The Blog

Kristol: What Biden Implied

11:14 PM, Oct 20, 2008 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

John McCain took note Monday of Joe Biden's remarks the day before at a Seattle fundraiser (where Biden apparently didn't realize at first there were media present). But there's more McCain could say.

Here's McCain, in Belton, Missouri:

Just last night, Senator Biden guaranteed that if Senator Obama is elected, we will have an international crisis to test America's new President. We don't want a President who invites testing from the world at a time when our economy is in crisis and Americans are already fighting in two wars.

What is more troubling is that Senator Biden told their campaign donors that when that crisis hits, they would have to stand with them because it wouldn't be apparent Senator Obama would have the right response.

Forget apparent. Senator Obama won't have the right response, and we know that because we've seen the wrong response from him over and over during this campaign. He opposed the surge strategy that is bringing us victory in Iraq and will bring us victory in Afghanistan. He said he would sit down unconditionally with the world's worst dictators. When Russia invaded Georgia, Sen. Obama said the invaded country should show restraint.

McCain is right that the last part of Biden's statement is the most troubling--that when Obama is tested, it won't be apparent that his response is correct. But what does Biden mean by this? What kind of response by Obama is Biden forecasting?

Take another look at what Biden said:

It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking.... 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… 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.

So Biden expects a test of the kind Kennedy faced after his disastrous meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna in June, 1961, less than five months into Kennedy's presidency. Biden's presumably thinking of the Soviet-backed construction of the Berlin Wall a couple of months later. Kennedy did nothing, and was criticized for his weakness back home.

So--leaving aside the merits of what Kennedy did or didn't do in 1961--Biden is forecasting that Obama will have what seems to be a weak response to a provocation from, say, Iran or Russia, and he's urging the liberals of Seattle and elsewhere to stand with Obama against the expected domestic criticism.

In other words, Biden is forecasting inaction by Obama in the face of testing by a dictator. I suspect he's right in this forecast. McCain might want to clarify this point. It's not just that Obama's own running mate expects an international crisis early in his presidency. It's not just that Obama has a weak foreign policy record. It's that Biden himself expects what will appear to be a weak response from Obama to testing by a dictator.

Now Biden presumaby thinks such an apparently weak response would be in our long-term interest. But McCain needs to force that debate: "Sen. Obama, will you in fact do nothing in response to a Putin provocation against Ukraine or a final push by Ahmadinejad toward nuclear weapons? Isn't that what your running mate has forecast? Isn't it awfully dangerous to forecast weakness on the part of an American president?"