What’s an “October surprise?” It’s any negative (or positive) news that breaks right before the November presidential election that has the capability to determine the outcome of the race.
Tom Engelhardt, writing in Truthdig on September 25, makes a convincing case that Obama is going to win a second term. But, he says, the threat of an October Surprise—another event like the storming of the American embassy in Libya—is keeping the president up at night. Romney is a weak candidate, but another incident of global unrest could have the power to turn the election against Obama. As Englehardt says, it’s no longer Obama vs. Romney, but “Obama versus the world.”
For the next 43 days, that’s the real contest. It could prove to be the greatest show on Earth, filled as it is with a stellar cast of Islamist extremists, Taliban militants, Afghan allies intent on blowing away their mentors, endangered American diplomats, an Israeli prime minister on the red-line express, sober central European bankers, and a perturbed Chinese leadership, among so many others.
In such a potentially tumultuous situation, the president and his people are committed to a perilous high-wire act without a net. It involves bringing to bear all the power and savvy left to the last superpower on Earth to prevent some part of the world from spinning embarrassingly out of control . . .
I’m not sure Obama has the power to control world events, but he can work to tamp down emotions. On September 25, in an effort to soothe tensions between the U.S. and the Middle Ease, Obama spoke at the UN.
Englehardt, offering a compelling analysis of why the world is in such upheaval, says we are witnessing the political arrangements of the Cold War finally coming unglued. The unraveling of Syria is one example. The Arab Spring is another. The Bush wars on Arab nations and the U.S. financial sector running amuck played a big role in unifying much of the Arab world against the Unites States. The Arab Spring was launched against an American Cold War system of U.S. armed regional autocrats like Egypt’s Mubarak. A whole oppressive system was “sprung loose,” and it’s not clear what ‘s going to replace it. Meanwhile, the Arab world, suffering from PTSD, is erupting in violent demonstrations and killings.
Obama’s problem is more than the Middle East. The entire world is at the boiling point. There’s Israeli policy on Iran and Netanyahu’s threats to start a war. The situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated. The Eurozone is threatening to fall apart and who knows what that means for the U.S. and the rest of the world. China is slipping into recession along with economic powerhouses India and Brazil. Climate change is threatening the planet, and extreme droughts are driving food prices up worldwide. Anything could flare up between now and November 6th. If something does happen, Romney will run with it. Taking advantage of a gullible electorate, he will twist whatever happened to reflect badly on Obama, putting his reelection in jeopardy.
If Obama avoids an October Surprise, he will most likely be reelected. The larger question is how will he handle these daunting problems once he is back in office?