Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Obama - Grace under Pressure

Which candidate, McCain or Obama, do I trust more to carefully handle an international “incident” and not overreact? Obama.

Tom Bevan of Real Clear Politics - http://www.realclearpolitics.com/- posed that question this morning in the below post. He invited email responses and I sent him mine, which appears below his blog.

Posted by Tom Bevan at 08:09 AM | Email | Print | Permalink

About That Crisis

Joe Biden's recent comment about a "generated crisis" to test Barack Obama's mettle brings to mind a counterintuitive thought I've been nursing for a while. If, God forbid, there is a terrorist attack on the United States during the next four years, could it be the case that the hot headed and erratic John McCain would be the more measured in his response and that the preternaturally calm and cool Mr. Obama might be pressured into reacting rashly and imprudently?

Fair or not, as he takes control of managing two wars in a post-9/11 world, Obama will carry with him to the White House the generic public perception of Democrats being soft on national security. Should a national security crisis arise, especially at or near the beginning of his administration, Obama would be under immense, almost unimaginable pressure to respond - and respond forcefully.

McCain would face pressure, too, but one could argue that because he has such strong bona fides on national security and more public trust to handle an international crisis, McCain would have greater latitude and flexibility in crafting a response.
Put another way, if there is an attack on America Obama might be pressured into proving his "toughness," which is something McCain wouldn't necessarily have to do.

Agree or disagree? Email me.


I’m a 65 year old, white, Jewish professional originally from New York City but a Californian since 1969. I’m also a lifelong Democrat, liberal but not as much as when I was younger. I give you the demographics so you may put my comments in some perspective.

I used to have more respect for McCain and in 2000 I thought he might be an interesting candidate. But no more. He has proven himself to be erratic and unreliable. I think Joe Klein, in his TIME piece on Sept 4, 2008, “How McCain Makes Obama Conservative,” captured the essence of the candidates.

No, I don’t believe that Obama would prove the more intemperate. Quite the opposite. I understand the “logic” you offer but I don’t think it holds.

First, I think way too much has been made of McCain’s national security experience. Exactly what does it comprise? We know his immature, daredevil activities as a young pilot. We know he reached no serious leadership position in the Navy, unlike his father. He certainly endured years of torture as a POW and for that we all respect and admire him. But he has never been in the Executive Branch. His experience is as a Senator taking positions on this issue and that. I agreed with some of his positions (criticism of Reagan’s dispatch of Marines to Lebanon; support for the first Gulf War; support for Clinton’s activities in the former Yugoslavia). But I don’t see the fact that he took such positions as terribly impressive evidence that he has national security experience. I think of such experience as that accumulated by those making the decisions, be it secretaries of state or defense, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, obviously the President and, at least in the Bush Administration, the Vice President (whether in the public interest or not) and likely others. But not necessarily some U.S. Senator who has supported certain policies. And while McCain’s advocacy for the surge may have turned out to be helpful, his advocacy for the Iraq War was not.

I may be wrong, Tom, and the events are current enough for you to know the facts well, but, as I recall, when Russia invaded Georgia McCain seemed almost ready to pull the trigger, so to speak. Indeed, I believe he was critical of Obama for first suggesting caution. It is true that Obama came to also take a “strong” stand against the Russians and in support of Georgia, but I was more frightened or at least concerned at the outset by McCain’s bellicosity. I admit I’m one of those who thinks the U.S. has to tread carefully in seeking to include in NATO countries that Russia has historically considered buffers between itself and Europe (Germany most of all). Yes, I would like to keep Georgia and Ukraine from falling back under Russian domination but all the talk of including them in NATO is more provocative than I think the U.S. needs to be at this instance. I think McCain has a more aggressive bent toward Russia. I know you and others could argue that a more aggressive bent may cause Russia to back off but I’m not convinced. I think the aggressive bent toward international relations in general taken by the Bush Administration has been in part responsible for the deterioration of our relations with Russia and others.

So, I am not convinced that Obama would feel such intense pressure to show his mettle in the early days of his Administration, given his youthfulness and alleged Democratic softness on national security, that he would overreact while McCain, purportedly confident in his own skin about national security, would be calm and calculating and less likely to be unduly provocative. I think Obama has shown incredible “grace under pressure” throughout this campaign and at many moments when he could have overreacted (and I’m talking about in the campaign, not vis-à-vis foreign affairs) he has remained calm, cool and collected. I think he will be cautious, perhaps too much so for some including his liberal supporters, whether in domestic ventures or foreign affairs if he becomes President. Might I also note that I’m old enough to remember when Republicans accused Democrats of getting Americans into all the wars, not because Democrats were soft on national security but because they tended to be “internationalists” rather than isolationists, a position many Republicans used to embrace (and some, like Buchanan, still do). How the world changes as do the positions of American political parties if one lives long enough!

I initially supported Hillary Clinton and was sorry to see her lose. But I have come to respect and appreciate Obama and even to conclude that he probably has a better chance of winning the Presidency than she would have had had she won the nomination given her high negatives and his ability to stay focused, in control, and to demonstrate an even keeled temperament. I honestly trust his instincts and judgment in foreign policy and in the event of an “incident” while I’ve come to see McCain as, to quote you, hot headed and erratic.

If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading.

Donald A. Newman