The next president’s inevitable first year national security crisis

January 8, 2016 Howard Witt

As the first American primary voters prepare to deliver their verdicts on the men and women who aspire to become the next president, the tally of national security crises that will confront the new commander-in-chief seems to grow by the day.

Terror attacks. ISIS. Worsening tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The North Korean nuclear threat.

History tells us that the next president will likely face a major national security crisis within the first year of taking office. Such crises come precisely when the new commander in chief is least prepared to handle them, presiding over a fledgling and untested national security operation.

The challenge for the next president is to remain commander in chief, not reactor in chief. 

On Jan. 14, the Miller Center's First Year Project will offer some answers. In a series of detailed essays to be launched on the First Year website, prominent historians probe the first year national security lessons learned by John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Then two veterans of recent presidential administrations—Philip Zelikow, State Department Counselor in the George W. Bush Administration, and Michèle Flournoy, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in the Obama Administration—offer succinct advice for the next president on preparing to face first year national security challenges.