Diplomacy with Tyrants?

John McCain, in an effort to paint Barack Obama as wet behind the ears on security issues, has taken the Illinois Senator to task for promising to meet with foreign leaders without preconditions. McCain has focused much of his blast at the implications for relations with Iran, whose leader is admittedly crazy and whose intentions are thoroughly malevolent. Of course, the United States government is already conducting negotiations with the Iranian government at several levels. How could we not? If McCain can’t see that Iran has been the principal strategic benefactor of America’s invasion of Iraq, he doesn’t understand foreign affairs at all. Instead of being in a position to isolate Iran, we are now dependent upon them and their clients in Iraq in ways we were not before George Bush (with help from McCain, Clinton and the American people) began this disastrous war. The government of the United States deals with tyrants big and small all the time. In the interest of limiting the spread of nuclear weapons we are currently negotiating with the evil North Korean regime. Richard Nixon remains highly regarded for going to China and meeting with Mao, the man responsible for more deaths in the deadliest century of human history than any other tyrant. And, the only reason we are not negotiating with Cuba is because of the stranglehold Cuban-American rejectionists have on the GOP in Florida. What if there was an immediate flare-up or crisis in the Mideast? Would the President of the United States prefer to go into dicey and difficult negotiations having no prior experience of talking with the President of Iran? No sense of when he is bluffing and when he is serious? No idea about how he responds to carrots and sticks? It is a mistake to overvalue the significance of personal diplomacy. President Bush returned from a visit with his Saudi friends unable to convince them to help lower the price of oil. FDR’s attentions to Stalin did not keep the Soviet Union from enslaving Eastern Europe. But, it is also to overvalue the "benefits" that would accrue to certain foreign leaders from such personal contacts. We are told that meeting with Iranian president Ahmadinejad would raise his stature. In whose eyes? The radical thugs who form his base of support in Teheran are not known for holding the United States in high esteem: How would meeting with a U.S. president burnish his image? One of the requirements of just war theory is that war must be a last resort. This is not only a sound moral precept but a sound strategic one. The fact that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al. seemed so eager to go to war in Iraq is one of the reasons that the rest of the world grew suspicious of our motives and unsupportive of our efforts. If there must be a showdown in the future with Ahmadinejad and his regime, the U.S. government will more readily find allies if it has seriously explored all other avenues of redress. Face-to-face diplomacy at the highest level would strengthen any U.S. president in his future dealings with Iran. John McCain is a great American hero. It is much less clear if he is a great foreign policy strategist. And, he should be careful in attacking Obama’s willingness to try any and all peaceful means to redress grievances abroad. In the sixth year of a war that resulted from American bellicosity more than from strategic necessity, Americans are ready for a president who is willing to follow just war theory and make war always a last resort. Michael Sean Winters
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10 years ago
Mr. Winter writes: ''And, the only reason we are not negotiating with Cuba is because of the stranglehold Cuban-American rejectionists have on the GOP in Florida.'' Negotiating what and with which Cubans exactly? Perhaps Mr. Winter is unaware that in 1952 the US 'negotiated' with Batista to recognize his regime as legitimate just 15 days after his coup on our constitutional democracy. Perhaps he's unaware of how the US government then proceeded with generous economic and military support for the criminal dictator. Batista tortured and ruled unconstitutionally while US Americans vacationed and baked deals under the Cuban sun. Perhaps he believes that all those who struggled in 1959 to overthrow Batista just wanted to install a new tyrant for the next 49 years. One that would name presidents (Urrutia, Dorticós) and even successors on their behalf. Perhaps he is unaware that over 2 million cubans, 33% of the 1959 population, 4-5 generations, were forced into exile, driven by the violation of human rights he takes either for granted or deems Cubans unworthy of. With a sweeping generalization Mr. Winter calls Cubans in the US 'rejectionists', which makes him what? An accomplice of the cultural genocide of the Cuban people? I suppose Mr. Winters (and company?) pretends that a foreign government (the US) has the right to negotiate Cubans´ human rights with the unconstitutional totalitarian regime imposed under the pretext of liberating us, so that US Americans can vacation and trade with 'it'?
10 years ago
In continuation of my previous comment I would just like to add that I am not against anyone talking with tyrants or with anyone else. Indeed not few exiles have attempted to establish a dialogue with Castro over the years only to discover he will only speak with those who agree with him. All is allowed within what he calls 'the revolution', nothing outside. Free independent lines of reasoning are not welcomed. While he supposedly called for a 'war of ideas' it soon became evident that he meant a propaganda war coupled with beating up and jailing opponents, as incidentally happened yesterday in eastern Cuba. In a 'reflection' published in Granma yesterday he attempts to divert atention by focusing on assasination attempts against him. He does not however mention the 3 young men who kidnapped a tourist boat in 2003 to escape. They did not physically touch anyone and yet he executed them for 'strategic reasons' 72 hours after a private summary trial. One wonders if he would kill his own children for strategic reasons. Nor am I against Obama. I am against a reckless attitude towards Cuba such as the one that led to recognizing Batista's regime as legitimate in 1952. Indeed, a talking Obama (or other presidential candidate) educated on Castro's crime(s) since 1959, on US-Cuba relations since 1898 and who publicly repudiates US complicity with Batista would be welcomed.
10 years ago
In continuation of my previous comment I would just like to add that I am not against anyone talking with tyrants or with anyone else. Indeed not few exiles have attempted to establish a dialogue with Castro over the years only to discover he will only speak with those who agree with him. All is allowed within what he calls 'the revolution', nothing outside. Free independent lines of reasoning are not welcomed. While he supposedly called for a 'war of ideas' it soon became evident that he meant a propaganda war coupled with beating up and jailing opponents, as incidentally happened yesterday in eastern Cuba. In a 'reflection' published in Granma yesterday he attempts to divert atention by focusing on assasination attempts against him. He does not however mention the 3 young men who kidnapped a tourist boat in 2003 to escape. They did not physically touch anyone and yet he executed them for 'strategic reasons' 72 hours after a private summary trial. One wonders if he would kill his own children for strategic reasons. Nor am I against Obama. I am against a reckless attitude towards Cuba such as the one that led to recognizing Batista's regime as legitimate in 1952. Indeed, a talking Obama (or other presidential candidate) educated on Castro's crime(s) since 1959, on US-Cuba relations since 1898 and who publicly repudiates US complicity with Batista would be welcomed.
10 years ago
Michael Sean has written another interesting article. If Sen. Obama is elected president perhaps he can visit Teheran together with Fr. Neuhaus and Chuck Colson! Talking with Mr. Ahmadinejad is okay if we all understand that he is not a "normal" politician. I hope Michael Sean can write an article on how Sen. McCain should handle Hezbollah if he is elected president.

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