It's been over a week since Joe Biden said that world events would test Obama in his first six months in office:
"Mark my words. It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama. . . . The world is looking. . . . We're going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy. . . . I guarantee you that it's going to happen.
The McCain campaign has jumped all over this, running an ad with the tag line, "It doesn't have to happen. Vote McCain."
When I first heard about this, I dismissed it as a tempest in a teapot -- Joe Biden running off his mouth and the McCain campaign using it to make yet another commercial. But then I began to think about it a little more, and I realized that not only is Joe Biden right, John McCain is delusional if he thinks that his election would prevent the world from testing him.
Over the past fifty years, every newly elected President -- with one notable exception -- has faced multiple major international incidents in his first year of office (defined as January 20 to the following January 19 for those elected to office, day of swearing in to one year later for Johnson and Ford). Using Wikipedia's year by year historical calendars, I put together a short list:
John F. Kennedy (January 20, 1961 - January 19, 1962):
* Civil war in the Congo
* The Bay of Pigs incident
* Soviet decision to build the Berlin Wall
Lyndon B. Johnson (November 22, 1963 to November 21, 1964):
* Coup in South Vietnam
* Gulf of Tonkin incident (and subsequent Congressional incident authorizing war)
* China tests its first atomic bomb
Richard M. Nixon (January 20, 1969 to January 19, 1970):
* Sino-Soviet border conflict
* Secret bombing of Cambodia
* Hamburger Hill (major battle in Vietnam)
* The "Football War" between Honduras and El Salvador
* My Lai massacre
Gerald R. Ford (August 9, 1974 to August 8, 1975):
* Mayaguez incident
* Fall of South Vietnam
* State of Emergency in India
Jimmy Carter (January 20, 1977 to January 19, 1978):
* No major crisis
Ronald Reagan (January 20, 1981 to January 19, 1982):
* Israel's attack on Iraqi nuclear facilities
* Gulf of Sidra incident (U.S. and Lybian planes clash)
* Assasination of Anwar Sadat,
* Martial law in Poland
George H. W. Bush (January 20, 1989 to January 19, 1990):
* Lockerbie/Pan Am 103 (technically, this happened before Bush was sworn in, but the determination of who was responsible took place during his watch)
* Tiananmen Square massacre
* Fall of Berlin Wall and collapse of Communist rule in Eastern Europe
Bill Clinton (January 20, 1993 to January 19, 1994):
* World Trade Center bombing
* North Korea withdraws from the NPT,
* Attack on Iraq in response to ttempted assassination of G.H.W. Bush by Iraqi agents
* Yeltsin uses tanks on Russian Parliament
George W. Bush (January 20, 2001 to January 19, 2002):
* U.S.-China dispute over American spy plane
* War in Afghanistan
So it is not uncommon for new Presidents to be tested by world events. In fact, early crises are the rule, not the exception. The only President in the past fifty years not to face multiple crises in his first year was Jimmy Carter -- and we all know how well he did with foreign policy.
For argument's sake, let's remove relatively minor crises like the Soccer War or self-inflicted ones like the Bay of Pigs. In fact, let's limit the list to incidents that involve another country or terrorist group "testing" a new President. Here's what we end up with:
* Kennedy: Soviet Union (Berlin Wall)
* Johnson: North Vietnam (Vietnam War)
* Nixon: North Vietnam (Vietnam War)
* Ford: Cambodia (Mayaguez incident)
* Reagan: Libya (Gulf of Sidra incident)
* Bush I: Libya (Lockerbie), China (post-Tiananmen sanctions)
* Clinton: Somalian insurgents (Black Hawk down episode), terrorists (WTC bombing), Iraq (Bush assassination attempt)
* Dubya: China (spy plane incident), al Qaeda (9/11), Afghanistan (the Taliban's refusal to hand over bin Laden and other al-Qaeda members)
In other words, other than Carter, every President has been deliberately provoked by someone over the course of their first year in office. The notion that McCain somehow would be an exception to the rule defies the reality of the past half-century.
Or to put it another way, new Presidents don't get tested because of their youth or inexperience -- they get tested because they're new. The key question isn't whether there will be a crisis, but rather how the new President will respond.
On that basis, which candidate do you think is more likely to manage a major crisis? Which one has the temperament to stand up to those who would like to embarrass the United States or do it harm?
I know my answer. And it isn't John McCain.
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