Who would really be all that surprised by an October
surprise? After all, if history teaches us anything, it's that incumbent presidents
are inclined to use their power in this way. George Condon, the San Diego
Union's man in Washington, gives us a little history
lesson in this regard, starting with the occupation – and burning
– of Atlanta, in September 1864, as a means to ensure Lincoln's reelection.
"Other surprises have been less consequential," he avers, recalling
– six days before the 1968 presidential election – that the bombing of North
Vietnam would be halted. As it was, this did little if anything to lift pro-war
Humphrey's rapidly sinking and already fatally wounded campaign. Yet it was
certainly consequential for the inhabitants of North Vietnam, a rare sort of
October surprise in that it saved lives instead of taking them.
I fear we won't have many more of those: indeed, that seems to be the only
nonviolent one on record, an anomaly that doesn't change the basic equation
of power. Those who have power fight to keep and expand it, and war
is their first resort. Keeping this general principle in mind, and looking
at the calendar, it seems to me that there's still time left, and plenty of
opportunities, for the War Party to pull a fast one.
There are those who argue, like Condon, that the October surprise is the economic
meltdown. I would counter-argue, however, that this doesn't fit the strict
definition of a true October surprise, which, first of all, doesn't necessarily
have anything to do with the month of October (as with the burning of Atlanta).
Furthermore, and more importantly, it must be a calculated
manipulation of events through the exercise of government power. While the Second
Great Depression was indeed caused
by the manipulation of the financial markets through the exercise
of government power, it looks to me that the manipulators miscalculated, and
No, I'm talking about the deliberate use of American military power to enhance
the election chances of a presidential candidate. As I write this, news is breaking
of a U.S. attack on the Syrian village of al-Sukkariya, under the pretext of
pursuing "al-Qaeda in Iraq" – a "special operation" that
is not being acknowledged by the U.S. military. One wonders what other "special
operations" our government has in mind for the next eight days. Below is
a list of possible scenarios:
Iraq: The Syrian incursion is an exemplar of the strongest possibility,
one that is built into our occupation of Iraq. As we've said from the beginning
here at Antiwar.com, the war cannot be contained within the borders of Iraq.
It is bound to spill over – providing
a convenient pretext to expand and escalate the conflict, and draw in Iran.
Despite all the blustering and threats delivered by Israeli and American government
officials, a direct attack on Iranian territory has always been the least likely
possible avenue to a war against the mullahs. If and when it comes, the confrontation
between Washington/Tel Aviv and Tehran will be sparked by an attack on an Iranian
proxy. Hezbollah has proved pretty
much impervious, however, and much too strong militarily. That leaves only
Syria – the weakest
link in Iran's regional alliance. Just this past May, the Syrians signed
defense pact with the Iranian government: any action against Syria will
call Tehran's bluff.
The Caucasus: Several inauspicious (and highly suspicious)
incidents have recently occurred in and around the former Georgian provinces
of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the scene of a recent invasion
by Georgian troops. Although repulsed by the Russian military, the Georgians
are not taking their defeat lying down. They have reportedly murdered
the head of Abkhazian intelligence, and they continue to sporadically shell
Abkhazian and Ossetian positions.
The Russians, for their part, have withdrawn from the combat zone and are
taking up positions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia proper, refusing to be drawn
into the trap. Whether the Georgians can lure them in, however, is an open
In any event, the Caucasus is one region to watch very closely right up until
election day, simply because the leverage of reckless "allies," such
as Georgian President Mikheil
Saakashvili, increases enormously during election season, when they can
easily call attention to their own agendas and rally their American amen corner
to the cause.
Al-Qaeda: Another source of a possible game-changer is, of course,
Osama bin Laden. While most of the chatter around this subject is concerned
with the possibility of a major terrorist attack, an October surprise brought
to us by al-Qaeda needn't be quite so dramatic. Bin Laden always seems to pop
up around election
time with one of his video or audio
tapes, mysteriously delivered to al-Jazeera as if by a genie on a magic carpet,
and what he says – or doesn't say – could affect the election one way or the
This could be bad news for McCain, in that – if anecdotal
of terrorist sentiment on the Obama-vs.-McCain question are at all accurate
– I don't think the campaign would long survive bin Laden's personal endorsement.
On the other hand, if bin Laden or one of his top commanders comes out with
anything other than a complete condemnation of Obama, the Bizarro World "logic"
of our GOP spinmeisters – who argued that the terrorist Web site that practically
McCain's election as being good for their cause was really a case of reverse
psychology – will be thrown out the window. The rumor that Obama is a secret
Muslim will be given fresh impetus.
The desperate McCainiacs will do anything, at this point, to stop the Obama
– and I do mean anything. Which brings us to the last weapon remaining in the
smear merchants' arsenal, the one accusation that no American politician can
stand up to, especially if it's true – and, yes, I do mean the exposure of an
Rumors that Obama isn't as saintly as he appears, at least when it comes to
his personal life, have been circulating
over the Internet for weeks. The British Daily Mail has published a report,
but it remains to be seen if the American media will raise the question. The
assumption that they are too partisan and too pro-Obama to break the story –
or "story," as the case may be – is not very credible: look what happened
This line of attack – aimed at influencing the one demographic group least
friendly to Obama, older
white women – is so clearly below the belt, so to speak, that I believe
it would backfire badly on the McCainiacs. At this juncture, however, with even
rats jumping ship and
the blame game already
starting, it doesn't look like they have much to lose. A last-minute kamikaze
attack, launched by a proxy who can be held at arm's length from the official
campaign… I wouldn't put it past them.
In any case, this sort of scandal-mongering aside, we are entering a danger
zone. For the next week and a half, all sorts of outside forces – and pernicious
inside forces – will be trying to influence the outcome of a momentous election,
and it's best not to underestimate the lengths to which they will go.
An October surprise? Don't be too surprised…