Biden and Def Con 1

Joe Biden, Democrat candidate for Veep and human gaffe machine, dropped his unintentional comic relief personae and became very serious in a meeting of Democrat fund-raisers on October 19,  in Seattle, Washington.   He predicted that within six months of the election of Obama an international crisis would be generated to test the mettle of the young and untried President.

Well, what to make of this beyond suspecting that Obama and Biden had a very long talk and that Obama is wishing yet again that he had swallowed the bitter medicine and put Clinton on the ticket?

First, I believe that Biden is correct.  The world is in turmoil and I think it very likely that Obama, if he is elected, would face a foreign crisis of the first magnitude sometime shortly after he would be sworn in.  My list of possible crises from most likely to least likely:

1.  Israel launches bombing runs to take out Iran’s nuclear program and a war with Iran ensues.

2.  A major terrorist attack in the continental US.

3.  Russia invades another part of the former Soviet Union.

4.  Iran announces that it has produced a nuclear weapon.

5.  Pakistan erupts in civil war and India threatens intervention.

6.  A dirty bomb is used against Israel.

7.  A dirty bomb is used against the US.

8.  A smuggled nuclear weapon is used against Israel.

9.  A smuggled nuclear weapon is used against the US.


Because Obama comes from the left wing of the Democrat party the suspicion of unfriendly powers might be that he would decline to use military power in response.  My fear is precisely the opposite.  Because Obama is so inexperienced in foreign policy and military matters I suspect that he might over-react, and that a bad manageable crisis might quickly spin out of control into something far, far worse.

Thus far in this election campaign there hasn’t been much focus on foreign affairs and the use of military force.  Senator Biden is to be thanked for bringing, albeit completely inadvertently, these issues front and center.

11 Responses to Biden and Def Con 1

  1. DMinor says:


    Both you and Joe Biden may be correct. Some U.S. adversary might underestimate the conciliatory Obama and make some threating move (think Krushchev and the Cuban Missiles). Obama, needing to prove to the country that he is not a pushover, overreacts.

    They say that only Nixon could have gone to China, because he did not have to prove his anti-Communist credentials. Obama will not have that luxury, either in ideology or “toughness.”

    Either event, of course, is not a foregone conclusion, but it does give one pause . . . .

  2. I share the same line of thinking, Don. I suspect we are more likely to find ourselves fighting another war(s) over the next four years under an Obama administration than a McCain administration.

  3. fus01 says:

    I’m curious about your comment Darwin. I guess it depends on the baseline probabilities (.5% v. 5%, or 5% v. 15%), but it doesn’t seem very plausible to me that the U.S. will be eager to engage in any significant military commitments apart from Iraq or Afghanistan over the next 4 years. Also, I think that the idea that Obama will need to prove he’s not a pushover could mean a variety of things.

    In its more modest forms (e.g. Russian aggression in areas that are not of significant strategic interest to the U.S.), I may agree that there will be some attempt to get a read on Obama, but the likelihood of a large-scale conflict seem very remote to me. However, if it means a significant international challenge to our strategic interests, I think that is unlikely, as foreign governments are aware that the U.S. sometimes has a tendency to over-react to perceived threats, a lesson the Iraq war illustrates.

    Also, I don’t know how likely it is that Obama would overreact. He is very inexperienced, but he seems to surround himself with talented people (cf. Bush, McCain). Also, he is unlikely to feel a need to respond decisively out of insecurity, given that he likely will enjoy a convincing electoral victory, both houses of Congress, and exceptionally favorable media treatment.

  4. Fair points, fus01.

    I’d tend to lean away from expecting a large scale conflict, expecting instead more of the “small vicious wars” of the Clinton era. The big possible exception to that being if Iran and Israel end up in a war, which would almost certainly end up drawing the US in to one extent or another — especially since Iran is placed right between the two theatres of operation we’re already involved in.

    The issue as I see it is that although Obama is certainly popular in the rest of the world, I get the sense one of the reasons he’s popular is that people are seeing him as a promise for the US to become more like the EU on the international scene. And no one really feels all that shy about defying the EU.

    The likely situations I would see are:

    -The Obama administration decides to attempt a humanitarian intervention in some African country (such as Sudan) and gets in way over its head — think a somewhat more drawn our corrollary to Somalia.

    -The Obama administration explicitly takes a slow track approach to letting Ukraine and George into NATO, and Russia decides to take that as license to invade one of them. My guess would be that with Georgia we’d probably leave them out to dry — with Ukraine there’d be the possibility of supporting air strikes or selling them arms. A true worst case scenario would be if the Russians attacked Poland in which case we would unquestionably have a war on our hands. But I’m thinking that unless Obama was truly imploding on the international scene, that would be unlikely.

    -Through a combination of supporting democratic elements in Pakistan (which are generally not pro-US) and agressively “rooting out” bin Ladin, we manage to involve ourselves peripherally in a Pakistani civil war. This becomes a worst case scenario if India gets sucked in because of Kashmir.

    -And the true worst case scenario: Through some combination of Iran thinking it has more latitude under an Obama presidency and Israel thinking it has to act first because it will have less explicit support, war (possibly dirty bomb or nuclear bomb) breaks out between Iran and Israel. Of all those options, that’s the one I’d see as being most likely to involve us in a large scale war.

    The big questions here are probably how competant an Obama administration turns out to be. We’ve all been told that he surrounds himself with competant people, but that was very much the wisdom about Clinton as well, and yet many of these talented people turned out to be highly inexperienced and at odds with each other (though very educated) once they actually got to Washington and tried to set up rule.

    As for whether he’d think he had to prove himself — we’ll have to see. I suspect his administration will be trying hard to retain its campaign season popularity and will find it hard to do once they hit the realities of Washington. We’ll see.

  5. fus01 says:

    I think a lot of those scenarios are plausible, although I would be very surprised by full-scale hostilities between Iran and Israel, given the imbalance in nuclear capability. I am not convinced that an Obama administration would be the type of causal factor which would make it more likely that the U.S. would go to war. Unfortunately, I am as skeptical about McCain’s judgment as Obama’s. He has more experience, but I have been very unimpressed by his campaign.

    I certainly hope both that Obama will respond appropriately to international crises (if elected) and that he finds it hard to maintain his popularity once in the White House. It is hard for me to imagine the media treating him any more favorably.

  6. While I’ve often been unimpressed with McCain’s campaign — I don’t think my lack of confidence in him as a campaigner spills over at all into lack of confidence in him as a potential president.

    But then, one of the things that strikes me watching McCain campaign is that he’s much more comfortable just serving the country than telling people why he ought to be elected. Obama, on the other had, seems to exist to campaign — I’m not sure what happens if he actually gets into office and has to focus on his current job rather than running for the next one.

  7. fus01 says:

    Well, I think that a candidate’s campaign organization tells us something about he candidate. Bush had a very efficient, tightly-controlled organization. His presidency was fairly controlled also, and that was one of the major problems with his administration – it became insular and inflexible.

    McCain’s campaign has seemed fairly unfocused to me and uninterested in (domestic) policy. That doesn’t seem like a flaw that would disappear once McCain was in office. I agree that McCain is an awkward campaigner, but I am not sure that his rather idiosyncratic record (e.g. McCain-Feingold, his petulant swing left after W.’s election etc.) can be described as an interest in ‘serving the country’, or in self-promotion.

    I agree that we know much more about Obama’s ability to campaign (tremendous) than his ability to do anything else, but it should be acknowledged that he has run a well-disciplined, focused campaign. My worries about Obama (aside from him being the worst candidate I could imagine as a pro-lifer), are that his campaign is too insular (which stifles dissent), that he has a certain hubris or overconfidence about him which can lead to serious mistakes, and, of course, that we have no idea whether he can lead a country. Furthermore, I find the unwillingness of the press to present his background fairly, or to fact check beyond a brief call to Obama’s campaign manager very worrisome (although that could just be election-year paranoia on my part).

  8. Donald R. McClarey says:

    I worry about Obama’s lack of any military experience. He lacks the knowledge and the experience to weigh adequately military options presented to him by his advisors. His determination that the Surge would fail puts an exclamation mark on my lack of confidence in Obama’s ability to make good decisions in this area.

  9. fus01 says:

    Well, a lot of people thought the surge would fail, and Obama had to oppose it in order to have any shot at the Democratic nomination. While I think Obama has received far too much praise for initially opposing the Iraq War (it would have been more difficult for him to support the War in his district), I think criticism of him on initially opposing the surge has been overblown.

  10. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “Well, a lot of people thought the surge would fail”

    Agreed, and a lot of people were wrong, unlike McCain who had been calling for a Surge strategy for years. Obama looked at the Surge as a political issue and not a military problem. However, he flatly said the Surge would fail and thereby either was making a military judgment or was simply saying it would it would fail for political purposes. My guess is that Obama was honestly giving his best opinion based upon the evidence that the Surge would fail and that concerns me.

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