support the President's decision, feeling isolated, the President changed his mind -- an understandable human reaction. We imagine President Obama -- any president -- reaching some ironclad decision to go to war. We even welcomed to some extent George W. Bush's unwavering certitude in invading Iraq, however based in delusion it was. "At least HE'S convinced," we thought.

It is unnerving to see this President double back on himself, like someone deciding whether to break up with a girlfriend or which type of new car to buy. Is he not committed to this course of action? Might he reverse himself on the wisdom of a strike after another walk?

Obama's pre-prom jitters occurred after Secretary of State John Kerry had spoken passionately to the nation on Friday about the need to attack Syria. On Sunday, on "Meet the Press" and four other morning news programs, Kerry repeated, "The President of the United States has made the decision to take military action."

"Press" host David Gregory asked, Kerry: "Do you feel undermined?"

Kerry repeated that the decision to attack Syria had been taken and that going to Congress was merely a strategic move. But if "consulting" Congress is simply a preamble before the planned attack is carried out, what is its function? How is it a real exercise of Constitutionally shared power?

Kerry adopted his stentorian public voice in his one-on-ones with Gregory and the others. I am reminded of a lecture I once attended with a friend where we were the only people in the audience. Yet the lecturer continued as though he were giving a speech. Kerry -- like this man -- was on autopilot. He provided Gregory and others with long-winded, preprogrammed answers. Time and again Gregory interrupted Kerry. Gregory asked what would happen if Congress refused to support the President, and Kerry responded, "I do not believe that the U.S. Congress will turn its back on this moment."

But no one cares what Kerry says -- or believes it matters. It is understood that the President is making this decision, as will-o'-the-wisp as it seemingly is, and then he casually winds Kerry up and assigns him a public role in support of wherever the President ends up.

What a strange bit of psychological theater to witness on the world stage, something usually reserved for behind-the-scenes teeth-gnashing and personal anguish!