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What Would People Think?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

James Baker vs. Condi Rice: The Galactic Diplomatic Showdown

From an analysis in the NY Times:

“They start from completely different places,” said Dennis Ross, the Middle East negotiator who worked for Mr. Baker years ago and left the State Department early in the Bush administration. “Baker approaches everything with a negotiator’s mindset. That doesn’t mean every negotiation leads to a deal, but you engage your adversaries and use your leverage to change their behavior. This administration has never had a negotiator’s mind-set. It divides the world into friends and foes, and the foes are incorrigible and not redeemable. There has been more of an instinct toward regime change than to changing regime behavior.”

Which is better? The realist in me - or perhaps the person who's just sick of the suffering Iraq created by the administration's idealistic mindset - dismisses the approach described as the administration approach.

But is there any argument for that approach? One thing that might be said is that simply dealing with and accepting oppressive, terrorist-supporting governments is part of what fuels groups like Al Qaeda in the first place. Of course, so do wars in pursuit of regime change and spreading democracy.

I imagine most of my readers would agree with me and prefer the realist mindset (the Baker mindset). But can any argument be made for the other one?

Update: Forgot to link to the analysis. Here it is. What made it especially interesting to read this is that, for a while, I was glad that Rice HAD a view on diplomacy. As opposed to, say, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who simply wanted to blow 'em all away. It's interesting now to read different views on diplomacy.


  • A brief comment without having the time to read the analysis itself: I think (and man, I just realized this opinion is so me) that the key is to find a middle ground. You cannot treat your foes as completely unredeemable, and you should definitely engage them, but there needs to be certain things you are unwilling to budge on. I guess that lends itself more to the Baker mindset. Still, though I vehemently disagree with the Bush administration's "for us or against us" approach, I can respect their stubbornness - there are certain actions taken by some regimes that are simply unacceptable. Ultimately though, I would prefer a stubborn negotiator to a flat-out bully.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/08/2006 10:38 AM  

  • I would think that the Iraq war would have made it very clear that anyone advocating the latter argument must never be allowed to hold public office again.

    In addition, had we not treated the Soviet Union as an "incorrigible foe" that justified the overthrow of Middle Eastern democratic regimes and the installation of puppet governments to "contain" the Red Menace, we would not have these terrorist-supporting governments to begin with. To claim that we have to treat the visible effects of our horribly failed foreign policy with MORE of that foreign policy is, well, Bush-league.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/08/2006 11:48 AM  

  • This is true, but diplomatic "realism" has often led to some pretty nasty failures. Think Rwanda. There are some things that negotiation just can't solve.

    And simply following our interests without a guiding ideology is dangerous too - the overthrows of Guatemala and Chile and the nasty consequences thereof are evidence of that. We can have an ideologically driven foreign policy that depends on pragmatic means to accomplish its goals - there is no "idealist vs. pragmatist" dichotomy.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 12/08/2006 4:40 PM  

  • I think Jeff's got a point. Realists are the ones who don't want to get involved in, say, Darfur. At least among conservatives, it's the more extreme folks like Sam Brownback who are pushing for more action.

    Of course, I guess realist vs. neoconservative are both conservative/Republican mindsets. Is there a liberal foreign policy?

    By Blogger Ben, at 12/10/2006 3:14 PM  

  • There is, but it has never been very influential in our national discussion. Liberal foreign policy is an idealist policy that generally seeks to engage and negotiate with other nations. Foreign policy liberals believe that working with all other nations and attempting to understand their point of view is the only way we can achieve meaningful progress towards a more democratic world that is better for everyone. Only in extreme circumstances would a foreign policy liberal advocate military intervention.

    To my knowledge, only one foreign policy liberal - Jimmy Carter - has ever been elected President. And he was widely derided for it. Unfortunately, conservatives have been so good at separating the world into "us" and "them" that foreign policy liberals look to most Americans like they're fraternizing with "the enemy," and so they can't gain any traction...

    By Blogger Jeff, at 12/11/2006 11:07 AM  

  • Oh, so fear of being perceived as "fraternizing with the enemy" is the reason Bush won't engage in talks with Syria and Iran. It all makes sense now. Because, of course, merely engaging other nations in conversation automatically makes their respective leaders drinking buddies.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/11/2006 4:59 PM  

  • So, that humor post contest?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/12/2006 10:16 PM  

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