As President Obama or Mitt Romney will discover, the only predictable thing about foreign and domestic events is unpredictability. Woodrow Wilson didn't foresee World War I. Jimmy Carter called Iran an 'island of stability.' Terrorism got only brief mention in the 2000 Bush-Gore debates.
Between now and the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20, there will be many predictions of what the next four years will bring. Most of those will be wrong. As it always does, the fate of the administration will hinge on things that no one can predict.
The future is full of unknowns. In 1912, Woodrow Wilson campaigned for president on domestic issues, and his 1913 inaugural address did not even mention the words “war” or “military.” When he delivered that speech, he surely had never heard of the man Gavrilo Princip. In 1914, this obscure young Serb assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, triggering a chain of events that would result in World War I.
Closer to our own time, Jimmy Carter was another president whose campaign had a domestic emphasis. In 1976, he made brief remarks questioning the scope of arms sales to Iran, but otherwise had little to say about that country.
During his first year as president, he said: “Iran, because of the great leadership of the shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world.” Within a couple of years, that island of stability had become a caldron of chaos. Revolutionaries deposed the shah and seized American hostages, launching a crisis that would become an obsession for the United States and a political disaster for Mr. Carter.
Around the same time, another country supplied another shock. Neither Carter nor Gerald Ford had talked about Afghanistan during their 1976 contest. In fact, “Afghanistanism” was a slang term for excessive concern with unimportant parts of the world.