We've been assured by the dinosaur media that the coming election was all about the economy, and that the idea of a president as a strategic leader and commander-in-chief was secondary. But that fallacy was torpedoed in a most interesting way, courtesy of Joe Biden, of all people:
"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....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."
Exactly what did Joe Biden inadvertently let slip? Where are the challenges likely to surface, and what are the implications of what he had to say?
What Biden essentially admitted is that Obama is seen as weak, naive and untested by our enemies, that this will lead our adversaries to challenge him early on, and that he is likely to fail miserably..at which point Obama and Biden will need loyal supporters to rally around them to fend off criticism.
This is an astounding admission, especially from an opportunistic senator who's been a large part of the congressional feeding frenzy involved in playing politics to attempt to undermine the present administration's foreign policy in Iraq and elsewhere.
When it comes to national security, perception plays a major role, and leaders are challenged when they are seen as weak and untried.
Barack Obama has little in the way of an actual record on foreign affairs, but what there is quite revealing. His call for an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, unconditional talks with Iran's Ahmadinejad,and his initial feckless reaction when Russia invaded Georgia give us a pretty good idea how a President Obama would react to international challenges.
Obama is also on record as saying repeatedly that the Bush Administration `took it's eye off the ball' in Afghanistan. He's called for the sending two brigades,a mere 6,000 men, to invade a region in Pakistan almost the size of Texas over some of the roughest terrain in the world. Not only were his ideas for an invasion of Waziristan militarily ignorant, as one of my correspondents from the 10th Mountain Division who knows the ground intimately pointed out, but this unprecedented, irresponsible outburst from the presidential candidate of a major party helped undermine Pakistan's President Musharraf, perceived in Pakistan as a US ally.
During the last presidential debate, Obama reiterated these ideas of his about invading Pakistan. He apparently doesn't realize that Afghanistan is landlocked, that 75% of the supplies for our troops come through Karachi and overland to Afghanistan through the Torkham border crossing. If that route is blocked off by a Pakistan angered at what they would perceive as attacks on their sovereignty, the alternative is either a costly and inefficient airlift or shipping the stuff through the Black Sea into Georgia and Azerbaijan (assuming they let us) and then crossing the Caspian Sea and shipping the stuff through Turkmenistan and then over impassable, mountainous country into Afghanistan from the Northwest. To underline this, the last time we attacked Waziristan with drones the Pakistanis cut off supplies to our troops for a couple of days.
Obama's flawed and dangerous judgment would create a hostile Pakistan, doom our efforts in Afghanistan and result in chaos, just as the policies he wanted for Iraq would have.
All that aside, what challenges would an Obama-Biden White House face?
If we look at the recent history of the last two administrations, there's a definite pattern of Islamist fascists choosing the opening months of the new president's term to launch a major attack on American soil, and there's no reason to suspect that the pattern should change. Both President Clinton and President Bush had to deal with attacks on the World Trade Center during the opening months of their time in office.
Assuming that happens, and it's a successful attempt, what would a President Obama's likely response be? It's worth noting that a great many of Obama's advisers have ties to the Clinton administration, and it's not a huge stretch to imagine a President Obama following the Clinton response... basically downgrading the incident, treating it as a law enforcement problem and making sporadic, uncoordinated attempts to head off the perpetrators.That response led to increased aggression against places like our African embassies and the USS Cole, culminating in the second WTC bombing. As a matter of fact, I would expect an attack on the US to be at least as serious as 9/11, and possibly more so, especially since that new administration would be headed by an inexperienced and untested president,just as the Bush and Clinton administrations were.
Another factor to consider is the influence of Biden himself, who was ostensibly made part of the ticket to reassure the electorate by adding experience and foreign policy gravitas to an Obama administration.
Unlike Senator Obama, Senator Biden does have a foreign policy record we can examine. In that light, it's worth noting that Joe Biden was a major supporter of the version of the SALT II treaty as engineered by President Jimmy Carter, which would have significantly weakened America's deterrent ability while vociferously opposing President Reagan in deploying Pershing II missiles in Europe to strengthen NATO, a major step in winning the Cold War and destroying the Soviet Empire.
Biden also voted against the Gulf War, one of the few senators to do so. More recently, he advocated a precipitous pullout of US forces from Iraq and, like Senator Obama, derided and opposed the successful surge strategy.
And, if you were listening to the vice presidential debate , you found out that Joe Biden is under the impression that the US somehow 'kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon' at some point..something that would be news to anyone who knows anything much about the Middle East.
What we have here is is an inexperienced commander-in-chief and a vice president who's supposedly an expert on foreign affairs but whose gotten nearly every major foreign policy question wrong since he's been in the Senate.
With that realization, Biden's remarks that “it’s not gonna be apparent initially, it’s not gonna be apparent that we’re right” becomes prophecy.
Aside from our jihadist friends, what other foreign policy challenges seem likely in the opening months of a new president's administration? I see two major ones looming over the horizon, and neither is likely to be solved by 'muscular diplomacy', to use the facile turn of phrase so popular with Obama and his disciples.
The first concerns Russia and the Ukraine.I think it's likely that Russia will attempt to absorb all or part of the Ukraine during the winter of 2008-2009, either by political subversion and sabotage or by a direct military intervention to 'protect' Russian citizens in Moscow's former colony, similar to what occurred in Georgia...or as Putin likes to put it, Russia's 'near abroad.'
The reason it is likely to happen in winter is because of Russia's stranglehold on the energy supply routes from Central Asia to Europe, thus thwarting any possibility of NATO intervention by countries like Germany dependent on those supplies.
In spite of all the noise about its military prowess and Putin's dynamic leadership, Russia is a dying nation with a low birth rate well below replacement level, a rapidly aging population, an army that is mostly equipped with sub par armaments and an economy that is increasingly a one trick pony and shrinking as the government continues to gobble up and confiscate private enterprise. For proof of this, you might recall that during the so-called financial crisis here in America, Russia's entire stock market was compelled to close for several days in order not to completely bottom out. What's kept them afloat is the oil boom and their thuggish willingness to use 'the energy weapon' as a foreign policy tool, and with oil prices dropping there's a limit to how far that can go. They will either have to expand or die, and I'd bet on a shot at expansion.
The second major challenge a new administration is likely to face concerns Iran,Israel and Iran's ongoing quest for nuclear weapons.
'Muscular diplomacy', as John Bolton pointed out on FOX the other day, has been tried for some time by the Europeans acting as our surrogates and has done absolutely nothing to constrain Iran from continuing its rogue nuclear weapons development. Nor will it.
The mullahs desperately need to expand because Iran, like Russia, is a basket case of a country. Iranian dissidents put unemployment at 50% and unemployment in what I like to call the cannon fodder portion of the population - 18 to 29 - at 30% and climbing. Without government subsidies, there would be widespread hunger and want in Iran...and it's an open question how long Iran will be able to continue those subsidies, especially once it becomes a net importer.
At least one report(which the Iranian government, to be fair, denies) shows Iran as a net importer already, with imports that exceed $60 billion, against the official estimate of $45 billion. This kind of deficit wouldn't be a problem in a country that has access to capital markets or foreign investment, but Iran has neither. In fact, with the Rial an unwanted stepchild among the world's currencies and inflation regularly wavering between 17% and 22%, capital is actually fleeing the country,mostly in the direction of the UAE.
With those kind of numbers and an expanding demographic under thirty, Iran, like Russia needs to expand or die, and the quickest way for them to do so is to absorb the neighboring Shi'ite dominated countries as colonies and proxies, and develop a nuclear weapon as soon as possible in order to blackmail the oil producing nations of the Persian Gulf to keep oil and gas prices artificially high and manipulate OPEC policy to Iran's diktat.
In other words, there's literally nothing much to negotiate aside from an American withdrawal from the region and an end to US support for Israel, and the Iranians just said as much the other day..
The real challenge in the Middle East, and the one likely to come up during the opening months of a new administration is dealing with Israel's response to Iran's nuclear weapons development. The Bush Administration has dealt with this problem by using the Europeans as diplomatic proxies, placing its bets on ineffectual sanctions and essentially taking any military option off the table while doing its best to insure that Israel refrains from an attack on Iran's nuclear sites. That strategy that has done absolutely nothing to curb Iran's quest for nuclear weapons, and in fact has likely encouraged the mullahs to be even more intransigent.
Having been essentially hung out to dry thus far by the failure of this policy, the Israelis are faced with what all but the most Left-leaning and unrealistic of them understand as an existential threat. Most of my sources are pretty confident in predicting a successful test of an Iranian nuclear weapon within the next six months...sometime around April 2009.If nothing changes, I'd be very surprised if the Israelis didn't attempt to preempt the Iranian nuclear program before then, regardless of American opposition.
For the Israelis, as for the US, the immediate threat is not necessarily Iranian missiles raining down on them so much as an Iranian handoff to someone like Hamas or Hezbollah.For obvious reasons, I'll refrain here from detailing exactly how that might play out either in Israel or here in the US.
My gut feeling is that the Israelis realize that they're on their own and are not going to wait for events to catch up with them and the unthinkable to happen. They will mount a raid and destroy as many of Iran's nuclear facilities as they can. Assuming that an Obama administration follows the Bush non-strategy and continues the ongoing diplomatic farce, it would then be faced with how to deploy to protect our assets in the Persian Gulf from Iranian retaliation. And of course, whether to continue to back our ally Israel or to join the expected chorus of condemnation from people like the Muslim world, Russia, the EU and the UN as well as how to deal with what might end up as a regional war.
Given that most of Obama's foreign policy advisers (with the possible exception of Dennis Ross) are fairly anti-Israel and regard it as the 'problem' in the Middle East to be solved there's not much question about which side an Obama administration would come down on, but the problem of dealing with a hostile Iran, its terrorist proxies and tensions in the Persian Gulf would remain regardless.
For the most part, Americans still yearn for the good old days when we had oceans separating us and we could afford to ignore the antics going on overseas.
Joe Biden just reminded us of the fact that those days were over a long time ago and we no longer have the opportunity to take a vacation from history. And he also gave us an insight into how our foreign adversaries are likely to see Barack Obama as president.
Would they feel as confident in challenging a President McCain, a decorated military hero tested in the crucible of war with thirty years of foreign policy expertise who's been on the opposite side from Obama and Biden in each of the issues I've mentioned?
That's the question we ought to be asking ourselves when we step into the voting booth on November 4th.
I should like to extend my gratitude to Larrey Anderson at American Thinker,who contributed a number of editing suggestions that helped shape the ideas expressed herein and improved this piece greatly. Any deficiencies remaining are of course my own.