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What Would People Think?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

On Talking To Our Enemies

Explain this one to me.

Why is it okay for Ronald Reagan to talk to the leaders of the Soviet Union (a nation he labeled the "Evil Empire" and which had enough nukes pointed at us the wipe us off the face of the earth)....but if Barack Obama suggests talking to the leadership of Iran, he's an "appeaser" right up there with Chamberlain at Munich?

Obama said it perfectly in his recent remarks:

“It’s time to present Iran with a clear choice,” Mr. Obama said. “If it abandons its nuclear program, support for terror and threats to Israel, then Iran can rejoin the community of nations. If not, Iran will face deeper isolation and steeper sanctions.”

Classic carrot and stick. You want someone to change their behavior? Then you make acting the way you want agreeable to that person and you make acting the way you don't want disagreeable. You can't very well do that without talking to them. Yes, you could make public statements, but direct negotiations are how one establishes a procedure for either fixing the problem or determining that it won't be fixed and doing sanctions (or worse).

And he's talking about TALKING. That's all. He's not giving away the Sudetenland. And if Iran fails to negotiate in good faith, then they've further isolated themselves and we've got more international capital which we can use in taking increasingly severe actions.

Furthermore, talking to Iran does not mean endorsing its views.....no more than Reagan talking to Gorbachev meant Reagan suddenly endorsed a Marxist revolution.

McCain has the gall to call Obama's approach naive. Yeah, because the Bush approach of non-engagement, saber-rattling, and invading Iran's neighbor (thereby creating a power vacuum that Iran has been only too happy to fill)......it's all worked so well in stopping Iran
so far.

Oh yeah, unless you want to invade Iran too. Because, y'know, our military isn't stretched enough. And invading Iraq has worked out so well for us. [End sarcasm] Also, there are no good military options in Iran. (Slightly dated documents, but the range of voices making this point is still impressive.)

[Note: Hopefully soon Blogger's spell-check function will recognize the words "Barack" and "Obama."]

Update [5/17/08 2:07 PM]: Moderately conservative NY Times columnist David Brooks has some interesting insights on this issue from this conversation with Obama after Obama said something that admittedly sounded a lot like "appeasement." It must be nice to be the kind of person who - when wondering what a presidential candidate meant by some statement - can simply call him up an ask him.


  • IMHO, The major difference b/w Russia (Gorbachev) and Iran is the status and/or nuclear capability of each nation.

    Russia was armed with nukes, they were large in terms of manpower and world-influence. We didn't want a war with them. Thus, we had to talk because they were armed and dangerous militarily and economically. So Reagan bankrupted them with SDI while showing East Germans the value of democracy.

    Iran is completely different. They don't care about world standing only Allah's will, they preach hatred/destruction of Jews, they deny the Holocaust, they prop up terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and Hamas. But they're a blip on the world economy and they're not armed yet. Talk to them? Sure, send the secretary of state or a diplomat. But that's not what Obama is saying and you've selectively quoted from him to hide it. I'll quote from Obama's own website: "Obama is the only major candidate who supports tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions." (emphasis mine)

    In Obama's own words, he'll personally go talk to Iran without demanding anything from them? No thanks. This idiot shouldn't be allowed to enter the White House as a visitor much less C-in-C.

    By Blogger Andy, at 5/19/2008 11:37 AM  

  • I'll partially agree with Andy, but there's a significant mistake he's making, and that's referring to the leaders of Iran as "they", when in fact they are hardly some homogeneous group. It doesn't change his point (the whole conversation is about leadership anyway), but I just wanted to make sure we were clear on that.

    That having been said, he's right that the President himself should not be engaging in direct talks with Iran. Not yet. I believe (and if I weren't lazy/at work, I'd actually find the quote) that Obama publicly clarified that he didn't intend to sit down with Ahmadinejad mano-a-mano like a couple of Bush-Putin-type pals and have tea, but rather that he would send representatives from the White House.

    Personally, I'm more in favor of a solid kick to the groin, but that's just me.

    By Blogger Mike, at 5/20/2008 10:20 AM  

  • Unfortunately, Mike, that's not what is written on Obama.com (which I've quoted above). He wants direct Presidential talks. He can try to correct or massage his intent now, but it's after-the-fact.

    The problem Obama has created comes from trying to tailor his stance on the issue for the audience. Compare March 3rd, 2007 in front of a pro-Israel AIPAC crowd: he called Iran "a threat to all of us", refusing to rule out force. May 18, 2008 and he's saying "they don't pose a serious threat to us." Why the change? Did Iran adopt Democracy in the meantime? No, he changed venues. Noted also in this speech three days ago, he referenced JFK talking to Kruschev. The problem is the talk occurred after the failed Bay of Pigs, not before as Obama is trying to imply (Kennedy later said about Kruschev, "He beat the hell out of me."). Soon we were in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Not only does Obama not understand asymmetric warfare, he's either ignorant of history or willfully distorts it to his use. Neither is good in a President.

    Why people keep voting for this idiot, I am completely baffled.

    By Blogger Andy, at 5/21/2008 8:28 AM  

  • Why the change? It's called politics. All the leading presidential contenders have willfully altered/distorted their talking points repeatedly throughout this campaign. What makes this particular example any different?

    And incidentally, calling somebody who is in fact very intelligent (if perhaps somewhat naive regarding foreign policy) an "idiot" only detracts from your point. No offense, but it resembles the same moronic vitriol we have seen throughout the current failed administration, wherein somebody who disagrees in any capacity is labeled unpatriotic and sympathetic to terrorists. And that does nothing to advance the cause of the nation.

    By Blogger Mike, at 5/21/2008 10:25 AM  

  • "Why the change? It's called politics."

    No. Altering your delivery on an issue, tweaking the finer points -- that's politics. This is willful LIES (if I could make it bigger for you I would) -- he is almost daily altering his stance.

    More examples? Yesterday with Jake Tapper, Obama says "What I said was I would meet with our adversaries including Iran . . . without preconditions[.]" Pretty clear. He is lying consistently depending on who is listening and how the answer resonates with the crowd.

    Does this make him an idiot? Actually, it might. He can't keep his story straight on a daily basis. But if not that, it certainly makes him duplicitous, a liar, a panderer, and (most important to the position he desires) 100% dangerous. You can try to attack my argument by focusing on the word "idiot" but what this makes painfully obvious is that you can't attack my argument on its merits, which is OBAMA IS A LIAR, pure and simple. And the media is complicit.

    By Blogger Andy, at 5/21/2008 12:36 PM  

  • Okay, even if he did talk directly to Ahmedinijad, that would be an improvement over the Bush approach. But still, you're missing the main point. McCain and Bush criticized Obama (and please don't try to pretend the "appeaser" line wasn't a dig at Obama) for a willingness to talk to Iran without preconditions. That - not the queston of WHO will speak for the U.S. in discussions with Iran - was the focus. I think Obama's is the only common sense approach. TALK without preconditions. But don't DO anything without Iran first changing its behavior.

    As I said above, it is simply TALKING. It's not giving him anything. He's not offering to normalize relations, lift the sanctions, or even rule out the use of force. (Yes, that's right, Obama hasn't ruled out the use of force.) But he has said he's willing to offer concessions IF Iran changes its behavior toward Israel, nukes, Iraq, etc. If not, the get nothing....or worse.

    Direct talks - whether by the president or a diplomat - are much more effective and efficient than back-channel negotiations or public pronouncements. It's common sense.

    I'm not sure if you're using Kennedy's talking with Kruschev as an example of the failure of talking. It seems to me the job Kennedy did in defusing the Cuban Missle Crisis is one of the ultimate examples of the advantages of talking.

    Finally, you are completely incorrect that Iran doesn't care about world standing. Iran is not Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is an independent ideological group that doesn't have to worry about self-interest, governing a people, economies, etc. Its only goal is to destroy us. That's why Al Qaeda can't be negotiated with. (And, contrary to Bush's charge that Obama wants to talk to "terrorists and radicals" Obama has never proposed negotiating with terrorists.)

    Iran, and the Ahmedinijad administration in particular, is a self-interested nation-state. A nation-state with a suffering economy (which is deeply damaging his standing among the Iranian electorate). You better believe A-job cares about whether his nation is able to trade with other nations. If all he cared about is Allah's will and didn't give a damn about Iran's standing in the world, then why did he try to negotiate an alliance with the mostly Christian Venezuela? (Yes, leaders of both nations are anti-American...but to radical Islamic eyes Hugo Chavez is as much an infidel as George Bush.) Iran does not benefit from increasing isolation, and its leaders are forced to confront such issues in a way Al Qaeda is not. Yes, Ahmedenijad has said some despicable things and engaged in dangerous behavior.

    But the whole point of this discussion is determining how we change that behavior. We'll never be best buds with people who say and do such things. But by talking to them, by offering carrots and sticks, we can at least try to change their behavior.

    Why must everything short of bombing them or threatening to bomb them be perceived as weakness or naive? What's naive is continuing to try the same failed policy and believing somehow NOW it will magically succeed.

    By Blogger Ben, at 5/21/2008 12:36 PM  

  • Um, Andy, what are you talking about? Obama has always said he (and by "he" I think everybody understands we and he are referring to his administration) would meet with Iran and other adversaries without precondition.

    That's not the same as saying he wouldn't demand changes of behavior at that meeting and offer carrots and sticks like any negotiator.

    By Blogger Ben, at 5/21/2008 12:39 PM  

  • Ben, last post first. He has changed his stance, mostly by using backfill. Susan Rice on Monday, "He said he'd meet with the appropriate Iranian leaders [that] ... might not include Ahmadinejad." Oh, so now its not A'had but others. Ok, a little nuance there.

    Tom Daschle said top-level meetings would not happen without preliminary extensive diplomatic work. Oh, so now there might be preconditions after all? Ok, still not what Obama's website says though.

    And neither of these address the fact that Obama called Iran "a threat to all of us" when talking to a Jewish crowd versus "not a serious threat" just days ago. One of these is a lie then; they can't both be right.

    You can call that pandering, you can call it being a politician. But what you can't do (MIKE) is in the same post that you rail the current "failed administration" for what I would guess is lying about WMD (the du jour liberal rallying cry) but then pardon Obama for his lies. And worse than pardon him, exalt him by saying that anyone (me I guess) that dares to bring up these points doesn't "advance the cause of the nation." I call B.S. (and not the Ben Stark variety either).

    By Blogger Andy, at 5/21/2008 1:17 PM  

  • With your other post, I'll just stop after this quote: "I think Obama's is the only common sense approach. TALK without preconditions. But don't DO anything without Iran first changing its behavior."

    Wow. Could you extrapolate on this nugget a little? Explain to me how the carrot-and-stick approach works with a country whose desire is the destruction of another country (definitely Israel and probably the U.S.). What do you offer? What do you barter? How do you get them to not nuke Israel without "appeasing"? And how is this better than Bush's Iran policy which is essentially "stop your nukes, stop your nukes", ad infinitum. Hmmm, they haven't stopped their nukes. Weird, but you think talking to crazed loons works. Basically Obama's plan is 1. mostly changing, 2. sometimes Bush's and 3. all Neville Chamberlain.

    By Blogger Andy, at 5/21/2008 1:38 PM  

  • I railed the current administration for branding everybody that disagrees with it a traitor. I said nothing about its lying, and in fact the WMD claim was not lying - it was the truth from the administration based on the evidence that they had at the time. I am not really a liberal (I like to say "pragmatic libertarian"), so why I would turn to the "du jour liberal rallying cry" I can't imagine.

    On an unrelated note, I just saw the YouTube clip in which the normally grating Chris Matthews completely liquidates (or rather, watches self-liquidate) some moronic conservative talk radio guy. Check it out, it's hilarious. And it also strikes back at Andy's recent Neville Chamberlain comment.

    By Blogger Mike, at 5/21/2008 3:08 PM  

  • Oops, meant to include the video link. Here you go: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YK0d8ENS__c

    By Blogger Mike, at 5/21/2008 3:08 PM  

  • An example of the kind of negotiations I'm talking about and their potentially beneficial effects for us: our interactions with that radical state sponsor of terrorism, Libya.

    "Under Mr. Bush, the United States has held direct talks with Libya (which has admitted responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, which killed 270 people) . . .

    So what was Mr. Bush talking about last week when he compared negotiations with terrorists and radicals with “the false comfort of appeasement”?

    Inside the administration, many officials, particularly at the State Department, concede that the United States does not hew to one policy on engaging its enemies. “I’d rather be right than consistent,” a senior Bush administration official said, in explaining the willingness to talk to North Korea, which the administration accused just last month of trying to help Syria build a nuclear reactor. He said the United States wanted to make sure that talks were “purposeful engagement, not witless engagement.”

    To that end, the administration has tried to be sure preconditions are met; for instance, it repeatedly says that it restored diplomatic relations with Libya only after Libya renounced terrorism in 2003. But Bush administration officials were in talks with Libya before that happened, and many credit the negotiations with leading to Libya’s change in behavior."

    - http://tinyurl.com/3qkkor

    Note, in particular, that last sentence.

    Aaaaand, now I need to go to work. If I have time, I'll respond more in depth to some of Andy's assertions. Particularly, I want to talk about our different - if equally negative - views of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the implications that has for negotiations with Iran. In essence, where Andy sees an implacable, meglomaniacal villain bent on world domination and destruction of Iran's enemies....I see a more venal, commonplace kind of evil: a flesh-and-blood human being, a politician whose main goal (like all politicians) is not some evil grand scheme but simply staying in power.

    By Blogger Ben, at 5/22/2008 6:52 AM  

  • Damn my eternal addiction to argument. It's going to make me late to work.

    One more point. Saying there might be preliminary extensive diplomatic work before any top-level meetings is not the same as saying there will be preconditions. What everybody has been referring to when mentioning "preconditions" has been stuff like what the Bush administration has said: they won't even talk with Iran until it gives up the nukes and stops the anti-Israel talks. In other words, we won't try to talk to them to get us to do what we want...until they've already done what we want.

    By Blogger Ben, at 5/22/2008 6:59 AM  

  • Ben, you had said earlier about how Kennedy talking to Kruschev was an example of "the advantage of talking." I was looking for a response that didn't require me rehashing what is already well-documented: the talking didn't work. Long story short, Kruschev saw the talking as proof Kennedy was weak. Either talking to A'had would do the same (Iran would view America as weak) OR it would be effective (thus making Obama's analogy wrong). But it can't be both.

    By Blogger Andy, at 5/22/2008 11:39 AM  

  • Looking at that article, it had a lot to do with how Kennedy PERFORMED when he met with Kruschev. Kruschev didn't perceive Kennedy as weak BECAUSE Kennedy negotiated with him. He perceived him as weak because of the crappy job Kennedy did negotiating with him. The only issue that brings up for Obama (or anyone else who proposes a policy of engagement) is whether he is a good negotiator.

    But I still contend that the Cuban Missle Crisis was the shining example of talking doing the right thing. Kennedy got Kruschev to back down (looking so bad that he was soon deposed by Brezhnev), and he did so through an adroit combination of negotiations and action (I never said there was anything wrong with intelligent action) that was far short of war. Through the Cuban Missle Crisis, Kennedy managed to get the USSR to remove the missiles, improve America's standing in the world, and even strike a blow against Kruschev....all while avoiding full-scale war.

    The Cuban Missile Crisis was probably the shining moment of Kennedy's otherwise mediocre presidency.

    By Blogger Ben, at 5/22/2008 12:01 PM  

  • What the Kennedy fumble calls into question, if Obama wants to use it as an example of talking to the enemy, is how effective the negotiator is. Clearly, Kennedy had problems.

    So, I ask, how good to you think Obama is at negotiations? Maybe he picked up some tips all those times he convened his foreign relations committee. How many times was that again? Do you want to trust the most powerful seat in the U.S. (and arguably the world) to a rookie when the other team has seasoned veterans like A'had, Jong Il, Chavez? I don't. Obama should stay in the Senate to get a little more years under his belt -- this job is too important to be handed over to the new guy just because we want to make ourselves feel good that we could elect "the black guy".

    By Blogger Andy, at 5/22/2008 4:04 PM  

  • I have no idea how good of a negotiator Obama is and neither do you. I've never seen him negotiate and neither have you. The only people who probably know how good of a negotiator he is are those who have negotiated something with him.

    Senate experience is not needed to be a good negotiator. Trust me, I'm a lawyer. Which means I've dealt with many negotiators, good and bad. None of them were Senators.

    Until someone can present actual evidence that Obama, or McCain, or Clinton, or for that matter anybody else, is a good negotiator, I prefer to withhold judgment.

    By Blogger Ben, at 5/22/2008 9:12 PM  

  • You're right, so add that to the list of Things I've Never Seen Obama Do: Pass significant legislature. Say no to pork. Understand simple economic terms like 'capital gains tax'. Convene a senate committee. Etc, etc.

    So, no Senatorial experience is needed to be a good negotiator? Fine. Tell me when Obama found it then. When he was passing all of that bipartisan legislature? When he was negotiating the terms on a new house from his buddy Tony? When he confronted Wright? He can't even find the gonads to stand up to a pastor in free America but he's going to stare down the barrel of an off-the-rails Middle Eastern dictator holding nukes and make him cooperate? Are you high?

    Aw shucks, look at me. Bringing up distractions again. How dare I remind other voters what a ridiculous and dangerous mistake Obama is.

    By Blogger Andy, at 5/22/2008 11:49 PM  

  • If I had to choose between McCain and Obama to do my negotiating, I'll choose Obama every time. McCain is far too hot-tempered to be an effective negotiator, while we have yet to see Obama lose his cool.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 5/23/2008 8:11 AM  

  • So what you're saying, Andy, is that based on no evidence whatsoever - other than the fact that, when he denounced his former pastor's offensive words, he wasn't vehement enough for you - you're going to assume Obama is a bad negotiator. Such logic! Such clairvoyance!

    Perhaps he honed his skills as a negotiator during his 7 years as a lawyer. That's where I'm honing mine. Or perhaps it was during his 8 years in the Illinois state senate, where he was credited with crafting and negotiating bipartisan legislation in the areas of campaign finance reform, ethics, and the death penalty.


    All of this, of course, having nothing to do with my original point that that the intelligent move is to talk to our enemies, rather than ignore them.

    By Blogger Ben, at 5/23/2008 8:43 AM  

  • Oh, and how well has our "we're not talking" policy worked towards Iran the past few years? Are they any less of a threat? How about Venezuela - things any better there? Have Hamas' rockets stopped because we're not talking to them? Has our embargo against Cuba caused the Castro regime to go under? Um, no. The Bush method of ignoring our enemies has failed miserably.

    Guess what: the two foreign-policy successes of this administration - getting PDRK to slow down its nukes and getting Libya to renounce terrorism - were the result of persistent tough diplomacy. (The latter was, of course, started under Clinton, so it can be credited to both administrations.)

    By Blogger Jeff, at 5/23/2008 9:36 AM  

  • "When he denounced his former pastor's offensive words" -- after listening to them for twenty years and finally understanding the beating his image was taking. Oh, now I better do something. Yeah, real courage under fire there. Is this how he would deal with Iran? Hey, he better not nuke Israel. BLAM! Ok, well, he better not nuke France. BLAM! Uhh, uhhh, well, if he nukes Britain, this time I'll say something. BLAM! And you're wrong, all of this has to do with the original point which is: does talking work? Emphatically YES. Should the President do it? No. And especially not a rookie President.

    As for Jeff's comments, I've yet to see my postman lose his cool either, wanna send him to Iran? What a ridiculous criteria for selecting a president. Also, nice liberal bash of the Bush policy -- so what you're saying is that since Chavez, Castro, and A'had are unhinged and hate America, it must be the administration's fault. How about the idea that they detest our democracy and relative freedom? What is it with you liberals, why can't you just admit, PEOPLE HATE US FOR NO RATIONAL REASON. When Iran starts liking us, I'll wonder where we went wrong.

    By Blogger Andy, at 5/23/2008 11:58 AM  

  • Put a nail in this one. Obama talking yesterday to the Sun Sentinel about a meeting with Raul Castro: "If there appeared to be progress in the area of liberalization--as I've said repeatedly, I would be willing, if it is going to move the progress, to move forward, with any leader that is willing to consider these issues. (emphasis mine)"

    Ok, I take back every comparison I made about Chamberlain. Obama clearly wants "preconditions" -- maybe he knows what is on his website is a ridiculous policy. Instead, he's opting for Bush's policy. Which once again points to one of my favorite memes, Obama is the left's George W.

    By Blogger Andy, at 5/24/2008 10:00 AM  

  • It's also worth noting that the new President will only have to deal with A-Train for a few months... Iranian elections are in mid-'09 and I'd be willing to bet that Rafsanjani or whoever the challenger is mops the floor with that schmuck.

    Andy, people don't just hate for no reason. They may hate for a really shitty reason, but they don't hate for no reason. The point is not that people still hate us, but that the administration has not made any progress in marginalizing or dealing with those that do hate us. Iran and Venezuela have both grown more powerful during the Bush Administration. It is worth asking if that's Bush's policy's fault.

    Seriously, why can you conservatives not see that when a world leader acts contrary to our wishes that it's not prima facie proof of insanity? I would argue that Iran has acted extremely rationally in the past few years. If we realize that Iranian leaders are trying to gain influence, spread their ideology, and expand their power while trying to whip up support at home, the crazy shit Iran's pulled under A-Train starts to make a lot more sense. What is the conservative bias against understanding our enemies? Wouldn't understanding what motivates our diplomatic opponents (and it's not necessarily a single motivation) make selecting a strategy for dealing with them easier?

    By Blogger Jeff, at 5/24/2008 6:36 PM  

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