Austin Bay

Mark my words, Joe Biden told a group of wealthy contributors. It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like it did John Kennedy. A moment later Biden added, Watch, we're going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.

So lets play Name That Crisis, the one Biden says will test Obama within six months of his inauguration. Understand any answer will be tentative. Even if the prognosticator correctly identifies the antagonists and the battlefield, the actual sequence of events will defy astrologers, political science-fiction scenarists and intelligence agencies.

Gomer Pyles kitsch litany (from The Andy Griffith Show) will damn us once again: Surprise, surprise, surprise.

Pyles flabbergast served as a plot device in a family comedy. Obamas test will be an American tragedy. Hope for a better tragedy, one where the body count -- friendly, enemy and in-between -- is minimized and the material destruction manageable.

I know the keyword in that last sentence is hope, a word that plays an energizing poetic and emotional role in Obamas campaign litany.

As president, Obama was supposed to avoid nasty conflicts because he in his very person brings hope and embodies change -- galvanizing hope and fundamental, perhaps utopian change. Review his primary speeches and his oration in Berlin. Thats the messianic message.

Diplomatic and military planners operationalize a policy. Obama promised us a messianic operation: Personal negotiations conducted by himself with some of the worlds worst dictators and America haters, with the implicit point that his bold and sacrificial personal diplomacy would rearrange planetary politics.

Of course, lurking behind this megalomania are two hideous assumptions that are the passionate garbage of anti-Americans everywhere. The first one is the lesser lie -- the U.S. and specifically the Bush Administration dont talk to rogues like Iran. Recall Ambassador Ryan Crockers testimony in September 2007 when he related, in stoic detail, the results of low- and mid-level diplomatic meetings with Iran: Iranian posturing and rhetorical thrashing.

The U.S. talks to everyone including rogues. Spies chat with spies. The State Department employs third parties and the grapevine. The trick is to avoid giving a propaganda coup to a thug. Denying gangsters and vitriolic liars equal footing with an American president isnt stupid or backward or change frustrating behavior -- its savvy procedure.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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