WASHINGTON -- The Democratic nominee for vice president uttered a rare bit of campaign candor the other day when he told us what we should expect in the first six months of Barack Obama's presidency -- an international crisis.
Specifically, Biden seemed to suggest, this crisis will be born out of how Obama will likely be perceived by our enemies abroad: as an untested and sorely inexperienced freshman lawmaker who has made strategic errors in judgment in foreign-policy crises before.
It's hard to conceive that the Delaware Democrat, famous for putting his foot in his mouth, meant it the way it came out. It's harder, still, to think that Obama was thrilled with what his running mate was suggesting -- that his tissue-thin experience in international statecraft would result in serious unintended consequences for our country and our allies.
"Mark my words," Biden said at a Seattle, Wash., fundraiser. "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 going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy," Biden said.
Just about every chief executive in one way or another is tested by an event or crisis during his presidency, some more than others. But what exactly did Biden have in mind when he said that the world would test Obama "like they did John Kennedy"? To those who remember their history, it is not necessarily a flattering comparison.
Clearly, Biden was talking about Nikita Khrushchev's impression of Kennedy as a lightweight who was not ready to engage in the rough-and-tumble world of dictators and despots, someone who would back down if, for example, the Soviet Union put nuclear weapons in Cuba.
The test came after a deeply humiliating confrontation Kennedy had with Khrushchev at the 1961 Vienna summit -- not unlike the summit meetings Obama has said he would willingly attend with some of the world's most brutal dictators.
As author Richard J. Whalen recounted in his definitive biography of "The Founding Father: The Story of Joseph P. Kennedy," "Before the Vienna summit, (Kennedy's only face-to-face meeting with Khrushchev), Kennedy told an aide: 'I have to show him I can be just as tough as he is.' He failed.
"According to his aide, Fyodor Burlatsky, Khrushchev thought Kennedy 'had more the look of an adviser, not a political decision-maker or a president.'"