Can You Guess the October Surprise?
by BILL SIEGEL
August 13, 2012
One should never underestimate the audacity of President Obama to do anything to hold onto his presidency. It is safe to assume that, should his currently close but favorable poll numbers drop significantly, he has some critical "October Surprise" hidden away in his back pocket. Election fraud aside, some postulate that some form of pre-election adoption of (or, at least, nod to) some or all of the Simpson-Bowles Commission recommendations remains available. These same believers question why Romney does not do something similar as well.
More likely, however, the October (or September) maneuver will lie abroad; foreign policy is the natural playground for an incumbent commander in chief to manipulate. International crises tend to bring our nation together in support of the president while making it difficult for a challenger such as Mitt Romney to attack. After all, we can't change leaders in the middle of a crisis. Furthermore, while the choice of Paul Ryan as candidate for Vice-President doubles up on fiscal issue strength, it adds little toward foreign policy expertise. Obama will likely press the issue to both distract from the economy while stressing the advantage of being in the White House. And just as Romney was careful to not criticize Obama when he traveled on foreign soil, he will be pressured from many fronts to quell campaign attacks should the country find itself in some form of actual battle.
While Obama rode the wave of anti-pre-emptive war fervor in 2008, the most critical last minute ploy, however, may be to stage some aggressive use of force against either Iran or Syria in order to further what has been a successful theme of "Obama as warrior." The Obama campaign has been able to sell the narrative that Obama is "gutsy" and uninhibited when it comes to national security interests. The killing of Bin Laden, originally staged to occur and be announced immediately preceding a media packed White House Correspondent's Dinner, was sold to the public as an "agonizing" decision by a uniquely gifted executive. One need only ask how the supposed "spontaneous" flash mobs of college kids that so quickly assembled to celebrate obtained that many American flags to see the fine hand of a David Axelrod storyline being sold to America.
The premise pedaled was that if he launched the operation and it failed he would risk tremendous political backlash ala Jimmy Carter's desert debacle in Iran. In reality, he faced greater political fallout if he failed to act ala Bill Clinton who decided not to pull the trigger during the Lewinsky affair. Nonetheless, with the media in his pocket and swooning surrogates, Obama's campaign was able to turn a "no brainer" into the signature courageous act of the new century.
The use of drones, the continuation of Guantanamo facilities, and the continuation of the Afghanistan war have also all been postured as acts of a concerned president even when they conflict with the core principles of his base. And by craftily narrowing the definition of our enemy to al Qaeda alone, Obama's handlers have even made the case that he has already effectively won the war so that a post election withdrawal no longer appears the sign of weakness it once did. Nor is timing allowed to interfere with Obama's political agenda. Significantly, it has been alleged that the 2010 "printer bomb" announcement was delayed and timed for maximum effect in the interim elections.
Years ago on Saturday Night Live, Bill Murray announced a brilliant strategy for fighting the Soviets - send in an all-girl army. If we win, Murray argued, terrific. And if we lose, we say "So you beat a bunch of girls." Similar stagecraft has taken place with Obama's Iran policy. Perhaps the greatest act of misdirection has been to sell for years the notion that Obama simply wishes to get by the election without any confrontation of force between Iran and Israel and/or America. If he can pull off re-election without any use of force, that may be ideal. His actions, however, show a cool regard for the value of the image of the "gutsy" president. If he needs to demonstrate forcefulness, what better time than right before the election?
It was clear years ago that Obama's policy of "engagement" had no urgency attached to it. He gave an Iranian regime, which could not have been more clear that it had no interest in ever giving up its nuclear drive, plenty of time to demonstrate its interest in pursuing engagement. Rather, the regime immediately shut him down. Then, curiously, Obama stalled the next three years before implementing "sanctions." Long the talk around the world, full commencement of sanctions was delayed until this July. Plenty of explanations can be offered but none makes any sense to one who is seriously concerned about the dangers each day of Iranian advancement poses. Rather, the entire regimen appears back dated from a pre-election point of maximum effectiveness.
Obama's treatment of Israel is fully congruent as well. Sell the notion that you prefer Israel do nothing, at least before the election, and keep Israel unable to act alone without your approval. If you survive re-election, terrific. Then you can run your Iran policy precisely the way you wish- perhaps allow Iran to get the bomb and talk about containment (or its absence), or force Israel into necessary action and then, in exchange for helping Israel, extract all the concessions you wish to foist a pro-Muslim Brotherhood, pro-Palestinian "peace process" upon it. Alternatively, if you need the show of strength for November votes, engage in some pre-emptive act that will necessarily fall short of solving the Iranian problem but will give Axelrod enough to work the "reluctant warrior" image. One can almost already hear senior advisor Valerie Jarrett bleating, "The President was willing to risk his presidency in order to ensure American security..."
Iran is not the only stage on which Obama can pull off the pre-emptive display. Syria could function as well. Obama has curiously suppressed US action in Syria until such time as the Muslim Brotherhood forces have had time to gain momentum under the guidance of Obama's adviser and political director of the Syrian National Council. While quick to infuse himself into the Egyptian and Libyan conflicts, if even behind NATO cover, Obama has curiously delayed turning up the heat in Syria until it is most advantageous electorally to him.
As the election moves closer and Obama's poll numbers fail to pick up, we are likely to see the stage enabled so that the critical decision can be made: not whether to actually secure US interests but whether some elaborate pre-emptive display of force is necessary to pull through November. After all, while Obama is anything but "gutsy," he is certainly electorally savvy. All that is left is the intrigue: what will the surprise be?
Bill Siegel is the author of The Control Factor - Our Struggle to See the True Threat published by Hamilton Books.