October Surprise?

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 LBJ’s announcement – 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 badly.

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 a mutual 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 question.

    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 other.
  • This could be bad news for McCain, in that – if anecdotal indications 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 endorsed 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 juggernaut – 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 affair.

    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 to John Edwards.

    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 the biggest 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…

    Author: Justin Raimondo

    Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].