Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Should U.S. interests be promoted via high level negotiations with hostile powers? Obama, yes – McCain, no

It is amazing that a national politician would advocate a policy of refusal to negotiate with hostile powers raising the risk of deteriorating relationships in a best case scenario and armed conflict in the worst. It would be different if such a policy was proven to advance the best interests of this nation and the greater world community but it’s not. It seems a strategy promoting a perception of toughness through bluster and self-righteousness, as risky and ineffective as it usually proves to be, is held as a virtue. The problem is it doesn’t show toughness at all but rather a lack of intelligence and sophistication in promoting self and communal interests.

Yet, it is exactly this continuation of one of the worse aspects of the Bush world-view that John McCain promotes in his race for the presidency. Of course, Mr. “straight-talk” won’t come out and say it directly but uses coded language by criticizing Barack Obama for supposedly seeking “unconditional” talks with enemies. (That, of course, leaves open the question as to what exactly it is would be left to be negotiated.)

Josh Marshall says the question is whether we are willing to have negotiations and high-level meetings with hostile powers to discuss our differences or whether we think the current freeze-out approach is serving us well:
Sometimes the national political conversation lapses so far into nonsense that it's necessary to restate the obvious to get things back on track. And that is the case with the debate over whether to hold negotiations or high-level meetings with our enemies without pre-conditions. As you've seen, Sen. McCain is making a big ruckus about Sen. Obama's willingness to do so, even going so far as to run new ads questioning his willingness to meet "unconditionally" -- a loaded reference to the phrase 'unconditional surrender'.

But let's remember what this issue is really about. The Bush administration (and to a much less but still significant degree, the Clinton administration) has held to a policy of refusing to hold any negotiations with rogue states on the theory that we gained by not providing them the prestige of holding direct negotiations with the US. It wasn't framed that way precisely. We were willing to meet as long as certain preconditions were met. So in the case of Cuba, this would mean, changing the form of government, releasing political prisoners, giving an atomic wedgy to Hugo Chavez, etc.; or with Iran, ending their nuclear program, changing their political system, cutting off funding to Hamas and Hezbollah, etc. Laudable aims in most cases, but also ones that amount to demanding that bad-guy country X give in to our maximal demands of a potential bilateral relationship in advance of even saying hello -- something that's obviously not going to happen.

So the question is, are we willing to have negotiations and high-level meetings (even at the presidential level) with hostile powers to discuss our differences (do whatever risks there may be outweigh the possible benefits?) or do we think the current freeze-out approach is serving us well?

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