Barack Obama’s Butterfly Effect

Jul 20, 2008 4:45pm

Today on CBS’s Face the Nation, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., in Afghanistan, told the paparazzi-pursued correspondent Lara Logan that "the objective of this trip was to have substantive discussions with people like President Karzai or Prime Minister Maliki or President Sarkozy or others who I expect to be dealing with over the next eight to 10 years.

"And it’s important for me to have a relationship with them early, that I start listening to them now, getting a sense of what their interests and concerns are."

The notion that Obama will be dealing with world leaders for eighjt-to-ten years, possibly up through July 2018, suggests that either (a) he believes that not only will he be elected and re-elected, but the 22nd amendment will be repealed and he will be elected for a third term, OR (b) he was speaking casually and just meant two terms.

(I’m guessing b.)

There is a term in chaos theory describing the how infinitesmal variations of the initial condition of a dynamical system may produce large variations in the long term behavior of the system.

Most of us are more familiar with the more common name for it: the butterfly effect.

The butterfly effect was introduced in Ray Bradbury’s 1952 short story "A Sound of Thunder," when time travelers change the world beyond measure by accidentally killing a butterfly in prehistoric times.

Similarly, international diplomacy can be impacted by careless or glibly-chosen words. (Cue President Bush’s "crusade" remarks.)

Some Democratic allies of Obama’s are — off the record — concerned that the senator too often doesn’t consider the potential butterfly effect of his diction.

Take his support for an "undivided Jerusalem,"  or his remarks about women seeking abortions when they’re "feeling blue," which upset feminist leaders.

Or the media kerfuffle after his "refine my policies" presser.

On his press plane on July 5, after that incident, Obama said, "I’m surprised at how finely calibrated every single word was measured."

A reporter noted that that is precisely what happens with the president, he can change world affairs with one word, finely calibrating your words is what happens.

"Well, of course, no, I understand," Obama said. "But for me to say that I’m going to refine my policies, you know, I don’t think in anyway is inconsistent with prior statements and doesn’t change my strategic view that this war has to end and that I am going to end it as president."

This week Obama will have his words picked apart like never before, and it will be an international audience of not just opponents but actual enemies.

They will be watching and waiting to see if he kills any butterflies.

- jpt

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