Democrat Barack Obama says he wants to pursue direct diplomacy with Cuba and Latin America and criticizes Republican rival John McCain for offering the Cuban-American community empty promises.
"After eight years of the disastrous policies of George Bush, it is time to pursue direct diplomacy, with friend and foe alike, without preconditions," Obama told the Cuban American National Foundation on Friday in prepared remarks.
Politically, it makes perfect sense to try and paint his policy as the polar opposite of Bush's. Unfortunately, merely doing everything the opposite of George Bush doesn't necessarily make for good policy.
In framing this debate, he also references three other Presidents, JFK, Noxon, and Reagan. The problem is that such comparisons lead me to believe that in fact Obama doesn't understand the nature of evil. JFK met with Kruschev in much the same fashion that he wants to meet with Ahmadinejad. The problem is that the meeting was a failure.
But Kennedy’s one presidential meeting with Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet premier, suggests that there are legitimate reasons to fear negotiating with one’s adversaries. Although Kennedy was keenly aware of some of the risks of such meetings — his Harvard thesis was titled “Appeasement at Munich” — he embarked on a summit meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna in June 1961, a move that would be recorded as one of the more self-destructive American actions of the cold war, and one that contributed to the most dangerous crisis of the nuclear age.
Senior American statesmen like George Kennan advised Kennedy not to rush into a high-level meeting, arguing that Khrushchev had engaged in anti-American propaganda and that the issues at hand could as well be addressed by lower-level diplomats. Kennedy’s own secretary of state, Dean Rusk, had argued much the same in a Foreign Affairs article the previous year: “Is it wise to gamble so heavily? Are not these two men who should be kept apart until others have found a sure meeting ground of accommodation between them?”
When Kennedy met the leader of the totalitarian Soviet Empire with no pre conditions, Kruschev used that meeting to stick it to JFK. Kruschev wasn't interested in common ground or negotiations. He was only interested in weakening his rival. To Kruschev such a meeting wasn't about finding a path toward peace but rather to feel out and exploit his rival. That's exactly how evil operates.
Reagan, on the other hand, didn't meet with the Soviets until after he had produced an arms race that exposed the Soviet economy for the house of cards that it was. By that point, Reagan was holding all the cards in the summit.
In the case of Nixon, he went into the meeting hoping to parlay China's fear of the Soviet Union into a position of power. That's exactly what happened, and it only happened after years of back channels.
The problem is that Obama's statements make it seem as though he sees no potential downside in negotiating with evil.
Nothing has changed with respect to my belief that strong countries and strong presidents talk to their enemies and talk to their adversaries,” Obama told reporters at a press conference after receiving an endorsement from the New York City Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association
Obama was asked if his statements about Ahmadinejad were contradictory – why would he meet with the Iranian leader as U.S. president but not invite to speak if he were the Columbia University president? “There are two different functions, as president of the United States, my job is to look out for the national security interests of this country,” Obama said. “In the same way that Nixon met with Mao and that past presidents met with people that we don’t like.”
Obama may in fact be using diplomatic language however he refers to Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and all the rest of the tyrannical regimes in the world as adversaries rather than the agents of evil that they are. When Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as the "evil empire", he got plenty of flack from folks that occupy Obama's sphere of thought. Bush continues to receive the same flack from most of the same folks for referring to North Korea, Iran, and Iraq as an "axis of evil". Yet, it's clear that those two men knew exactly what they were dealing with. (Too bad Bush didn't show the same judgement when dealing with Putin) I am not so sure that Obama sees it the same way.
Evil folks exploit, manipulate, and use everything to their advantage. As Nixon, Reagan, and Kennedy proved, the only time you meet with evil is when you are in the position of strength. Anything less becomes the disaster that Kruschev/JFK was.
In fact, Barack Obama may in fact have a view closer to this toward diplomacy.
Nevertheless, the intense criticism of Obama's position is based upon a view of presidential diplomacy that is outdated and has proven to be ineffective if not counterproductive.
According to McCain and Bush, meeting with the United States, and particularly the president of the United States, confers prestige and legitimacy on those being met.
The United States is certainly the most powerful nation in the world. However, the rest of the world no longer regards us as possessing some special moral authority to render judgment on the legitimacy of other governments.
This is in part a natural and inevitable result of the rise of other nations. It is also, however, because the United States has not, and cannot, consistently practice pure moral hygiene regarding the countries with which we conduct business.
The position taken here, from Robert Robb, is that of moral relativism. Robb, and others like him, don't see regimes as good and evil, but rather as those of varying agendas. As such, he sees all diplomacy as finding common ground on divergent agendas.
Of course, this is a very naive and dangerous view. The agenda of Iran is to wipe Israel off the map, and then use their surrogates, Hamas and Hezbollah, and develop nuclear weapons to eventually dominate the Middle East and then the world. Robb may think that common ground can be reached on such issues, but they can't. The first thing that must happen is that Iran must understand clearly that none of those things will happen. They must understand that they either give up their ambitions or give up their power. They must understand that there is no third option. That is what the policy of isolation, economic and diplomatic, along with the UN sanctions is meant to do. It is not necessarily an easy policy to implement, but it can work.
Only once that policy has had the desired effect will any meeting between leaders be worthwhile. That isn't the way that Robert Robb sees it and I am afraid that Barack Obama has much the same world view. It is a world view borne out of a lack of recognition of the nature of evil.