The key leader in the events that led to the First World War was a man who was chosen - if that is the word - by an accident of birth, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.
He was a vain and headstrong man, pursuing his own vision, heedless of the consequences for the people whose lives were in his hand.
Today, our leader is a man chosen by rhetoric, charisma and symbolism to be president of the United States, who is also vain, headstrong and pursuing his own vision, heedless of the consequences for the people whose lives are in his hand.
Events have already overwhelmed President Obama's foreign policies, most obviously in the Middle East, especially in Libya, Egypt and Syria. But the biggest test is yet to come, as Iran continues to get closer and closer to having a nuclear bomb.
Whatever Barack Obama's words, his deeds have been directed less toward stopping Iran from going nuclear than they have been toward stopping Israel from stopping Iran from going nuclear.
Now that this has bought Iran enough time to put some of its nuclear facilities deeper underground, there is a serious question whether Israel is militarily capable of destroying those facilities.
No one can know with certainty why Obama has chosen the path he has chosen.
But what seems much more certain is that a nuclear Iran - the world's foremost terrorist nation - is a danger that dwarfs the danger from Kaiser Wilhelm II in the First World War or Adolf Hitler in the Second World War.
It took only two nuclear bombs to force Japan to surrender, and the Japanese in 1945 were a lot tougher than Americans are in 2013.
It may seem unthinkable that the United States would ever surrender, but we have not yet seen New York or Los Angeles in radioactive ruins. If fanatics are willing to die in a nuclear war but we are not, what is left except surrender?
Some dangers are worth being alarmed over.
Politicians' tendency to kick problems down the road is all the more reason for the rest of us to look ahead before it is too late.
Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California. His website is www.tsowell.com.