Wednesday, June 18, 2008

In 2008 Vote, Will There Be An October Surprise?

(Bulletin Precede: The Quinnipiac University poll this morning shows Barack Obama ahead of John McCain in three key states -- Florida, 47% to 43%, Ohio, 48% to 42% and Pennsylvania, 52% to 40%. There's got to be a lot of Hillary votes in there).

So far, there has been little talk, unlike past election years, about an "October surprise," something happening like a terrorist attack, that could have a major effect on the American election.

Yet, I don't think this can be ruled out. We see in Iraq and Afghanistan, just in the past week, with a bombing that killed 50 Shiites in Baghdad, and a prison escape that freed hundreds outside Kandahar, that the U.S. still has Islamic enemies capable of brutal conduct. Who is to say that, just as in the Spanish train bombings, or the London subway bombings, there won't be an attempt by terrorists to take some pre-election action that would have a dramatic effect on domestic politics.

Another possibility, probably not as great, is that the Israelis, or even the Bush Administration, would attack Iranian nuclear facilities before the election, sparking off a wider Middle Eastern conflict. Or that the North Korean nuclear program, which has not been shut down, may create a crisis.

It may seem that a threat to U.S. security would inevitably benefit the presidential candidacy of Sen. John McCain. Already, he is trying to make the security argument against Sen. Barack Obama, and it might seem that any step-up in tensions in the world would aid McCain in making that argument.

Yet in Spain, the train bombings of 2004 which killed 191 persons in and near Madrid, actually had the consequence of moving the country to the left. The conservatives were ousted from power just days later and replaced by the socialists, which are still in power. Part of the reason for this was that the conservative incumbents mishandled the situation, blaming the attacks initially on Basque separatists, when it quickly became much more likely that they were Islamic in origin. Also, like the American people today, the Spanish electorate was very tired of what Spanish intervention there was in foreign countries, and it was anxious to use any excuse "to bring the troops home."

So, I think it has to be said, out of caution, that we cannot say for certain that an attack in October would benefit McCain. It would depend perhaps how it unfolded.

Already, it is clear that Obama has, to some extent, moved toward the center on security questions. Just yesterday, he flared up when the Republicans suggested he might be soft on terrorism. He has announced the intent of visiting Iraq and Afghanistan before the election, and he might well select a foreign policy expert, like former Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, as his vice presidential running mate, with the point of view, in part, of insulating himself against suggestions he is too inexperienced in foreign affairs.

What is the intent of the enemy? I'm not at all sure we understand it. Americans have been more or less expecting a new terrorist attack since 2001, but with the exception of some abortive attacks, such as the alleged attempted bombings of planes crossing the Atlantic, nothing has actually happened.

Indeed, just this week, there is new talk of a cease fire in Gaza between the Israelis and Hamas that would last six months. In the Middle East, that would put us past the election, and it is felt in many quarters that the Israeli-Arab conflict is one of the great exacerbents of extreme Islamic feeling.

We don't know. Something could happen. But, then again, perhaps it won't. Sam Zell may be more likely to upset the American psyche than Osama bin Laden in the near term.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gee, Obama might name Sam Nunn--no great friend of humanity despite his (D) appellation--as VP to shore up foreign policy credentials. Let's see, who was the last Presidential candidate to do a similar trick? Oh yeah, George Bush with Dick Cheney.
I'd like to see a comparison of the congressional records of Cheney and Nunn on foreign policy issues. I'm willing to bet they weren't far off.

6/18/2008 8:57 AM  
Anonymous an old fool said...

post election comment -
Obama took all three states (Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida) and won the election. No October surprise unless a financial meltdown can be timed and arranged for political effect.

RIP Ken Reich. You are missed.

11/13/2008 4:02 PM  

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