OPINION

Lost In The Republican Translation Of Joe Biden's Warning

October 26, 2008
Aditi Nadkarni

On this Sunday's episode of CNN's GPS, Fareed Zakaria posed an interesting question essentially seeking viewer opinion of whether Joe Biden was right when he said that world elements would generate a crisis to test Barack Obama's mettle if he were elected as president. It will be interesting to find out if people think this is true or if they agree with Obama in that Senator Biden is simply prone to rhetoric flourishes. Either way, Republicans have jumped at the comment and used it to their advantage. It was an inarticulate comment, I too have to admit although I really like Senator Biden. In a time when Senator Obama's stance on the economy is clearly favored over his foreign policy experience, planting vague fears in people's mind with prophecies about international crisis was definitely not a good move on his part. Well, he said it and so now its out there for scrutiny.

Now before we "gird our loins" like Senator Biden asked us to, let us systematically evaluate his words to see if it really is a rhetoric flourish or does it have some truth to it and if it does then what does it mean for the undecided voter:

"Mark my words," the Democratic vice presidential nominee warned, "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."

Interestingly, Senator Biden's comment may unintentionally bear a hint of why America's international image has suffered through the past years. Most Americans, leaders and the public alike, believe that the big bad world is out to get America. This may even be true only if one were thinking solely in terms of military prowess. In the long run, this sentiment has provided lame reasoning for pre-emptive strikes and has nurtured the often detectable levels of xenophobia observed among some Americans. Now in the 21st century, in an age of globalization and internationalism, the general opinion worldwide is that America is self-centered. As a political entity, as a populace it is believed that they are smug and care only about themselves. If they cared about the rest of the world they would realize that this "rest of the world" is currently facing a crisis of its own. A crisis generated merely to test a young president could among other things affect the whole world in a time when the global economy, not just American economy, is sore.

Besides, isn't the current economic crisis, a generated one? And isn't American economic policy one of the core contributing factors that did generate it? Who did it test? The American middle-class that lost jobs and homes or the investors abroad who were smothered under falling stocks? And lets not forget, this is an international crisis. Whoever is elected this November has a freshly brewed crisis ready for them to deal with on day one.

On September 11th, 2001, it was demonstrated that a crisis did not just occur when it was a young president in power. Then in 2005, Hurricane Katrina proved that a crisis did not have to be generated by evil international forces alone or have to occur during the first term and could simply be the costliest natural disaster coupled with callous nonchalance on part of those in power, inexperienced or experienced.

Lets assume that the past eight years are just an anomaly and that looking further back into history may strengthen the worth of Senator Biden's prophecy. Another young president faced the Cuban missile crisis that almost precipitated a nuclear war. I heard Senator McCain make references to this particular crisis. JFK had favored peace even as pressure for an invasion mounted from his own side. Consequently, a conflict was by-passed. He dealt with this crisis with the word that in present day separates Senator Obama from Senator McCain: diplomacy. So even if an international crisis were to test Senator Obama, his levelheadedness may serve America better than another war that an ailing economy will not be able to support. It is possible that Senator Biden was alluding to this difference between the two candidates in his speech and failed to state it since it was so obvious of a contrast between the two.

More recently, in his first term, a relatively young Bill Clinton took on similar challenges as President Bush did in 2001. There were terrorist attacks, international conflicts and military operations. But he just responded very differently. Rather than rushing into an ill-planned war that would eat away at the economy and weaken the nation internally, he used an interesting cocktail of diplomacy, peace agreements and well-planned missile strikes when needed to counter terrorist activity. What I liked most about the Clinton years in terms of foreign policy, in layman terms, is that entire nations were not convicted of terrorism simply by association. All nations have terrorist organizations that override the legal system. These nations also have peace-loving civilians who face the same problems that middle-class America faces every day. They too have families to feed and children to raise. Going to war with a nation attacks everyone indiscriminately fueling the anti-American sentiment abroad.

In the past 8 years a lot has changed, not just in terms of how America is doing economically but also who Americans have become in the eyes of the world. While war always brings patriotic zeal to the forefront, the hatred for foreigners and perceiving all that is international with reactionary paranoia now sadly defines the image of America internationally. In the present America, people are better equipped at making a choice having witnessed firsthand the dangers of believing that military prowess alone secures the nation and that diplomacy is just ball-less pacifism. Maybe voters should not be worried about whether or not there will be a crisis. History is proof that every presidency faces a crisis of some sort. Maybe the choice is now incumbent on which one of the two candidates can handle this crisis better. Foreign policy experience, lets face it, is not necessarily the same as foreign policy efficiency.

Senator Biden is unequivocally right on two counts: Firstly, Obama is a brilliant 47 year old senator and secondly, the world is definitely watching. So who America elects will be a testimony of who America wants to be.

Aditi Nadkarni is a cancer researcher, a film reviewer and a poet; her many occupations are an odd yet fun miscellany of creative pursuits. Visit her blog for more of her articles and artistic as well as photographic exploits.
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#1
Sumanth
October 27, 2008
08:04 AM

Next fews years are going to be crucial as its economy go through critical tests.

US is an exporter of arms, culture, beliefs, brands and policies. It exports all these across the world often ruthlessly. Joe Biden himself exported some of the highly critical policies and laws. His recent efforts to export "i-VAWA" met with opposition and failed.

The ruthless American export of Brands, culture and policies will get challenged as its economy shakes. In some cases, the America may also be forced to "import"....

The balance of power between US, Europe, BRIC and other nations in the world has altered irreversibly.

Laws formulated by Joe Biden are being questioned by courts now. Courts have gone to the extent of saying the procedures adopted as unconstitutional.

http://www.sacbee.com/latest/story/1319004.html

A Sacramento-based appellate court has ordered a halt to what it said is unconstitutional gender discrimination in state-funded domestic violence programs.

A three-justice panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled Tuesday that two California statutes are written in a way that discriminates against men and they authorize domestic violence grants with the same flaw.

The panel ordered the statutes rewritten to make them gender neutral and allow for domestic-violence services without regard to gender. ....

#2
temporal
URL
October 27, 2008
04:06 PM

adi:

let us wait a little before we pronounce him brilliant!

we know this about obama presently:

* his team is more organised (and effective)
* he steadily built his lead
* there were no major gaffes in his campaign
* he appears a better communicator
* he has struck the right tones

to say anything with more perspicacity ... we should wait till the end of his second term in 2020

#3
commonsense
October 27, 2008
04:26 PM

temporal,

right on. to expect, at the outset (and I agree that very few except the starry eyed followers), that obama will suddenly wave the magic wand and things will be just fine is to....given the choices, he is obviously a better bet...(as in 2+2=4)

#4
Aditi
October 27, 2008
05:09 PM

T, CS: I meant brilliant in the traditional sense of the word: outstandingly intelligent/ smart which I truly believe Senator Obama is. Listening to him during the debates I concluded that his intelligence reflects a rare scenario of eclectic philosophy driving a practical, plausible and communicable vision and that combination I do think is brilliant. He is not merely a good public speaker like his adversaries make him out to be and thats why he (his campaign) has been so effective. I did not mean to suggest that he was in any way a genius with a magic wand :)

#5
kaffir
October 27, 2008
06:19 PM

temporal-
2020 vision in 2016, no? :)

#6
temporal
URL
October 27, 2008
06:39 PM

adi:

ok! same page then...

k:

:)

#7
Matthew
October 27, 2008
09:45 PM

Interesting essay. Thank you.

#8
kerty
October 27, 2008
10:30 PM

What separates a bully and a leader?

It is how they project their power.

Bully expects everybody to submit, unconditionally, has no need to offer anything in return, and have no use of diplomacy or persuasion. Either you are with him or against him. So there is no crisis. All he has to do is to pull out his gun to get his way. Anything else is caving in, appeasing the devil, palling around with 'them'

A leader on the other hand relies on soft power, power of persuasion, and diplomacy to get his points across. Force is used as a last resort. War is seen as a failure of vision and leadership, not celebration of power or triumphalism.

Bush has tried to be a global bully and squandered all the soft power and leverage that USA once enojoyed. McCain failed to provide any alternative vision on foreign policy other than more of the same Bush bullyhood.

But finer points of foreign policy issues are better suited for debates among policy wonks rather than trigger happy voters who can be demagogued with fear and scare. It should not be on the table during last week of campaign. Biden should have known better.

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