One blogger’s personal bridge to nowhere

Go ahead, test my mettle

If you’re going to attack Joe Biden’s “gaffe” of implying that an Obama presidency would “invite” (not Biden’s actual word) an international crisis, then you should at least choose decent examples to back up your point.  The Palin McCain campaign has obviously pumped up and twisted this statement to a level beyond recognition, but it’s become a standard truism that Biden’s remarks can be assumed to be historically accurate without any investigation.

Have there been foreign policy crises soon after a new U.S. president was elected?  Certainly — in almost every case.  But the key component of Biden’s statement was that the crisis that would emerge would be “generated” — from whence the language of “invited” could somewhat reasonably be drawn.  But how many actions are taken by foreign leaders, nemeses, troublemakers, or whomever else, with the express purpose of “testing the mettle” of a new American president?  There just does not seem to be enough upside to this course of action.  There is a small chance that the new president is will show no “mettle” — a term as meaningless as it is macho — but there is a much greater chance that any amount of “mettle” will lead to a policy response disastrous or at least undesirable to the perpetrator.  Why take the risk?  Foreign policy is not Texas hold ’em, and bluffing to get a read on your opponent is likely to work about as well as throwing all your chips at him in a fit.

Jackson Diehl shows how easy it is to give misguided examples supposedly backing up the contention that a new presidency specifically “invites” generated, mettle-testing foreign policy crises.

In April 2001 — long before Sept. 11 — George W. Bush had to react when a U.S. military surveillance aircraft was forced down in China and its crew detained for 11 days. The episode started as an accident, but Beijing used it to measure a new executive with scant international experience. In 1993 Bill Clinton was blindsided by the “Blackhawk Down” firefight in Mogadishu.

Diehl grants that the first example — “an accident” — was not created expressly to “test” the new president, only that the subsequent playing-out of diplomacy did, naturally, result in each side assessing the other.  The point is, though, that China did not force down an American plane to see what President Bush’s response would be.  Trying to provoke a superpower is simply not worth it.

As for Mogadishu, it should be clear to anyone with a passing familiarity with the issue that Somali warlords were not reacting to the U.S. presidential election.  Simple as it may seem, they were exercised by their own country’s political situation, objected to foreign presence, and deemed attacking U.S. personnel a good tactic to spur their withdrawal.  I doubt that consideration of President Clinton’s most recent employ — as governor of a small, land-locked state — figured much into the decisions leading to street-fighting in Mogadishu.

November 4, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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