October Surprise

Predict what Clinton will do to influence the November election.

What will be Bill Clinton’s “October Surprise”?

That is, just how will Mr. Clinton use his powers as President to shape events advancing the electoral cause of his vice president as his successor and his wife as senator from New York? OpinionJournal readers are invited to guess what that surprise might be; the 10 best entries, selected by the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, will win one-year subscriptions to The Wall Street Journal Online.

The phrase “October Surprise” seems to have been invented by George Bush p�re. On Oct. 2, 1980, at a campaign appearance in Eugene, Ore., Mr. Bush warned that President Carter, then struggling in an ultimately unsuccessful re-election campaign, might spring such a surprise. “When you are a president, you have an ability to shape things to some degree,” said Ronald Reagan’s running mate.

In 1991 Gary Sick, a Carter administration official in the National Security Council, published a New York Times op-ed piece, and later a book titled “October Surprise,” in which he claimed that “individuals associated with the Reagan-Bush campaign of 1980 met secretly with Iranian officials to delay the release of the American hostages until after the Presidential election.” Bipartisan congressional investigations found no credible evidence to support Mr. Sick’s allegations–but the results weren’t made public until after the 1992 election, thus avoiding an October Surprise that might have helped Mr. Bush in his re-election bid.

The term “October Surprise” has become an American political clich�, applied, among other things, to Iran-contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh’s indictment of Caspar Weinberger in October 1992, Ross Perot’s re-entry into the campaign the same month, and Lyndon Johnson’s last-minute Vietnam peace efforts in 1968, which columnist William Safire retroactively dubbed an “October Surprise” in 1991. Just this Sept. 3, onetime independent counsel Michael Zeldin, in a Washington Post op-ed criticizing current independent counsel Robert Ray for appointing a new grand jury to hear evidence against President Clinton, declared: “I would hope we are not in for an October Surprise.” In the strictest sense, though, the phrase applies to how a President can use his powers to make things happen, but with electoral impact in mind.

For the OpinionJournal October Surprise contest, we’ll start things following with three predictions from among our own ranks. We’ll post new entries from readers every night at midnight, with the contest closing Sept. 30. We’ll judge entries on the basis of their overall insight and persuasiveness, though of course it doesn’t hurt if your prediction comes true. We’ll announce the result, and reprint the winning entries, shortly after the election.

As always, we reserve the right not to post all entries, and also to edit entries for length, clarity and taste. Entries must include a real name and e-mail address. And now–let the games begin!

Slobo’s Seizure
Melanie Kirkpatrick – Assistant Editor, Editorial Page

Ask an American voter for a list of enemies of the U.S. and the name Slobodan Milosevic will be right up there near the top, perhaps second only to archvillian Saddam Hussein.

Saddam is probably too cagey to be caught, especially since, thanks to the Clinton Administration’s ineptitude, most of America’s intelligence assets in Iraq are either dead or in jail. But Slobo is another story. What better October Surprise than to hand him over to the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague? The Serbian despot in handcuffs, steely-eyed U.S. Marines on either side, would be a fine photograph to see splashed across the front pages a few weeks before the election.

This could happen, especially if Mr. Milosevic makes a trip to Kosovo, which is under NATO control, as an aide last week said he would. A go-in-and-get-Slobo mission–sending American troops into Belgrade–would be a lot riskier. But if Mr. Milosevic loses the coming elections–and a recent poll shows an opposition candidate is leading–who knows what deal might be struck? The elections are Sept. 24, convenient timing for an October Surprise.

Of course, the Administration could always settle for rounding up the other two top war criminals: Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. So far, the U.S. hasn’t gone after them, even though, judging from the frequency with which their pictures appear on television, they can’t be too hard to find. Sightings of Dr. Karadzic (he was trained as a psychiatrist) in Bosnia, where the U.S. still has 4,600 troops, aren’t unusual. As the chief prosecutor of the War Crimes Tribunal has put it, with more than a bit of understatement: “It would seem to me to be easier to arrest people [in] a territory under military control.” But for some unspecified reason, the U.S. hasn’t gone after him.

The Times of London reported last week that Mr. Clinton has ordered Dr. Karadzic’s capture before he leaves office. A story in Sunday’s New York Post quotes a Clinton spokesman as saying of Karadzic’s capture: “We’d prefer to see it done politically. But we’re willing to do it militarily, if we have the tactical advantage.” Could it be that the administration all along has been waiting for the right October moment to nab him?

In any event, what better time to round up some war criminals than in the weeks before the U.S. election? With the arrests of the ethnic cleansers, Clinton-Gore could declare their Balkan policy a complete success and announce that they are bringing the U.S. troops in Bosnia home by Christmas.

OpinionJournal’s Political Diary

Abramoff sings; Trent Lott eyes a comeback; Eliot Spitzer needs therapy; Texas quarrel riles the Republican ‘family.’

Contact Us

Feel free to drop us a message anytime! Just click here!