Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Say it Ain't So, Joe

Before I get down to the topic of this post, I want to pause and mention this report from the AP that Barack Obama will be suspending his campaign for a couple of days to fly to Hawaii, where his 85 year-old grandmother is reported to be gravely ill. I'm not the praying kind, but, for what it may be worth, my thoughts and wishes travel with him, that his grandmother will rally. If she should not, then I hope that they will at least get to spend some very fine moments together before she slips off.

Dropping off the trail at such a crucial time in the campaign is verily a menschy thing to do, and Obama's humanity stock has jumped more than a few points for your humble commentator. I fully expect that the response from the McCain campaign will be classy and respectful (from some of his surrrogates, alas, not so much).

But while I respect the man and I respect the office, this does not mean that he is the man for the office.

Yesterday, Joe Biden reaffirmed one of the principal reasons why Obama is not that man. Quoth Joe:
"Mark my words," the Democratic vice presidential nominee warned at the second of his two Seattle fundraisers Sunday. "It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We're about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here if you don't remember anything else I said. Watch, we're gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy."

"I can give you at least four or five scenarios from where it might originate," Biden said to Emerald City supporters, mentioning the Middle East and Russia as possibilities. "And he's gonna need help. And the kind of help he's gonna need is, he's gonna need you - not financially to help him - we're gonna need you to use your influence, your influence within the community, to stand with him. Because it's not gonna be apparent initially, it's not gonna be apparent that we're right."
This may be one of the first foreign policy pronouncements which Biden has actually not gotten breathtakingly wrong, as he has (I can only assume) inadvertently stumbled upon a profound yet simple truth of geopolitics (if not necessarily of humanity as a whole): perceived dominance is predictive of tests to that dominance.

A few years ago, in one of Stratfor's George Friedman's free Geopolitical essays (alas, I can't remember which one, and the archives don't go back that far without membership), it was said (and I paraphrase) that, in tough negotiations with a determined foe, it helps if that foe sees his opponent as strong, resolute, and a little bit nuts.

Speaking to that last bit, anyone who has listened to Obama cannot walk away without the impression that he is, if nothing else, a consummately rational man. He is a studious, methodical thinker who exudes a confidence that the world is inherently comprehensible, and from that confidence flows a cool assurance that a deep and nuanced enough understanding will ineluctably lead to a system of solutions for any problems which arise. It is an admirable quality in a scholar and in a senator.

An Executive, however, cannot allow himself the luxury of rationalizing the actions and motivations of the irrational, or, more properly, of those who operate under the dictates of fundamentally different --and competing-- species of rationality. He must confront the logic of Radical Islam, which orders its thinking and planning according its utter certainty that it is Divinely commanded and destined to subdue all other belief systems, by the sword if necessary. He must confront the rationality of a resurgent Russia, which calculates the weaknesses and fracture lines among all who might stand in the way of avenging its pock-marked pride and wresting a role as a regional hegemon and global power. He must confront the machinations of a rising China, as it gyrates through its multi-millennial dance of weakening rival empires to cement the safety of its walled-off borders.

He must, however reluctantly, accept the reality that you don't bring a pen to a knife fight.

In what may qualify as the mother of all unforced errors, Biden has articulated the most compelling reason not to vote for Obama. Leaving aside (with great effort) the potentially disastrous effects of his statist, bureaucratic plans for an economy in crisis, and his highly problematic associations (and the ideology they reveal), the bottom line is the degree to which we may be confident in his credibility among world leaders in whose dominance-driven view of the world, negotiation equals submission. Biden has pretty much come out and said that Obama's approach to domestic and world affairs will invite probing thrusts from those leaders whose willingness to "test his mettle," must arise out of belief that it is a worthwhile bet that their fire will melt it. Whether or not he should rise to the occasion and meet the challenge with acumen and strength, surely it would be better for the victims of that challenge if it were never made at all. Essentially, Biden said "Just you wait; we're gonna get hit hard, and Obama's gonna do great!"

But he doesn't stop there. Biden goes on to say that we will have to support Obama "Because it's not gonna be apparent initially, it's not gonna be apparent that we're right." Think about that for a moment. In the midst of this "generated crisis" which he is so sure we are going to face, Biden is exorting us to be patient while Obama makes his play. We are to cleave to this certainty in the midst of a fast-moving, real-time disaster...just the sorts of things that tend to claim certainty among their first victims. Maybe Biden was referring to the need to be patient while Obama unfolds his meticulously crafted, eminently reasonable and nuanced response, whose final shape may not be evident in its initial stages. In some instances, this is just the right way to go, for the sake of faking out your opponents and hitting them when their guard is down. But it's a bit of a stretch to speculate that this is what Biden had in mind. It sounded more like he was remonstrating with us to be patient while Obama figured out how to respond.

And that simply will not do.

One need only reflect back to this past August (so long ago!) and Obama's risibly wrong-headed initial response to Russia's invasion of Georgia, to appreciate the prophetic quality of Biden's statements. Here was (another) one that McCain got right straight off the bat, while it took Obama (and, interestingly enough, Bush as well) some time to wend his way to approximately the same position. Had McCain been POTUS at the time, the position of the United States would have been crystal clear right from the get-go, and the policies arising from that position would have sprung into motion in a timely enough manner to argue persuasively to Russia that it had best re-think its game plan. Contrary to the catastrophic scenarios presented by so many in the "anti-war" crowd, meeting strength with strength actually decreases the chances of armed conflict. The moment when you believe the other guy will blink is the very best time to land a punch.

So, like McCain in his Al Smith Memorial Dinner address, I can't wish Obama luck...but I can wish him well. I wish him peace and closure in his family's crisis, and a long, prosperous career as a highly promising senator. But, should he find himself on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, I fear we may finally get to say the words; "Joe Biden was right."

No comments: