Should the US President meet with America’s enemies?

Ben Smith reports that he has received an email from Stephen Sixta. It was Sixta who first introduced a topic that has been prominent in the election campaign ever since the Youtube debate.

Sixta asked Barack Obama whether he would meet with the leaders of hostile states:  including, e.g., Iran. Sixta understood Obama’s answer as follows (see Smith’s blog for more details) :

  • The question “was constructed as a gauge to see how willing or not the candidates were to accepting the proposition that I had set forth; that of the president meeting with unfriendly leaders. Obama was willing. Clinton was not.”
  • “When I said “Iran”, up popped a picture of Ahmadinejad. To me, last summer he was the guy … but if over time that changes … if it becomes someone else, one of those ayatollahs or someone, that is fine. The point is that the President of the United States meet with the person from Iran who has the power to effect change and solve the problems that exist between our countries.”
  • “Our current president has engaged no one in almost 8 years. Obama rejects that approach. McCain has indicated he rejects Obama’s approach.”

There has been some speculation that Obama made up this policy on the fly:  i.e., that he wasn’t prepared for Sixta’s question, and invented a policy on the spot. If true, it goes without saying that it’s hardly an ideal way to make policy.

(It’s also true that, as President, Obama would be briefed on all the major issues confronting the USA, and would be surrounded by policy experts on all such issues. I think Obama’s track record suggests that he excels in that sort of environment:  i.e., he excels at analysing the strengths and weaknesses of competing options and arriving at an informed, strategic decision.)

In any event, Obama’s political instincts seem to have served him well on this issue. In a separate post, Smith reports that Obama’s proposal polls well:

Large majorities of Democrats and independents, and even half of Republicans, believe the president of the United States should meet with the leaders of countries that are considered enemies of the United States. Overall, 67% of Americans say this kind of diplomacy is a good idea.

That’s bad news for McCain. It’s just the latest indication that McCain is making a serious mistake by committing to maintain Bush’s approach to foreign policy.

Advertisements

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Random
    Jun 03, 2008 @ 07:12:30

    Hmm. This Sixta guy sounds like an Obama supporter who is embarassed that he accidentally caught his guy out on a tricky question and is now trying to help him out. If you don’t believe me, compare and contrast what he claims he asked –

    “the proposition that I had set forth; that of the president meeting with unfriendly leaders. Obama was willing. Clinton was not.”

    with what he actually asked –

    “[if the candidates] would meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration…with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries.”

    Notice how “without precondition” has disappeared. Which is interesting, as this is what the controversy has been basically about. Nobody is denying it is sometimes useful for a president to meet face to face with someone, but the idea that it should be done unconditionally, as the first step in a process, is what led Clinton to denounce Obama’s naivety and McCain to denounce his lack of experience. I’m not suprised that the Obama supporters are trying to move the debate away from unconditionality and towards the mere question of talks, but they’re misrepresenting the record when they try to do so and shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.

    Some other thoughts:

    “When I said “Iran”, up popped a picture of Ahmadinejad. To me, last summer he was the guy … but if over time that changes … if it becomes someone else, one of those ayatollahs or someone, that is fine. The point is that the President of the United States meet with the person from Iran who has the power to effect change and solve the problems that exist between our countries.”

    Oh, good grief. Anybody who knows anything about Iranian politics (which apparently excludes Sixta as well as Obama) knows that the go-to guy in Iran is the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and has been since 1989 (i.e. before Bill Clinton, never mind George W Bush, was president) but who rarely if ever meets with foreigners. The president is little more than a mouthpiece who can barely choose what he has for breakfast without asking Khamenei’s permission, never mind conduct diplomacy with the Great Satan.

    “Our current president has engaged no one in almost 8 years. Obama rejects that approach. McCain has indicated he rejects Obama’s approach.”

    i would say this was a lie if it wasn’t so embarassingly obvious that Sixta is speaking out of ignorance. Suffice it to say that over the last eight years Bush has held meetings with such not-obviously-friendly figures as the president of China; the president of Russia; the secretary general of the Vietnamese Communist Party; and the president of the Palestinian Authority (that was the result of a 30-second google BTW, not a complete list). Hardly “no-one”.

    As for Iran – yes it’s true that Bush hasn’t met Ahmedinejad, but the British (and French, and German) foreign secretary has, and anybody who thinks that such a meeting would take place without the Americans being fully involved both before and after is living in fantasy land. Bush has in fact regularly and publicly supported the efforts of the European troika to engage with Iran, and made it clear they had the American government’s backing for any deals they might be able to reach. However, this doesn’t fit in with the left wing narrative of Bush as an isolationist who snubs allies and is confrontational towards enemies, and so it gets ignored.

    “There has been some speculation that Obama made up this policy on the fly: i.e., that he wasn’t prepared for Sixta’s question, and invented a policy on the spot. If true, it goes without saying that it’s hardly an ideal way to make policy.”

    The problem is, Obama has a track record of opening his mouth without engaging his brain (I was tempted to take up your open invitiation to a guest post by writing one on this topic, but thought it would be lowering the tone… ). This is not a safe characterisitc in a president.

    “he excels in that sort of environment: i.e., he excels at analysing the strengths and weaknesses of competing options and arriving at an informed, strategic decision.”

    However, as I’ve mentioned previously, one-on-one in a room with the likes of Putin or Ahmedinejad is most definitely not this sort of environment, and is in fact the sort where he has proven to be weakest.

    “That’s bad news for McCain. It’s just the latest indication that McCain is making a serious mistake by committing to maintain Bush’s approach to foreign policy.”

    Wow. I have to say I’ve been – well, I supposed impressed isn’t quite the right word: stupefied, perhaps – watching this line evolve. Seeing the Democrat attack machine portray the one Republican politician who has perhaps disagreed with president Bush on more issues than any other as some sort of Bush clone is quite something. It’s a classic example of what someone once described as the “big lie” school of political propaganda (i.e. a big lie tends to work better than a small one because most ordinary people, being basically trusting sorts, are unlikely to believe you would be that shamelessly mendacious and so will give you the benefit of the doubt). To take the obvious example – on Iraq it is far more accurate to say that Bush has adopted McCain’s policy, not the other way round – for example McCain was the first Republican to call for Rumsfeld to be fired for incompetence and the first to call for a Surge, months before Bush adopted it. However, as the Surge is working, this would mean giving McCain credit for the success, so this is just something else for flushing down the memory hole.

    Oh, one final quote –

    “I must announce that the Zionist regime, with a 60-year record of genocide, plunder, invasion and betrayal is about to die and will soon be erased from the geographical scene.”

    That was Mahmoud Ahmedinejad yesterday – you know, the guy who Barack Obama wants to meet, without preconditions, in his first year as president. Oh, and he’s also building nuclear weapons and has made it quite clear (see the efforts of the troika referred to above) that simply talking to him won’t get him to stop.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: