Commentary Magazine


National Security Returns

Joe Biden may have the inside track on the real “Obama doctrine.” His mega-gaffe may actually have revealed something more than his own inability to keep his lips sealed. Aside from predicting that the world’s “evil doers” will take advantage of the young President (not a bad prediction), he also tells us to be prepared for a poor reaction. In his words, “it’s not gonna be apparent initially, it’s not gonna be apparent that we’re right.” What does that mean?

Bill Kristol suggests:

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.

Biden after all is watching Obama in action — receiving briefings with him and presumably discussing both national security policy and personnel. Biden, famously unable to keep to himself any thought that pops into his head, has now let slip out what’s troubling him. But we don’t know what prompted this spasm of honesty. Was it mulling over the Obama non-reaction to Georgia? Was it some reaction to developments in Iraq? Has he heard about Obama’s intentions on Iran or North Korea? It would be nice to know.

Biden might have been accurate on the “have his mettle tested” forecast, but it is beyond bizarre that he would not have followed up with a robust defense of his running mate’s ability to rise to the challenge. Why doesn’t he have the confidence in his running mate that one would expect? Early on in the primary he expressed skepticism that Obama had the experience to be President. It may be that he just can’t shake that initial assessment. And if he can’t, image what our enemies must be thinking.

It has been a long time since national security was front and center in the campaign. By simply appearing smooth and calm in the debates, Obama went a long way toward assuring voters he was up for the task of commander-in-chief. But of course debates do not have anything to do with the skills, judgment, reaction time or — to use an apt term — the “mettle” of a candidate that will be needed in a national security crisis. All debates test are verbal acuity and the ability to master a set of limited talking points. Perhaps it is a good time to return to the most fundamental issue of this or any campaign: which candidate has the judgment, will and strength to keep us safe, maintain our alliances and keep our foes at bay. Biden is telling us that person is not Obama . Maybe we should pay attention.