President Bush’s speech to Israel’s Knesset, where he likened negotiating with terrorists and rogue nations to “the false comfort of appeasement,” provoked an angry response from Democratic presidential frontrunner Barack Obama. Obama’s protest, in turn, provoked a scornful rebuke from GOP frontrunner John McCain.
Obama has made negotiations with America’s adversaries — including Iran, Venezuela, Syria, Cuba, and North Korea — without preconditions a touchstone of his campaign. “The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous,” Obama said last year.
McCain says that a presidential summit with tyrants is “a prestigious card… not to be played lightly.”
Is Obama right? Or is McCain? Should America be more open to negotiating with its enemies? Or do such talks appease and lend legitimacy to tyrants and terrorists? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, weigh in.
Negotiations are well and good — even necessary. But negotiating for the negotiation’s sake is folly. The question, always, is to what end? What are the objectives? What outcome is in America’s interest? And what if negotiations fail?
Diplomacy is always preferable to force, but force should always be an option, even if only the option of last resort. Yes, the United States negotiated with its archenemy, the Soviet Union. But negotiations alone did not end the Cold War. The credible threat of force — including the possibility of nuclear annihilation — always loomed in the background.
Obama and his supporters should not be so cavalier about the capabilities of Iran, North Korea and other U.S. adversaries, nor so naove about the promise of negotiations. They would do well to take seriously what America’s enemies say and do before embarking on foolish diplomatic misadventure.
Iran and North Korea want nuclear weapons. Its leaders have refused time and again to stop enriching uranium. Fact is, the United States has tried negotiating with Iran and North Korea directly or through proxies in Europe and Asia. And after years of talks, the only tangible results are that North Korea and Iran are both closer than ever to deploying nuclear arsenals.
Honestly, what’s left to negotiate?
Nixon went to China. Reagan talked with Gorbachev. Kennedy made a back-door deal with Khrushchev to save the world from nuclear war.
Appeasers, the whole lot of them.
At least, that’s the impression one gets from listening to America’s foreign policy hawks. Diplomacy equals appeasement, because talking to our rivals apparently means surrendering to them. It’s a worldview that treats negotiations as a reward for complying with American goals instead of a method — one of several — of achieving our aims.
Iran is a nation led by dangerous men. A sincere diplomatic effort would involve pushing, cajoling and wheedling the Iranians to drop their nuclear ambitions and stop interfering with their neighbors. It would be hard work. Even then it might not be effective: Diplomacy is not a cure-all any more than military action. But it’s not the case with Iran that diplomacy has been tried and found wanting.
Neville Chamberlain — history’s ultimate appeaser — was not wrong to talk to Hitler in 1938. He was wrong to surrender part of Czechoslovakia to Germany. It’s a crucial difference.
America needs tough negotiators who can help preserve our security, people who can make a good deal or refuse a bad bargain. It will not be easy. But we should be at the table, because talking is not surrender.
(Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis blog daily at www.infinitemonkeysblog.com and joelmathis.blogspot.com.)