Diplomacy Vs. ‘Appeasement’

A central theme of the campaign between Barack Obama and John McCain is the differing approach toward America’s adversaries. It will be interesting to see if the conservative meme that Obama is naive on foreign policy, soft on terrorism and national defense, and too eager to meet with America’s enemies will stick. Speaking before the Israeli Knesset, President Bush raised the specterof Obama’s “appeasement,” and John McCain joined in.

Given that the Bush-McCain hard line on Iraq has arguably led to an expensive quagmire and not made America safer, and that the Bush administration has “turned its back on Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts  for seven years,” (in the words of The New York Times), the American people may give more consideration to Obama’s softer line than they did to Sen. John Kerry’s softer line in 2004.

The accusation that Obama pledged to meet with Hamas without preconditions is false. Obama specifically said that he would not meet with Hamas, though John McCain in 2006 said the U.S. should recognize and meet with Hamas. Obama did say, speaking to a group of Cuban exiles, “it is time to pursue direct diplomacy, with friend and foe alike, without preconditions. There will be careful preparation. We will set a clear agenda. And as President, I would be willing to lead that diplomacy at a time and place of my choosing, but only when we have an opportunity to advance the interests of the United States, and to advance the cause of freedom for the Cuban people.”

On Iran, Obama never said he would meet without precondition with Iranian President President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He clarified and qualified his position to the Wall Street Journal. And the New York Times reported:

Mr. Obama drew a distinction between having his administration begin negotiations with Iran “without preconditions” and getting directly involved himself. He has said Iran would have to meet certain benchmarks before he would get personally involved. He went on to say in his response that agreeing to begin talks without preconditions “does not mean we would not have preparations. Those preparations would involve starting with low-level diplomatic contacts,” such as National Security Council or State Department emissaries.

Sen. Kerry, in an op-ed, explains why it is necessary to talk to Iran. And former Secretary of State James Baker explains why talking to one’s adversaries is not appeasement, using as an example his determined negotiations with Syria, which led to Syria’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist:

On Iraq, Obama has said he’d like to withdraw two battalions a month, which would result in a complete troop withdrawal sometime in 2010, but that he would leave a number of battalions in Iraq to continue to train the Iraqi army and to guard the U.S. embassy and the oil fields. He repeatedly says, “We need to be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in.”

After proclaiming earlier this year that U.S. troops could remain in Iraq for 50 or 100 years, McCain now says he thinks most U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by 2013, because the war will have been won by then, and a stable democratic regime will be governing a peaceful country. (Source)

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