One sure event in every president’s first few months in office is a crisis. Some crises are predictable, like the economic depression Franklin Roosevelt had to face. But in recent years, the crises have more often been unpredictable, though just as serious. Early in George W. Bush’s first year, a US Navy surveillance aircraft collided with a Chinese PLA Navy jet in international waters. In early 1993, President Clinton was faced with a crisis in Russia, as Yeltsin all but abolished the Congress of People’s Deputies as he tried to force Russia to reform its constitution. In 1989, new President GHW Bush had to deal with the challenge of Noriega’s attempt to deny US access to the Panama Canal as reprisal for interfering with his drug trafficking. In 1981, new President Reagan had to deal with a militant and ambitious Iran. Every new president tends to find surprise problems waiting for his attention early on, serious problems which were not always apparent before his election to office. Because many of these crises come from areas where the new president is not expert, he very often must rely on the experience of appointed heads of departments and offices, and so the decision in those appointments may prove pivotal in the success of the crisis resolution.
The quality of President Obama’s early appointments may therefore be far more significant than they may first appear.