Tuesday, October 21, 2008

On Deterrence and Perception

I know something about deterrence, both sides of it actually. Now that I am 6'5" and slightly over 250lbs, I represent one defintion of deterrence. My first CHL instructor, a former Green Beret and UN Peacekeeper in the Sinai, told me flat out, "Nobody is ever going to mess with you Darren, not even drunk. You're just too big." I find this to be true. I haven't had anyone in my adult life make anything approaching an aggresive physical move toward me. I know one side of deterrence in this way: I intimidate, without trying.

The other side of deterrence I know from my childhood. I was tall, but not particularly wide. I grew fast and was skinny, and I stood out among my peers. I had some kind of inborn block against beating the crap out of people who deserved it. I have thought a lot about this, and for me I believe it came down to a fear of losing control, of abandoning myself to fury and really trying to hurt someone else. I have subsequently gotten over this concern (it's amazing what having a wife and children will do), but growing up and being the new kid as often as I was, I had people getting aggressive with me all the time.

Now, you may wonder, why does this trip down memory lane have much relevance this political season? Well, Joe Biden made the discussion of deterrence and lack thereof relevant with some comments he made in Seattle, as reported by ABC News:

"Mark my words," the Democratic vice presidential nominee warned at the second of his two Seattle fundraisers Sunday. "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."

Amazingly, Joe Biden and I agree on something, though strangely enough when I proposed this a week ago to some committed Obamatons, they said I was absolutely insane. I said that the courage of John McCain was beyond question, but that when Obama talked tough he was unconvincing which meant that he was going to be challenged more than McCain would.

While some of you intuitively "get" this, there are no doubt some readers who will say, "No, now, the practice of international diplomacy is sophisticated! You can get degrees in it, it doesn't come down to something as silly as schoolyard bully calculations!" I agree with that to a certain point. Democracies are often complex, messy and shot through with divergent groups with divergent ends they wish to see met. Even as august a figure as the President of the United States may only be speaking for some portion of the population, and if the President gets ahead of the populace they may jerk his or her chain back into line.

Not so with totalitarian governments. Totalitarian states are built around the personalities of their leaders and inevitably end up taking on the personality of those who run the Cult of Personality. Positions that are complex and may arise from a confluence of different interests in a democracy become much simpler when you're a dictator. If you don't like cheese, you can outlaw cheese and the dairy lobby can't say boo. If there is a warship off the coast of your nation, you can personally weigh the benefits and risks to harassing it or leaving it be. Totalitarian states are the ones most likely to reflect the characteristics of their leaders and to act in a schoolyard fashion.

Should Obama become President, it's not the democracies who are likely to give him trouble. He could run for EU President in 2009 and win that, too, most likely. It is the totalitarian governments (Venezuela, Iran, Russia and to a lesser extent North Korea and China) that will be the most likely state actors to contrive a conflict with Obama, to measure the man and see what can be gotten away with in the next four years. And lest we forget, there are totalitarian non-state actors like Al Qaeda who will be only too happy to see George W. Bush disappear over the horizon, if for no other reason than he would respond to attack without hesitation, and would pursue an attack rather than making a show of aggression like Clinton. They, too, might choose a confrontation with Obama to see if their campaign has produced a more malleable US President.

What's interesting is that Senator Biden didn't stop at saying that we WILL get into a conflict in the first six months of Obama's term (if he's elected). That would be too easy for Joe, he continued, somewhat ominously:

"I can give you at least four or five scenarios from where it might originate," Biden said to Emerald City supporters, mentioning the Middle East and Russia as possibilities. "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."

Curiouser and curiouser. I added the emphasis, and that's the interesting part. The guarantee that our nation will be plunged into crisis is garden-variety and patented Joe Biden Stupid (TM), but the idea that the influence of left-wing idealogues who come to an Obama-Biden fundraiser will be needed to counteract what appears to be boneheaded moves by then-President Obama is interesting.

Does this imply that the nominally docile Obama will display a level of aggression in response to a threat that would be off-putting to the granola-crunchers that paid for his campaign? Or will the lefties be drafted to explain why doing nothing in the face of crisis (which seems to me to be more likely) is the "right" thing to do? Either is likely, but in any event Biden is basically saying that they won't get the first one right, at least in the eyes of the public, and they'll need political cover from Obama supporters after the election. Biden implies that there will either be an overreaction or an underreaction, but not that they'll handle the situation in what is clearly the right way.

Makes you wonder about Obama's judgment in choosing this clown as his running mate. Sarah Palin is regarded by many on the left as a stuffed skirt with no intelligence and a drag on the GOP ticket they're thankful for, but so far she's
energized the GOP base (check)
given the highest-rated acceptance speech in VP history (check)
given SNL the highest ratings in 14 years (check)
draws crowds that equal or exceed Obama's (check)

What has Joe Biden done? Besides prove himself unable to count to four?

Joe Biden will be 66 years old a couple of weeks after the election. Ask yourself this: If Joe Biden becomes demented and starts confabulating (making up things to cover the gaps in his memory), how long will it be before anyone notices?

I think Joe Biden would have to agree that the wisest choice would be to avoid the test, avoid the need for political cover from leftists, and just elect John McCain.

Update: When you get schooled by Sarah Palin, whom you disdain, what does that make you? Seriously, watch the video. It's worth a smile.

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