Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I don't know what's ultimately going to happen in Iran, but as I listen to the ranting on the right about Obama's supposed weakness and ineffectuality in dealing with Iran -- which seems to have set the terms of mainstream debate about Obama's response -- I'm thinking about a famous so-called Joe Biden gaffe from the campaign trail last October. I'm thinking not about the parts everybody quoted, but about a sentence that seemed to get overlooked. Emphasis mine:

"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."

I didn't know what Biden meant at the time. I still don't. And obviously this isn't "a generated crisis" specifically intended "to test the mettle of this guy."

But I think -- as I thought at the time -- that Biden was talking about Obama's tendency not to go for the obvious rally-the-populace response. Obama rarely aimed for the cheap seats when he was under fire in the campaign, and his foreign policy ideas tend to the counterintuitive, if your idea of "intuitive" is somewhere between "rah-rah" and "exterminate the brutes." I think Obama's approach is right, but Obama needs defending because it's clearly not apparent to a lot of people that he's right.

Biden was right -- in foreign policy, the crowd pleaser often thinks the best solution is one that doesn't please the crowds.

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