Obama will be tested if he wins

Joe Biden said. And he was right.

Questions:

1. Maybe it is really only “rhetorical flourishes” but if not what would be your reaction to the words – international crisis generated to test the new US President?

2. Do you have some ideas, where those crises could come from? What about the most possible scenarios and actors?

3. Does it matter who is going to be elected? Who could be more “crisis resistant”? Obama or McCain?

4. Do you see in the history some concrete examples in which the world was testing the new elected US president in international crisis they probably wouldn’t happen with the different Commander in Chief?

Answers:

Nils de Mooij, Fellow, Clingendael Institute (The Netherlands Institute for International Relations)

1., 2. To be honest, I think the prediction that there will be a generated international crisis within six months of Obama’s election is a rather easy, or ‘safe’ one to make, though it’s not something you’d normally expect a vice-presidential candidate to say in public. It’s not unlikely that Biden had just recently been briefed on these and other possible scenarios, and felt secure in mentioning them because he was just addressing a friendly public – at a fundraiser. But that’s guessing. At any rate, don’t read too much into them. When Biden said he could give ‘at least four or five scenarios from where it might originate’, well – I could probably do the same. Take Russia, for example. President Medvedev did not congratulate Barack Obama, which I would say is very irregular, and almost literally took aim at the Missile Defense Shield. If that’s not testing, it’s at least a very clear, and confrontational, statement.

Or take North Korea, whose Kim Yung-Il has a history of going this way and that way when it comes to talks about their nuclear program, cooperating and stalling because his regime needs the international attention and the ‘carrots’ that their nuclear blackmail lands them. That’s not going to stop just because Obama is president, and we may see some of that in the next half year. That’s another, perhaps not inevitable but definitely not unlikely, possiblity for an ‘international crisis’ right there.

And finally, there’s Teheran that will keep enriching uranium, and not bend to international pressure, also when Obama is president – unless Obama would manage to fundamentally change the way the Iranians perceive their own interests, which would be an extremely hard sell also for him. Depending on your point of view, continued uranium enrichment by the Iranians could in itself amounts to a (pending) international crisis.

3. So – there you have it. I believe most crisis scenarios however to be almost completely unrelated to what candidate actually won this November 4. One possible exception: it’s possible that McCain’s fixedly hawkish points of view when it comes to Russia might have deterred this potential ‘probing’ by the Kremlin. But then again: he would ultimately have had to face the same challenges.

Finally, when it comes to who is more crisis resistant, in general terms, I believe it would be Obama. One, because he’s the more pragmatic of the two candidates. For instance, Obama has indicated he is much more willing to cooperate with China and Russia to solve mutual problems, and would be much less reluctant in doing so than McCain, who even proposed during his campaign to kick the Russians out of the G-8. Chinese and Russian support, or at least a lack of opposition, may be necessary or at the very least very useful to effectively mitigate or address an international crisis. He has also indicated he is willing to negotiate directly with countries that most American politicians weren’t willing to negotiate with, at least directly, ranging from Iran to Cuba, and this gives him a certain flexibility – which he need not necessarily use, mind you, but it helps.

The second reason why I believe Obama to be more crisis resistant than McCain is that he is, and will most probably remain in his first half year, much more popular among most traditional allies – a hypothetical vote in Europe would have been clearly in support of Obama. His popularity may make it easier for him to garner the support of these allies, because for some European politicians, George W Bush’s extreme impopularity may have been a reason, or sometimes an excuse, not to work with Washington to closely. Remember the German national elections a couple of years back, when Bush became a campaign issue. It’s even harder to reject cooperation with Washington out of hand under an Obama presidency than it would have been under a McCain presidency. Combined with Obama’s less hawkish impulses, this might actually translate into an increased willingness of allies to accept American leadership in solving any ‘generated international crisis’, thus strengthening the response.

4. I think that yes, there are some historical examples in which other players were testing the new US president in an international crisis – Biden himself draws a direct comparison to Kennedy, who was seen as inexperienced, and someone to be tested, by the Soviets. But whether this says much about the current situation is another story.

James Carafano, Senior Fellow, The Heritage Foundation

1. It would not be unprecedented foreign leaders often US leaders when they think they are weak or untested. Certainly, Kennedy experienced this, as did Truman and Carter.

2. No, I don’t think that is possible to predict. It would have to be a calculated move by an adversary of the United States. It is also possible that the new president might perceive they are being tested, even if an adversary did not intentionally mean to do so, it might be provocative and not even know.

3. This will be overcome by events tomorrow.

4. Cuban missile crisis is best example.

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