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The Collective
Monday, May 19, 2008
By Dr. Steven Taylor
Jennifer Rubin, blooging at Commentary’s Contentions, takes Barack Obama to task on the issue of foreign policy. She is concerned that he doesn’t take Iran serious enough, and that he is all too fixated on the talking thing.

To wit:

And then there is is unbridled faith in diplomacy, unaffected by the lessons of history. Was it presidential visits with the Soviet Union that brought down the Berlin Wall? Or was it the 40 year history of bipartisan military deterrence, the willingness of Ronald Reagan to walk away1 from Reykjavik summit, the resulting bankruptcy of the Soviet Empire, the support of dissidents and freedom fighters in the war against tyranny, and the willingness to identify Communism as a center of evil in the late 20th century?

Now, setting aside anything else, can anyone spot the problem here? I start in this fashion, because she starts her post by stating: “It [Obama's speech in Oregan yesterday] might be useful as an undergraduate course exam: how many errors can you spot?”

It seem odd to use the notion of Reagan threatening to walk away from Reykjavik as some sort of argument against diplomacy, when the only way to have talks to threaten to walk away from was to have the talks in the first place.

Look, I fully understand that just talking to people won’t make the world a happy funzone full of puppies and prancing ponies, but I am vexed at the current phobia on the rightward side of things to the very notion of talking. Yes, giving away parts of other people’s countries to try and placate your enemies is a bad idea, but I don’t see that as part of anyone’s platform at the moment.

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  1. Emphasis mine. []
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Filed under: 2008 Campaign, US Politics | |

24 Comments

  1. “Yes, giving away parts of other people’s countries to try and placate your enemies is a bad idea, but I don’t see that as part of anyone’s platform at the moment.”

    Oh really? What exactly are the implications of Presidential negotiations with ‘our enemies’ (your words) if not to offer something in return for ceasing and desisting?

    Will Obama just speak sternly of possible consequences?

    How would that be different from Bush’s approach as he has certainly warned the Iranians, both privately through diplomatic channels, through neutral third parties and through public speeches.

    Will he offer economic incentives to religious mullahs who view materialism with contempt?

    What threats of economic sanctions will dissuade them? Especially when the UN will never agree to any economic sanctions with real teeth to them?

    Will Obama ‘reason’ with Iranian mullahs seeking to establish points of commonality? What points would those be, exactly? That we both love our pets? That WE don’t want war?

    Besides the plaintive “can’t we all get along” exactly what would Obama say? Especially relevent when speaking with an adversary whose world view is that the utter destruction of the ‘Great Satan’ (us) is a religious imperative…

    What exactly will it take before ‘progressives’ accept that Islamic wacko’s cannot be dissuaded from violence?

    The detonation of a NUKE in New York harbor?

    Or will that merely bring MORE cries for attempts to understand why they hate us so much?

    Comment by Geoffrey Britain — Monday, May 19, 2008 @ 1:14 pm

  2. I am vexed at the current phobia on the rightward side of things to the very notion of talking.

    I think it comes down to 8 years of fear-mongering and failed leadership on the part of Bush-which seems to have been nicely internalized by some overly paranoid folks (not unlike Geoffrey Britain, apparently).

    Given the fact that very few from the Right (and centrist Democrats, for that matter) made any protestations as Bush leveraged 9/11 into a kind of paranoia Wilsonianism, it is not surprising that McCain and other Republicans are seeing that they have “to dance with who brought them.”

    Anyone who has followed Obama’s senate career, listened to his speeches, or read his second book would know that he is basically a realist/centrist.

    Patriots like Geoffrey Britain notwithstanding, it will not be surprising to see many Americans reject a foreign policy based on paranoiac delusions.

    Comment by Ratoe — Monday, May 19, 2008 @ 4:05 pm

  3. the notion of talks, i.e. does not merely involve takling to our (gasp) enemies (what does that even mean at this point?). this involves the possibility of multilateral (i.e. international) diplomacy, which has been sneered upon by the right in recent years (remember the run up to the iraq war?)
    as stephen rightly pointed out, none of the presidential contenders presents a naive “flowers and candy” vision of diplomacy. it must be clear that any negotiations with iran with regard to its nuclear programme, its relation to israel, etc. has to be grounded in a strategy, that involves players in the region, europe and russia, most importantly.
    PS:the invocation of “The detonation of a NUKE in New York harbor?” is preposterous and suggests (to me at least) that you (geoffrey britain) are not interested in a serious discussion on the subject. we cannot, at this point in time, risk another escalation in the gulf. if anything, the situation calls for a levelheaded, unagitated approach.

    Comment by Joeran — Monday, May 19, 2008 @ 4:08 pm

  4. Islamic wacko’s cannot be dissuaded from violence

    Yes, those wackos sure like the violence.

    Comment by Andy Vance — Monday, May 19, 2008 @ 4:10 pm

  5. It is not talking to which we object, it is talking without preconditions by the President.

    I asked Dr Taylor specific, substantive questions (13) your response ‘ratoe’ was the substantive rejoinder of charcterizing those questions as “paranoiac delusions”

    That is exactly an Obama type response to a McCain style question…

    Joeran, your faith in multilateral diplomacy is touching. Especially given the effectiveness of the IAEA…

    Please explain for us how Europe and especially Russia (providing nuclear technology to Iran) see it in their self-interest to support our efforts at negotiation?

    Please enlighten me on how the detonation of a Nuke in New York harbor by Al Qeada is ‘preposterous’? Other than simple denial, upon what rationale do you base that characterization?

    Finally, as a matter of simple courtesy, is it too much to ask that you address my premises and desire for examples of what Obama might ask of Ahmadinajad? Before labeling my comments as ‘paranoic delusions’ and the comments of someone not interested in ’serious’ discussion?

    Comment by Geoffrey Britain — Monday, May 19, 2008 @ 6:00 pm

  6. the world a happy funzone full of puppies and prancing ponies

    You must have been thinking of McCain’s “3013″ ad when you crafted that line (which did leave me wondering whether there are any unhappy funzones…).

    Comment by MSS — Monday, May 19, 2008 @ 6:14 pm

  7. Uh, Two thousand 13. :-)

    Comment by MSS — Monday, May 19, 2008 @ 6:14 pm

  8. [...] Blog Briefing Room, Israpundit, Redstate, Don Surber, Atlas Shrugs, Wake up America, Macsmind, PoliBlog (TM), American Power and Newshoggers.com.  The Daily Dish, Blue Girl, Red State, The Carpetbagger [...]

    Pingback by Seriously | Comments from Left Field — Monday, May 19, 2008 @ 6:20 pm

  9. On a more serious note, it really is time to drop once and for all from our vocabulary the term “appeasement” to refer to diplomacy within the context of contemporary world power arrangements.

    The relationship between the US and Iran is just a wee bit different from that which existed in Europe up until the end of WW II, where “appeasement” of the rising power had been used, mostly with success, for centuries.

    So, here we have a term coined for a different power balance, used by those trying to conjure up its one catastrophic failure in a diplomacy that preceded the war that put an end to that power balance for now six decades and counting.

    Comment by MSS — Monday, May 19, 2008 @ 6:22 pm

  10. “it really is time to drop once and for all from our vocabulary the term “appeasement” to refer to diplomacy within the context of contemporary world power arrangements.”

    A rose by any other name is still a rose.

    Liberals sure don’t like that word, must be too close to home. Can’t easily ’spin’ it…

    The dynamics and logic of power politics has not changed in 5,000 years, nor will they as long as human nature remains unchanged.Your historical ignorance is revealed by your assertions about the efficacy of appeasement prior to the end of WWII(?)

    “An appeaser is one who feeds (others to) a crocodile - hoping it will eat him last”. Winston Churchill

    Prior to Dunkirk, no doubt Chamberlain felt just as ‘modern’ in comparison to Churchill, as you clearly do today.

    Comment by Geoffrey Britain — Monday, May 19, 2008 @ 6:36 pm

  11. Good discussion on how brain-dead Chamberlain was can be found at http://hotair.com/archives/2008/05/17/it-was-never-ok-to-carve-up-czechoslovakia/ (”The mountains of Moravia and Bohemia presented a formidable natural defense against German invasion, and the Czechoslovakians had added modern military fortifications that would have stopped even a blitzkrieg cold, leaving Germany’s western frontier open to assault from the much larger French Army. … [The British and the French] had given the natural defense of eastern Europe away for a promise, thanks to politicians who dreamed of peace at any cost, and who sold Czechoslovakia out to get it.”).

    As for “not talking” with Iran: Bush has repeatedly offered to talk with Iran with certain ground rules. Bush and the EU have offered economic benefits, membership in the WTO, and formal recognition — all with strings attached. I can’t imagine what Obama would offer that would be better than that.

    What I get from Obama’s promise to talk without preconditions is that he’s walking in without those strings attached. That doesn’t seem prudent. In fact, from Iran’s point of view they have US offers XXX with strings attached -> Iran rattles saber, funds terrorism in Iraq -> US offers XXX without strings attached. Where do you think the next step goes? Those strings currently attached to negotiations are what have caused Iran’s population the believe their president has isolated them. Remove the strings and he becomes a hero.

    That’s why the right is opposed to removing the strings. Some people view diplomacy a little different.

    Comment by Max Lybbert — Monday, May 19, 2008 @ 7:16 pm

  12. “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.” - Winston Churchill

    Also, all these people arguing against talks seem to forget that we talked constantly with the Soviet Union, a far more dangerous enemy than Iran. Talks, I might add, that didn’t come out all to shabby for us.

    Comment by Joe Mucia — Monday, May 19, 2008 @ 7:20 pm

  13. It like arguing with a civil defense siren.

    Comment by Andy Vance — Monday, May 19, 2008 @ 7:21 pm

  14. “Also, all these people arguing against talks seem to forget that we talked constantly with the Soviet Union, a far more dangerous enemy than Iran. Talks, I might add, that didn’t come out all to shabby for us.”

    Our ‘talks’ with the Soviet Union were backed up with nuclear submarines. The deterrence of ‘MAD’ gave them pause. But even then talks with the Soviets went nowhere until Reagan started the arms race and bankrupted them. They never would have ‘negotiated’ otherwise.

    The MSM excoriated Reagan for the arms build-up, for every confrontative effort he made and then when he walked away from the talks at Raykjavik for a lost ‘opportunity’.

    Liberals have opposed every effort Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush Sr. and George Bush have made with no credit given when they succeeded. It has been a constant drumbeat of opposition since 1968. I’ve seen it my whole life.

    Iran’s mullahs armed with nukes are far more dangerous than the Soviets ever were because their religious imperative is to destroy the ‘Great Satan’. Providing terrorist groups with nukes allows them ‘plausible deniability’…that’s what makes the threat serious.

    Many, including Ahmadinajad and the supreme Ayatollah of Iran support national martyrdom if it will bring about the appearance of the 12th Imam. Liberals are simply betting it’s not really true, they’re not really serious. That’s exactly what Chamberlain thought.

    Comment by Geoffrey Britain — Monday, May 19, 2008 @ 8:10 pm

  15. Chamberlain thought the Ayatollah of Iran wasn’t serious about the 12th Imam? Now that’s interesting!

    Comment by Andy Vance — Monday, May 19, 2008 @ 8:13 pm

  16. Andy, Andy, Andy…

    50,000 comedians out of work and you’re trying to be funny;-)

    Comment by Geoffrey Britain — Monday, May 19, 2008 @ 9:59 pm

  17. This is even better (quotes from ):

    “Negotiation is not a policy. It is a technique. Saying that one favors negotiation with, say, Iran, has no more intellectual content than saying one favors using a spoon. For what? Under what circumstances? With what objectives? On these specifics, Mr. Obama has been consistently sketchy.

    “… When the U.S. negotiates with ‘terrorists and radicals,’ it gives them legitimacy, a precious and tangible political asset. Thus, even Mr. Obama criticized former President Jimmy Carter for his recent meetings with Hamas leaders.”

    “OBAMA’S RESPONSE to Bush’s speech was an effective acknowledgement that appeasing Iran and other terror sponsors is a defining feature of his campaign and of his political persona. As far as he is concerned, an attack against appeasement is an attack against Obama.”

    Comment by Max Lybbert — Tuesday, May 20, 2008 @ 11:23 am

  18. Forgot to put this URL in: http://gatewaypundit.blogspot.com/2008/05/bolton-bush-hit-nail-on-head-now-nails.html

    Comment by Max Lybbert — Tuesday, May 20, 2008 @ 11:30 am

  19. Oops, forgot the link: http://gatewaypundit.blogspot.com/2008/05/bolton-bush-hit-nail-on-head-now-nails.html

    Comment by Max Lybbert — Tuesday, May 20, 2008 @ 1:36 pm

  20. To GB, my point was not about “liberals” or “conservatives” but about the sciences of international relations and diplomatic history and what they can tell us about contemporary foreign policy debates.

    I will concede, however, that liberals are rather more likely to believe that the scientific accumulation of knowledge is a valid basis for policy debate than are those who nowadays attach the “conservative” label to themselves.

    Comment by MSS — Tuesday, May 20, 2008 @ 3:01 pm

  21. Somehow I did not notice all the commenting going on here (I weirdly only received e-mail notifications-which is how i usually read the comments-of some of the comments, but not all. I never saw GB’s comments, for example).

    I am not going to go point-by-point on GB’s first post, but I will say a few quick things. First, I am not, per se, trying to argue for Obama or against McCain. More specifically I simply find the notion, that seems quite popular in some quarters these days, that talking to adversaries is somehow the worst possible thing one can do (it lends legitimacy to the bad guys dontcha know). To get to GB’s first question (What exactly are the implications of Presidential negotiations with ‘our enemies’ (your words) if not to offer something in return for ceasing and desisting?) as follows: you are avoiding my point, which is to say that “appeasement” is not the same thing as “talking”-which is plainly obvious from the definition of the words.

    And yes, one would be talking to alter the behavior of another state-isn’t that the whole point of foreign policy, write large? If one can accomplish one’s goals via talking, why is that problematic? Even if one negotiates a settlement of some kind, so what?

    And as another recent post indicate (here), I am note convinced that the “nuke (or even a NUKE) in NY Harbor” is a viable scenario. It is, however, the most common trope slung out to convince us all of the needed continued fear of Iran. For one thing, they don’t have a nuke, and if they did, what would be the exact motivation to nuke NY?

    The notion that Iran is more of a threat to the US than was the Soviet Union is absurd and the acceptance of that notion is part of what is wrong with the current discourse about US foreign policy.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Tuesday, May 20, 2008 @ 4:58 pm

  22. “what would be the exact motivation to nuke NY?”

    What was Al Qaeda’s motivation to knock down the World Trade Center? I think it’s changed over time, but the goal was clearly to kill as many Americans as possible.

    Comment by Max Lybbert — Tuesday, May 20, 2008 @ 5:58 pm

  23. “To get to GB’s first question (What exactly are the implications of Presidential negotiations with ‘our enemies’ (your words) if not to offer something in return for ceasing and desisting?) as follows: you are avoiding my point, which is to say that “appeasement” is not the same thing as “talking”–which is plainly obvious from the definition of the words.”

    It is obvious that talking and appeasement are not necessarily the same thing. I take that as a given and did so in my prior post.

    With all due respect, I believe that it is you who is doing the avoiding and when your response is examined it is hard not to draw the conclusion that you are being intellectually disingenuous as well.

    Is not improper to ask what will be offered in return.

    It is naive or purposely obtuse to presuppose that Iran will modify their goal of gaining nuclear weaponry just by having a good talk with them.

    “if one negotiates a settlement of some kind, so what?”

    ‘So what’ would be dependant in what the ’settlement’ consisted of…We cannot offer them money, they don’t want it and have plenty. We cannot offer them increased trade, we are the great Satan and you don’t do business with Lucifer…We cannot threaten sanctions as Russia and China will block them, and the Iranians know it. We cannot rely as common ground upon shared democratic values or respect for ‘human rights’, they don’t believe in those things.

    So its entirely proper to ask the question, “Exactly what will you say or offer that has any chance for success?”

    Upon what do you base your ‘faith’ in good intentions to sway demonstrably suicidal madmen? Other than wishful thinking, that is?

    As for their not having a nuke, the discussion is about their plan to acquire one…in which case their willingness to provide nukes to terrorist groups who might well attempt to sail into NY harbor with one becomes a profoundly viable possibility.

    The acceptance of the notion that Iran is more of a threat to the US than was the Soviet Union is based in Iran’s and terrorist groups frequent and consistent pronouncements and demonstrations of a willingness to commit suicide in advancement of their goals.

    Your rebutal of these facts consists entirely of pronouncements of its ‘absurdity’, assertions entirely predicated without fact nor persuasive argument.

    Comment by Geoffrey Britain — Wednesday, May 28, 2008 @ 8:13 pm

  24. It is naive or purposely obtuse to presuppose that Iran will modify their goal of gaining nuclear weaponry just by having a good talk with them.

    Here’s the deal-I never suggested that they would. Nor did I ever even get into the issue of conditions/preconditions for talks. You have read an awful lot into the original post that isn’t there-or even in my responses.

    The acceptance of the notion that Iran is more of a threat to the US than was the Soviet Union is based in Iran’s and terrorist groups frequent and consistent pronouncements and demonstrations of a willingness to commit suicide in advancement of their goals.

    The USSR had the literal capability to lay waste substantial portions of the US, killing millions in the process while it is questionable as to whether the Iranians can even get a simple suicide bomber in place in the US.

    I would call that a demonstrable and empirical difference in capabilities.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Wednesday, May 28, 2008 @ 8:23 pm

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