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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 05/21/2008

McCain, Obama, and Kissing Dictators

By Michael Dobbs


Nixon and Mao (40 million victims).

"Roosevelt didn't talk with (Adolf) Hitler, Reagan didn't talk with (Soviet leader Leonid) Brezhnev or his two successors until (Mikhail) Gorbachev was ready to change his position. Reagan didn't do what Jimmy Carter did. Carter went over and kissed Brezhnev, remember?"
--John McCain, Miami Town Hall meeting, May 20, 2008.

John McCain is stepping up his attacks on Barack Obama for being willing to meet with various petty tyrants and thugs, including the leaders of Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela. At a town hall meeting in Miami on Tuesday, he contrasted Obama's position with the stand taken by previous presidents, such as FDR and Ronald Reagan. But a review of the historical record shows that there is a long-standing tradition of U.S. presidents, both Republican and Democrat, meeting with brutal dictators and mass murderers over a period of many decades.

The Facts

It is true that Franklin Roosevelt did not meet with Adolf Hitler, but his government maintained relations with the Nazis up until Germany declared war on the United States on December 11, 1941, in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Secretary of State Cordell Hull even apologized to Hitler in 1938 after New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia called him a "brown-shirted fanatic who is now menacing the peace of the world."

Roosevelt met with Joseph Stalin (at least twenty million victims) twice during the war, at Teheran in November 1943 and at Yalta in January 1945. He was accompanied by Winston Churchill. An ardent foe of any kind of appeasement (of either the Nazis or the Communists), Churchill nevertheless believed that "jaw-jaw is better than war-war." Here is a picture of the three of them, getting on famously.

The United States and the Soviet Union were still wartime allies at the time of Teheran and Yalta, of course, but the tradition of meeting with dictators continued into the 1950s and 1960s. Vice President Nixon had his famous kitchen debate with Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union in July 1959. John F. Kennedy met with Khrushchev at the height of the Cold War, in Vienna in 1961, the year before the Cuban missile crisis.

Historians hold Mao Tse Tung responsible for the deaths of
at least 40 million
of his fellow countrymen, making him the biggest mass murderer in history. But that did not prevent the fiercely anti-communist Nixon from traveling to Beijing to pay court to the Red Emperor in February 1972, a meeting that changed the course of Chinese (and world) history.

Nixon met with Leonid Brezhnev three times (in Moscow, in 1972 and 1974, and in Washington, in 1973.) Nixon was not great on presidential PDA (public displays of affection,) but Time Magazine records that Brezhnev bounded up to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in Washington, "and gave him a special bear hug and kiss on the cheek, something Kissinger has only received from starlets heretofore."

Brezhnev was dying by the time that Ronald Reagan became president in 1980, so the two never got a chance to exchange a Jimmy Carter like embrace. Reagan complained that Brezhnev's successors--Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko--"kept dying on me" before he got a chance to meet them. It took Reagan only eight months to organize a meeting with the hale and hearty Mikhail Gorbachev after he succeeded Chernenko in March 1985. The two men met in Geneva in November that year. Contrary to what McCain said, this meeting took place well before Gorbachev began to introduce significant reforms in the Soviet Union.

The Pinocchio Test

McCain is distorting history when he suggests that Barack Obama is bucking American presidential tradition in expressing a willingness to meet with the leaders of countries hostile to the United States. Hitler apart, U.S. presidents have held meetings with some of the greatest mass murderers in history. It is also incorrect to suggest, as both McCain and President Bush have done, that the mere willingness to meet or negotiate with foreign dictators constitutes "appeasement," a term used to describe actions such as the surrender of the Czech Sudetenland to Nazi Germany in a desperate bid to avoid World War II.

(About our rating scale.)

By Michael Dobbs  | May 21, 2008; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  2 Pinocchios, Barack Obama, Candidate Watch, History, Other Foreign Policy  
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Comments

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Posted by: iqiuqn4zne | May 21, 2008 6:30 AM | Report abuse

Now you're back on track.
This talk is most probably a political ploy wanting to create a bullet or label for sound bites.
The "Fact Checker" has spoken!

Posted by: vcsmith | May 21, 2008 7:26 AM | Report abuse

None of those meetings were with terrorists UNCONDITIONALLY.

Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2008 9:31 AM | Report abuse

McCain deserved more than two Pinocchios for his shameless distortion of history and fact. He would be a disasterous president, representing a dangerous step backward into the shadows of fear.

The real question is, why is McCain so afraid of negotiating? Is it the fact that his grasp of the intricacies of Middle East regional diplomacy, politics, history and culture is so shaky that he might blow us all up with his false toughness? This guy is dangerously out of touch with the world's realities.

Posted by: dee | May 21, 2008 10:22 AM | Report abuse

dee:

The same, exact thing was said about Reagan refusing to meet with Soviet leaders.

Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2008 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Why is it whenever facts, backed up with photos are stated/shown, there are still bone heads who can't believe it? Politicians from both sides need to remember in this day and age that it is really easy to do FACT checking before you make a bone head statement.

Posted by: Kissamea$$ | May 21, 2008 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Kissamea$$:

Here are the facts:

1) "Roosevelt didn't talk with Hitler";

2) "Reagan didn't talk with Brezhnev or his two successors until Gorbachev was ready to change his position";

3) "Reagan didn't do what Jimmy Carter did"; specifically

4) "Carter went over and kissed Brezhnev".

Neither you nor Mr. Dobbs have refuted ANY of those facts.

Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2008 11:07 AM | Report abuse

JakeD,
The one fact refuted from your list is:

2) "Reagan didn't talk with Brezhnev or his two successors until Gorbachev was ready to change his position"

The relevant passages are copied below.

"It took Reagan only eight months to organize a meeting with the hale and hearty Mikhail Gorbachev after he succeeded Chernenko in March 1985. The two men met in Geneva in November that year. Contrary to what McCain said, this meeting took place well before Gorbachev began to introduce significant reforms in the Soviet Union."

Posted by: Anonymous | May 21, 2008 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Sorry everyone, I'm so STUPID! You all must think I'm really DUMB...

Before posting my last comment, I forgot to actually READ the article!

Sometimes I think I know everything. But, in reality, I just like to rant on message boards.

I said this statement was a fact:

"Reagan didn't talk with Brezhnev or his two successors until Gorbachev was ready to change his position";

But documented history actually refutes that statement...

"Brezhnev was dying by the time that Ronald Reagan became president in 1980"

"Reagan complained that Brezhnev's successors--Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko--"kept dying on me" before he got a chance to meet them"

"It took Reagan only eight months to organize a meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev"

"Contrary to what McCain said, this meeting took place well before Gorbachev began to introduce significant reforms in the Soviet Union"

Those facts fly in the face of my early comments...

From now on, I promise to read and apply the facts as they exist....and not just as they appear in my big'ol empty head!


Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2008 11:47 AM | Report abuse

I know Bush wishes that the Saudis would 'appease' him after traveling there several times begging for more oil while virtually on his knees.

Posted by: SkyPete | May 21, 2008 11:52 AM | Report abuse

I think these Pinocchios are a bit biased, since e.g they don't address the question at hand, and instead set up a straw example of highly strategic meetings with e.g. WWII allies, or UN confrontations.

Obama reccommends he, as president, engage in direct, unconditional talks with Cuba, Iran, Hamas and similar second tier states with bad attitudes. Can you find any examples where a sitting US president has done that to good effect?

Posted by: dhartmanva | May 21, 2008 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Actually, Gorbachev signalled that he was ready to change Soviet positions BEFORE that first meeting. Initially, his reforms were called uskoreniye (acceleration) but later the terms glasnost (liberalisation, opening up) and perestroika (restructuring) became much more popular.

If you will recall, Reagan walked away from Reykjavík, too, because Gorbachev refused to broaden talk to human rights and Gorbachev's insistence on linking the SDI program to any agreement on eliminating INF missiles in Europe and reducing NATO tactical nuclear weapons and Warsaw Pact conventional forces.

Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2008 11:59 AM | Report abuse

No, they can't, dhartmanva -- it doesn't matter trying to convince these appeasers -- although I wish I had Dr. Rice here to give them a piece of her mind.

Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2008 12:01 PM | Report abuse

I agree with dee: The seriousness of McCain's distortions deserves more than two Pinocchios. It will take the Fact Checker time, though, to fully appreciate the depth of McCain's craven ambition.

It may be that a President McCain would imitate the depressingly unsuccessful Bush and decide to isolate himself from reality. That's the scary prospect being pointed to by McCain's dishonest criticism of Obama.

Posted by: jchaney | May 21, 2008 12:02 PM | Report abuse

We seem to be missing the point. It is one thing to meet and negotiate with countries that do not like us (e.g. N Korea), but quite another for the U.S. President to sit down with Kim Jong Il and Ahmedinejad and Raul Castro and Hugo Chavez WITHOUT PRE-CONDITIONS. The U.S. had asked E.U. nations to negotiate with Iran for 3-4 years about their nuclear program, but no results came about.

Posted by: Al | May 21, 2008 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Diplomacy and summit meetings are major sources of intelligence for any country. Without them, you are flying blind. Why do you think that every embassy is a nest of spies? In Kennedy's meetings with Khurshchev and Reagan's meetings with Gorby, the presidents and their top security people were able to test theories based on the best available intelligence.

Bush-McCain claim they simply don't want to know what anyone they don't approve of might have to say.

Here is why we need to meet with Ahmadenijad:

--Is Iran's oil industry unable to supply its own populace, leading to the push for nuclear power? That is one possibility.

--Is Iran really a menace to Israel? Any intelligence analyst who takes public blustering at face value is a fool. Saddam didn't seek to disprove Bush's claims that he was armed to the teeth with nuclear bombs because he didn't want to show his cards. Iran has never started a war since the Shah was overthrown. I've lost count of how many we've started since then.

--We should seek to co-opt Hamas and the Palestinians in order to restore peace in the occupied territory. Only through face-to-face talks can that happen. We lost Vietnam because we steered Ho Chi Minh into the arms of the Soviets.

--Even Bush, who believes that stupidity and ignorance are the only legitimate path to power, today opened the door to trade with Cuba.

--Calling anyone who would talk to unsavory characters "appeasers" was probably not a good idea for someone whose grandfather was part of the "Businessmen's Plot" to overthrow the government of the United States and install a Hitler-like fascist dictator. People who live in glass houses and all . . .

Posted by: J. Niles Forthworth | May 21, 2008 12:03 PM | Report abuse

McCain rewrites history in order to attack his opponents, and you only give him two pinnochios.
Obama got two for oversimplifying the source of his father's trip to the USA. (He attributed the source of the program, which had been instigated in Kenya, to the motives of the US funders.)
BTW:
Rooseveldt, and his predecessors, didn't meet with most contemporary heads of state. Trans-oceanic air liners were very new in his day. Only WWII made conferences between leaders common.

Posted by: Only two? | May 21, 2008 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Uskoreniye (Russian: ускорение, literally meaning acceleration) was a slogan and a policy announced by Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev on April 20, 1985 [SEVEN MONTHS before he met with Ronald Reagan] at a Soviet Party Plenum, aimed at the acceleration of social and economical development of the Soviet Union. It was the first slogan of his set of reforms that also included perestroika, glasnost (transparency), and demokratizatsiya.

In May 1985 in a speech in Leningrad Gorbachev for the first time in Soviet history admitted the slowing down of the economic development and inadequate living standards.

The program was furthered at the 27th Congress of the Communist Party in Gorbachev's report to the congress, in which he spoke about "perestroika", "uskoreniye", "human factor", "glasnost", and "expansion of the khozraschyot" (self-financing). The acceleration was planned to be based on technical and scientific progress, revamping of heavy industry (in the accordance with the Marxian economics postulate about the primacy in development of heavy industry over light industry), taking the "human factor" into an account, and increasing the labor discipline and responsibility of apparatchiks. In practice it was implemented with the help of massive monetary emission infused into heavy industry, which further destabilized the economy and in particular, brought an enormous disparity between cash money and virtual "paper" money used in cashless clearings (безналичный расчёт) between enterprises and state and among enterprises.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uskoreniye

Once again, I would like to think that someone such as Condi Rice could explain this better for you guys, but I doubt it.

Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2008 12:07 PM | Report abuse

I would have to say that Stalin qualifies as one of the most infamous "terrorists" in modern history. Mao would also have to be included in that Hall of Shame.

Like millions of other Americans, I am completely fed up with the neo-con "Be terrified of the terrorists!" campaign. Terrorists, by any other name, have been around for thousands of years and are likely to be around for many more centuries. Unless you're a deliberately incompetent neo-con, civilized people take them as they come, track them down and kill them.

Oh, by the way, it would really help if our so-called "journalists" would provide fact checking as part of their normal stories rather than leaving it up to one single column in one single newspaper to reveal the truth to Americans.

..

Posted by: Def | May 21, 2008 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Def:

Go ahead and please point out which of the FACTS above were refuted ...

Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2008 12:15 PM | Report abuse

The reason Geo W. Bush wouldn't talk with our adversaries is that he does not possess the communication skills to talk; listen; analyze quickle; or cleverness to negotiate. He would just sit there looking like a Fox-n-Friends co-host.

All he can do is demand things using the threat of military force to back his demands up.

I don't get the whole 'prestige of talk with the US President' thing either. We may be the world's only superpower; but there are other countries willing to develop relationships with countries like Iran: Russia, China, India, etc. It is shear arrogance that makes us believe that we are the only ones that matter.

Posted by: Ain't it the Truth | May 21, 2008 12:17 PM | Report abuse

dhartmanva, sorry, you have earned one Pinocchio!

Obama has NOT said he would meet with Hamas. On the contrary, he has specifically stated, many times, that he disagrees with President Carter's recent meeting with them.

The Hamas add-on is a right-wing smear that never quite works because it isn't true and because Obama's been effective in making that clear.

Posted by: Fairfax Voter | May 21, 2008 12:34 PM | Report abuse

We're talking about a government that gave Iran arms for hostages, are we serious. Yes we need to talk to our enemies. McCain is nuts and will do anything to distort Obama's statements. Obama/Hillary 08

Posted by: Antoine | May 21, 2008 12:50 PM | Report abuse

"None of those meetings were with terrorists UNCONDITIONALLY."

No, Reagan never dealt with terrorists unconditionally I suppose. He just had his people trade arms with them (Iran) for hostages while propping up a dictator by the name of Saddam Hussein. Big distinction.

Posted by: Reagan | May 21, 2008 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Anyone who does not know Stalin and Mao were extraordinary terrorists, just as was Saddam, is an idiot.

Posted by: shrink2 | May 21, 2008 1:00 PM | Report abuse

It won't do to duck the point by noting some things that Gorbachev did before meeting with Reagan. The point is that we didn't refuse to meet until he met any condition we had in mind. We met when we felt like it, when we thought it suited our purpose (encouraging what he had already started). The only issue is whether it makes sense to tell Iran we won't talk unless they surrender their nuclear plans, etc., first. It does not. Baker met with Syria 16 times before they agreed to talk to Israel. Would have been kind of silly to tell Syria we won't talk to them until they agree to talk to Israel. It never would have happened. The point is that, at least in the case of Iran, there are no preconditions that make any sense. The issues that divide us are the ones we want to talk about.

Posted by: JoeT1 | May 21, 2008 1:02 PM | Report abuse

JakeD,

If you're going to take Wikipedia as your source, then:

"During the initial period (1985-1987) of Mikhail Gorbachev's time in power, he talked about modifying central planning, but did not make any truly fundamental changes (uskoreniye, acceleration)."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perestroika

But, knowing you, you'll focus on the "ready to change his position" phrase. The fact of the matter is that Gorbachev was a reformer from the minute he became Party Chairman. As a leader, he didn't actually change his positions before he met with Reagan. It was just that his policies were more in line with what the West wanted to see in the USSR, especially compared with those of his predecessors.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 21, 2008 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Didn't I just say that Gorbachev was a reformer from the minute he became Party Chairman and, therefore, his policies were more in line with what the West wanted to see in the USSR, especially compared with those of his predecessors? That's what Reagan was looking for. And, that's a far cry from "Contrary to what McCain said, this meeting took place well before Gorbachev began to introduce significant reforms in the Soviet Union." Why can't Gorbachev's speech on April 20, 1985 be considered the "beginning of an introduction of significant reforms"?

Perhaps McCain should have been more clear:

"Reagan didn't talk with Brezhnev or his two successors until Gorbachev was ready to change SOVIET position."

Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2008 1:15 PM | Report abuse

I like Churchill's "jaw-jaw, not war-war". I think that says it all right there.

Posted by: chlind | May 21, 2008 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Bush meets with:
Putin
Musharaff
2 of the roguest nations, McCain is OK with that.

Posted by: Jake Sane | May 21, 2008 1:25 PM | Report abuse

I'm unfamiliar with any "preconditions" that Nixon imposed on Mao prior to meeting him--and this at a time when Mao had been arming and supplying North Vietnam (and then the Khmer Rouge as well) for seven years in order to kill as many of our troops as possible and drive us the hell out of Asia!

This is probably the best Fact-Checker yet.

Posted by: Anthony | May 21, 2008 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Musharraf gets his opponents executed and he is Bush's best buddy.
Putin does the same and Bush LOOKS INTO HIS EYES AND SEES INTO HIS SOUL and concludes that he is an HONEST, TRUSTWORTHY man.

Posted by: Obama better than McSame | May 21, 2008 1:28 PM | Report abuse

"None of those meetings were with terrorists UNCONDITIONALLY."

jaked once again betraying no grasp of History.

(BTW, Obama never said that he would sit down with "terrorists" but don't let the FACTS get in the way of YOUR opinion, LOL.)

Posted by: Anonymous | May 21, 2008 1:30 PM | Report abuse

It is always a great risk to hold talks at the highest level even if channels can be set up and SECRET negotiations can be done before hand. This is why all all these historical talks took place in high level of SECRECY. NO OE WITH A BRAIN WILL CAMPAIGN ON IT! It will make America look desperate and will lower the chance of America getting anything from the talks. The way Obama talks about diplomacy is even worse than Bush. The fact is, the idiotic "fact checkers" at WaPo is only capable of cheer leading for Obama rather than doing any real good for the country. Shame.

Posted by: God Father | May 21, 2008 1:40 PM | Report abuse

It is always a great risk to hold talks at the highest level even if channels can be set up and SECRET negotiations can be done before hand. This is why all these historical talks took place in high level of SECRECY. NO ONE WITH A BRAIN WILL CAMPAIGN ON IT! It will make America look desperate and will lower the chance of America getting anything from the talks. The way Obama talks about diplomacy is even worse than Bush. He will be a sell out of the US national interest. The fact is, the idiotic "fact checkers" at WaPo is only capable of cheer leading for Obama rather than doing any real good for the country. Shame.

Posted by: God Father | May 21, 2008 1:42 PM | Report abuse

President Bush wasn't even talking about Obama -- and, as bad as Mao was, he was not a "terrorist" via any definition used by political scientists -- here's the Bush quote again:

"Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."

Yes, I am the one with "no grasp" of history (and, curiously, I was the only one who knew about "Uskoreniye" ; )

Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2008 1:47 PM | Report abuse

I'm unfamiliar with any "preconditions" that Nixon imposed on Mao prior to meeting him--and this at a time when Mao had been arming and supplying North Vietnam (and then the Khmer Rouge as well) for seven years in order to kill as many of our troops as possible and drive us the hell out of Asia!

This is probably the best Fact-Checker yet.

Posted by: Anthony | May 21, 2008 1:27 PM

===
The precondition is America abandon the recognition of Taiwan, kick ROC out of UN in exchange of Chinese partnership in the cold war against soviet union. America do not view China as an adversary in the cold war.

Read your history before commenting.

Posted by: God Father | May 21, 2008 1:49 PM | Report abuse

This is yet another classic example of how you "can lie by quoting facts". Selectively removing other facts that dont support the original argument can reframe the issue. I'd rank it on the Pinocchio scale right along with Fox News' ever popular "Some people say..." factoids.

BTW, this is the same tactic used by the Bush administration to justify the war against Iraq.

Posted by: Greg Ebert | May 21, 2008 1:53 PM | Report abuse

God Father:

To be fair, "The Fact Checker" does trash Obama and Hillary too:

http://blog.washingtonpost.com/fact-checker/2008/02/dem_flipflops.html

Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2008 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Greg Ebert:

Whom are you accusing of lying?

Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2008 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Gentleman of the right - you are seizing on one statment made during a debate as a blanket denunciation of what a future President Obama would do in regards to discussions with other nations, presumbly those that do not support our aims.

It seems relatively premature to presume that a potential President Obama would take any kind of actions that would jeopardize the safety of our citizens, or our standing in the world community.

On the other hand, he IS making a valid point about the effacacy of diplomacy and the ability of a well crafted diplomatic strategy to meet our foreign policy goals.

All of JakeD's glowing admiration of Secy of State Rice aside, my understanding is that until very recently, the State Department, will having accurate information regarding Iraq and Iran has been an afterthought for this administration.

Rather then harping on a statement made in a debate that, quite honestly, was probably hyperbolic in nature, maybe you should consider the course that the two candidates are charting and determine which might be better for the future of American forigen policy.

Posted by: John D in Houston | May 21, 2008 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I am the one with "no grasp" of history (and, curiously, I was the only one who knew about "Uskoreniye" ; )
JakeD

I would argue that JakeD knew of wikpedia, not history.

In addition, JakeD, why didn't President Regan strike at the Iranian terrorist that bombed the marine barracks in Beirut? Why was he so passive? He seemed pretty soft on terrorism.

Posted by: Will | May 21, 2008 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Good points, John D. I will also readily admit that Dr. Rice is more qualified as an expert on Soviet history than I am. Will you at least agree that each of the FOUR FACTS McCain used (above) remain unrefuted?

P.S. to Greg Ebert -- the reason I ask is because the "tone" of your post seems to imply that you also believe Mr. McCain was lying -- one could also read your post as an allegation that Mr. Dobbs is lying.

Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2008 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Will:

Perhaps, because Don Regan was not President -- seriously, though, President REAGAN was more concerned with the Cold War -- using perfect 20/20 hindsight, however, we would probably all agree that certain terrorists should have been aborted by their mothers instead. So?

Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2008 2:14 PM | Report abuse

JakeD - thank you - first - there are really just 3 facts - two and three go togehter - and I would agree that they are not refuted, - but I would ask, what do those things have to do with the current presidential race?

Posted by: John D in Houston | May 21, 2008 2:16 PM | Report abuse

The manner in which a potential President intends to conduct his (I'm still holding out hope for "her") foreign policy, during wartime, seems more than just slightly relevant. Besides, it was Obama (and Dobbs) bringing the issue up, not me.

Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2008 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Once again, I would like to think that someone such as Condi Rice could explain this better for you guys, but I doubt it.

Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2008 12:07 PM

Lets see, thats Nuc. Weapons in Iraq Condi?

Posted by: luke | May 21, 2008 2:22 PM | Report abuse

However, your earlier point re: what a future President Obama would do was especially astute -- even HE does not know for sure -- I mean, doesn't anyone remember that Bush ran for President as someone AGAINST "nation-building"?!

Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2008 2:22 PM | Report abuse

That's right, luke (although I don't seem to recall her saying there were "nuclear weapons in Iraq" -- didn't she say "we cannot afford to wait for the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud"?). Check out what her Ph.D. is in.

Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2008 2:25 PM | Report abuse

I think the last point in the article is quite important. Bush and McCain are blurring the line between appeasement and diplomacy. In fact, I would say that Bush has basically been appeasing Iran for five years since the war started, because he has not put any real tangible pressure or made any serious moves to halt the nuclear program. Simply refusing to meet with and spewing empty insults at Ajmadinnejad is not engagement.

Look at Israel. Here is one state that does not appease its enemies. Yet even under a hawk like Sharon there were negotiations with the PLO, and now we have negotiations with Syria as well. Accusing Obama of appeasement, Bush is just trying to put a fig leaf over his disastrous foreign (and domestic) policy, and that McCain decides to echo him is sad, and going to come back to bite him.

Posted by: Paul in Philly | May 21, 2008 2:26 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry, but Reagan didn't talk ot Hitler. No, but he talked to Stalin. Is Hitler a terroist when Stalin isn't? That's a leap of knowledge. To say that the three statements go unrefuted doesn't get to the point. IMO

And I love the idea of throwing around terms like second-teir states, terrorists, and rogue nations without any clear indication of what that means.

Posted by: Huh | May 21, 2008 2:34 PM | Report abuse

"It is true that Franklin Roosevelt did not meet with Adolf Hitler, but his government maintained relations with the Nazis up until Germany declared war on the United States on December 11, 1941, in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor."

Kudos for telling the truth. Most Americans are convinced THEY declared war on Germany, not vice versa.

Thus in 2003, when trying to goad Britain, France, Canada etc into invading Iraq, Americans claimed to have come to our aid in 1941. Not so.

America continued to shy away from war with Nazi Germany even after Pearl Harbour, until Hitler got bored of waiting and declared war on them. It was that step that finally convinced Hitler's generals he was insane.

Too many Americans prefer to believe a weird national mythology, in place of actual history.

Posted by: kevrobb | May 21, 2008 2:34 PM | Report abuse

JakeD,

"Why can't Gorbachev's speech on April 20, 1985 be considered the 'beginning of an introduction of significant reforms'?"

That depends. Do words matter or are actions more important? If words to matter, then you are correct. If actions are more important, then the introduction of significant reforms did not occur until after Reagan met with Gorbachev -- probably after the 27th Congress of the CPSU, which was in Feb. 1986.

"Perhaps McCain should have been more clear:

'Reagan didn't talk with Brezhnev or his two successors until Gorbachev was ready to change SOVIET position.'"

That statement would be true. But it is not what he said.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 21, 2008 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Everyone knows that's what McCain meant!

Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2008 2:41 PM | Report abuse

kevrobb:

The U.S. did, in fact, declare war on Germany. You are upset because you think most Americans mistakenly believe we declared war BEFORE Germany did? That's more nitpicky than whether McCain meant "his" or "Soviet", dude. Are you an American citizen?

Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2008 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Here's what appeasement looks like in the 21st century:

http://www.gregpalast.com/george-of-arabia-better-kiss-your-abe-goodbye/

Posted by: John | May 21, 2008 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Churchill and Roosevelt buddying up to Stalin doesn't exactly make the case for engaging with homicidal dictators.

In the near-term, the collaboration defeated the Axis powers.

But in the long-run, it also led to the Cold War and half of Europe being locked behind the Iron Curtain for four and half decades.

Posted by: jblog | May 21, 2008 3:04 PM | Report abuse

The continuing core principle of US foreign policy is easy to identify: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Players, labels and designations may change throughout time, but the policy remains the same.

Posted by: SWDC | May 21, 2008 3:07 PM | Report abuse

It will be great to have all the footage of past presidents meeting with various bad guys in the last half-century or so, to refute this GW McBush line about not talking to your enemies.

I agree with not negotiating with terrorists, but Israel does it and so did Reagan (remember Iran-Contra, anyone?).

BTW, FactChecker, Ronald Reagan did not become president in 1980. He took office in January 1981.

Posted by: mikeinmidland | May 21, 2008 3:15 PM | Report abuse

How about a whole tub full of Pinochhios for Bush on the whole appeasment isue? Wasn't it was his grandfather, Prescott Bush, who was employed by the Krupp industries of Nazi Germany to lobby the U.S. not to cut off material to the Nazis and to remain a neutral party? Or is being a hired "appeaser" simply good business rather than treasonous?

Posted by: Stonecreek | May 21, 2008 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Michael,
When exactly did McCain say that merely meeting with dictators equated to appeasement? McCain's issue with Obama was that Obama would meet with these leaders without preconditions, a fact that you failed to even address. Did Nixon meet with Mao without preconditions? Did FDR meet with Stalin without preconditions? Those would be the real comparisons. Sadly, because you left out the precondition issue altogether, I find your "fact-checking" on McCain selective and misleading.

Posted by: Charles Bird | May 21, 2008 3:26 PM | Report abuse

JakeD,
Just like everyone know that McCain meant that "Barack Obama is bucking American presidential tradition in expressing a willingness to meet with the leaders of countries hostile to the United States". Which is patently false.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 21, 2008 3:27 PM | Report abuse

The point is that Gorbachev didn't do anything to meet any announced or unannounced precondition set by us. He did what he did, and we met, for our own reasons, with our own purposes. Obama has never said that there could never be a situation in which no precondition would be appropriate, merely that there don't appear to be any that make sense in the case of Iran or Cuba at the moment. We have no leverage to tell Iran we won't talk until they cease uranium enrichment efforts. they couldn't care less. If we meet, perhaps we can find something that would give us leverage. There's no point telling Cuba we won't talk unless they give their citizens internet access, or give up Communism. we have no leverage there at all. the embargo hasn't accomplished anything in decades. talking to Raul could be enlightening for both sides. What preconditions does McCain think he would impose that would ever be agreed to? What does it accomplish if they don't agree to them and don't talk?

Posted by: JoeT1 | May 21, 2008 3:28 PM | Report abuse

By the way, did the US Govt set preconditions before giving Osama bin Laden all that money and all those weapons in Afghanistan?

Posted by: kevrobb | May 21, 2008 3:40 PM | Report abuse

FACT: Ronald Reagan promised arms to Iranian terrorists in attempt to appease them into releasing American hostages and thereby swing an election his way in 1979. Reagan's appeasement of the Iranian Ayatollahs failed, however, and the regime remains to this day implacably hostile to the United States.

FACT: Ronald Reagan attempted to appease Hezbollah by giving into their demand to remove U.S. troops from Lebanon in 1983. Reagan's attempt to appeaseme the terrorists failed, however, and Hezbollah remains to this day implacably hostile to the United States.

FACT: George W. Bush attempted to appease Osama bin Laden by giving in to his demand that the U.S. remove our troops from Saudi Arabia. Bush's attempt to appease Osama bin Laden, however, and al Qaeda remains to this day implacably hostile to the United States.

Posted by: Dr. Victor Davis Handjob | May 21, 2008 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Anonymous poster @ 3:27: You are correct. That is essentialy what Senator McCain was suggesting about Senator Obama. And, as the facts above show, he was wrong to suggest it.

Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2008 4:02 PM | Report abuse

are you serious?

Posted by: 2pinnchios | May 21, 2008 4:12 PM | Report abuse

John McCain. Don't buy a used car from this guy. He'll con you.

Posted by: JakeD's shadow | May 21, 2008 4:24 PM | Report abuse

To JakeD: You have too much time on your hands generally. But one can admire your tenacity if it led more often to some meaningful contribution instead of just some hard-right talking points. So far as "uskoreniye" is concerned, it was not a part of the Gorbachev reformist program, a program which began almost two years later later and is associated, not with "uskoreniye" ["acceleration"] but with "glasnost" ["openness/publicity/transparency'] and "perestroika" ["restructuring.'] "Uskoreniye" meant an acceleration or intensification of what Andropov, formerly head of the KGB, and Gorbachev's predecessor and mentor, already was doing--attacking the symptoms of the moral and economic rot in the Soviet system without addressing or even understanding the causes. Andropov approached the problem in time honored policeman fashion: knocking heads, criminalization of malbehavior, e.g., rounding up and arresting workers and employees in the food and consumer-goods quieus, the bathhouses, the beer-halls, and so forth. Even "glasnost" and "perestroika" originally were far more limited in Gorbachev's intent than the dynamics of later circumstances made them. You're right, then, JakeD, Condi Rice probably would know how wrong you are, and would correct yourunderstanding of when it was Gorbachev actually moved towards reforming the underlying problems, and not just the froth, which were destroying the Soviet economic and political system. The fact is Ronald Reagan, like Kennedy and Nixon before him, wasn't afraid to talk to anyone--he moved as quickly as he could to take on Gorbachev. He didn't wait around until he could peer into Gorbachev's eyes to see if a soul lurked somewhere within. And he wasn't stupid enough to know that talk can be constructive. (All the talk you engage in ought to have clued you in on that possibility.)

Posted by: orray | May 21, 2008 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Jake-

One, Reagan did not refuse to meet Soviet leaders, read the article.

Two, Obama has never said he would meet with terrorist (he says he will refuse to meet with Hamas, McSame said we should)China and Soviets supported terrorism in the 70's, Reagan and Nixon met with both.

Posted by: dcwsano | May 21, 2008 4:31 PM | Report abuse

This is the dumbest thread ever

Posted by: Steve D | May 21, 2008 4:31 PM | Report abuse

orray: You obviously have a deeper and more accurate understanding of the word's meaning and derivation than I do. To be honest, I pulled it from Wikipedia to try and support my argument. Not only did I fail to do so convincingly, but the argument I was making was already fatally flawed. Despite what I have said on other blogs, I am just another Republican with an agenda. As is obvious, I'm not that bright, and evidence and logic and history don't interest me so much in getting where I want to go: denigrating opposition, especially those with substantive ideas that my ideas cannot compete with.

Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2008 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Haha!!!! You cant argue with COLD HARD FACTS!!!! So who still thinks this is a good idea??

Posted by: The Oracle | May 21, 2008 4:35 PM | Report abuse

God Father, with whatever respect you may be due, it's apparent that English is not your first language and I assume that the United States is not your first country. Read my post again. I said I was unaware of any preconditions "imposed by Nixon on Mao." I was quite right. Your example(s) are only of preconditions (if such they were) imposed by Chairman Mao on President Nixon!

If you don't think that the USA regarded "Red China" as an enemy during the Cold War, you must not have been here in the 1950s and 1960s (quite likely), or else not paying much attention. I'll give you back your own suggestion: read some history before you comment.

As I noted above, Mao Zedong, along with the Soviet Union, between them kept North Vietnam supplied with all the trucks, tanks, arms, rice, fuel, war supplies, and diplomatic assistance that it needed to keep fighting the USA to a standstill in South Vietnam from 1965-1972, something that the USA and our leaders knew perfectly well. Compared to what China did for North Vietnam and the Viet Cong and the Khmer Rouge, who were in the process of killing over 50,000 of our soldiers and totally destroying our strategic goals in Southeast Asia, Iran does nothing for the Shiites in Iraq! Nixon still went to China, anyway. See the photo up top, of him exchanging a handshake and a big grin with old Devil Man Mao himself? A lot of diplomacy involves advancing your own country's goals by talking to people you don't like at all, or really even despise!

Just look at how many foreign leaders have talked to George W. Bush.

You stand corrected.

Posted by: Anthony | May 21, 2008 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Diplomacy takes intelligence, the gift of speech, and the ability to think critically. It's clear President Bush and Senator McCain lack all three.

Posted by: Martin | May 21, 2008 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Whoops -- I was busy on "The Trail" threads, but I see this is where the fake JakeD ended up -- I did not post above that I am a Republican or wrong about McCain. If anyone else still has a question about that, let me know.

Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2008 5:06 PM | Report abuse

It's easy to be tough when you're bombing people from several thousand feet in the air, but not face to face as McCain found out when his plane crashed (for the 5th? time) and he wound up signing like a canary.

Posted by: jr | May 21, 2008 5:17 PM | Report abuse

Fairfax Voter: What Obama said was that he was in no position to tell Jimmy Carter what he should or shouldn't do.

Posted by: Obama 08 | May 21, 2008 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Mao was a indeed a terrorist. Pol Pot fashioned his Khmer Rouge on Mao's Cultural Revolution, the period in which millions of ethnic minorities, religious believers and educated members of the middle class...were murdered. Richard Nixon must be an appeaser. The pre-condition for his visit was only table tennis.

Posted by: shrink2 | May 21, 2008 5:28 PM | Report abuse

#!
Anthony,
I apologize if my comments offended you.
Just reply to your comments:

1) Nixon went to China in 1972, not in 1950 or 1960s. China officially cease to be cold war enemy since then because the US consider USSR the major opponent, and it is in the US interest to break ice with China and end the adventure in SE Asia. Note that the China-Soviet relation broke-up before 1962 when the soviet leadership intend to use surgical nuclear attacks on China to remove Mao's small number of nuclear weapons capability. The US government passed this information to Mao and told the Soviets to back off. This was the actual starting point of the thawing between the China-US relationship. You may also note while both Soviet Union and Mao supplied Vietnam, the two countries had little coordination in the aid to Vietnam.

2) You apparently don't have much idea of how the world runs. Transparency has no place in international relation or wars, unless you like defeats. Obama is absurd to run around telling everyone that he is going to hold talks with Iranian president.

3) As to the precondition issue, read my post carefully. Both sides have preconditions for the talk, which was set by Dr. Kissinger in a visit prior to Nixon's visit. This was documented in detail in Henry Kissinger's memoir. Please go read it. The bottom line: no one is stupid in all the examples cited in the fact check article.

4) I have no problem with talking to the enemy, which we are doing now. However, the negotiations should be done by pros. The highest level meetings are only symbolic. Obama apparently don't understand or don't want to understand this. He wants people to believe he can talk Iran out of the nuclear weapons program himself. Unless he plans to recognize the right of Iran to have nuclear weapons, and put the whole US economy on the table, I don't see the point of such a talk.


=======
God Father, with whatever respect you may be due, it's apparent that English is not your first language and I assume that the United States is not your first country. Read my post again. I said I was unaware of any preconditions "imposed by Nixon on Mao." I was quite right. Your example(s) are only of preconditions (if such they were) imposed by Chairman Mao on President Nixon!

If you don't think that the USA regarded "Red China" as an enemy during the Cold War, you must not have been here in the 1950s and 1960s (quite likely), or else not paying much attention. I'll give you back your own suggestion: read some history before you comment.

As I noted above, Mao Zedong, along with the Soviet Union, between them kept North Vietnam supplied with all the trucks, tanks, arms, rice, fuel, war supplies, and diplomatic assistance that it needed to keep fighting the USA to a standstill in South Vietnam from 1965-1972, something that the USA and our leaders knew perfectly well. Compared to what China did for North Vietnam and the Viet Cong and the Khmer Rouge, who were in the process of killing over 50,000 of our soldiers and totally destroying our strategic goals in Southeast Asia, Iran does nothing for the Shiites in Iraq! Nixon still went to China, anyway. See the photo up top, of him exchanging a handshake and a big grin with old Devil Man Mao himself? A lot of diplomacy involves advancing your own country's goals by talking to people you don't like at all, or really even despise!

Just look at how many foreign leaders have talked to George W. Bush.

You stand corrected.

Posted by: God Father | May 21, 2008 6:11 PM | Report abuse

Did JakeD just make a retraction?

OMG! Have I died and gone to FORUM HEAVEN?

Good on you Jake...

There is hope yet...

bravo...

Posted by: Vance McDaniel | May 21, 2008 6:12 PM | Report abuse

Vance McDaniel:

No, as I pointed out at 5:06 PM, that was the fake JakeD.

Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2008 6:25 PM | Report abuse

It's 3 Pinocchios, at least

Posted by: kp | May 21, 2008 6:58 PM | Report abuse

Relating to FDR's foreign policy, it is clear that Russia and the US were allies at the time Stalin and FDR met. Here Iran is arming militia's against us.

Yes Kennedy met with Kruschev in Berlin, in an attempt to avoid partition of Germany. THe result was that after the summit the Russians started building the Berlin Wall. Boy that was progress

As for Reagan his entire first term came and went before he met with a Russian leader. All the while he starved the Communsit regime and stuck Pershing missiles in Germany.

Basically the only leader that you can argue met without preconditions (although I bet Kissinger would disagree with you) was Nixon.

Funny you don't hear much from Obambi about how he is emulating Nixon's foreign policy.

Posted by: JAZ | May 21, 2008 7:43 PM | Report abuse

JakeD:

Please tell me what conditions FDR and Nixon established before talking with Stalin and Mao, respectively.

And, yes, Stalin and Mao WERE terrorists. Read up on terrorism and you'll see that it's not just practiced by non-state actors such as Hezbollah and others. There's also "state terrorism", which Stalin and Mao most assuredly did practice. In fact, the people who gave terrorism its name were state terrorists: Robespierre and his gang after the French Revolution.

Get your facts straight, buddy! :) In the meantime, I suppose we'll all have to show a forbearing, tolerant attitude toward our Republican friends even as we gently correct their errant ways.

Posted by: David Expat | May 21, 2008 8:13 PM | Report abuse

I decided to take a break from dueling with the intellectuals on WTOP.com ( too many unarmed people ) and take a walk on the wild side. So, here I am to compete with the elite of the left wing liberals.
I really think your fact machine is cute. But, maybe I should call it factard machine.
B.O. talking with Iran will have the same result as a Librarian would have talking to the Hell's Angels. They want to kill
Infidels ( guess what folks that's us )

Posted by: Playing with the big boys | May 21, 2008 9:36 PM | Report abuse

Senator Clinton is, and always will be, a SURVIVOR, You just cant put a CLINTON down that easy, Even you should know that Barack; so Lay off Hillary, and Stop acting like, Your wife.

Senator Obama is forgetting this race isn't over. Hold onto that Maybelline colored compact tight; you just might need it to hide the running mascara come November.

In the mean time Simma-down simma-down Big-shot and PaH-leezZZ Shut-up, you didn't receive an Oscar yet "It isn't over till the fat-lady sings," nobody's heard that Opera yet. At this point in the 2008 Election "ANYTHING," is possible; so loosen your belt it seems a bit tight lately and your not in the "Black House yet, nor is Aunt Jamima cooking' up any waffles for you this morning.

Don't count all your eggs in one basket this soon; The ELECTION is just getting started; you might just find yourself, warring Senator Clintons worn down campaign heels near the end, young man!

Posted by: pineapple | May 21, 2008 9:48 PM | Report abuse

Obama says that he is willing to talk with any country, friend or foe, so that problems can be solved, not elevated as has been done by the Bush Administration.

Since when do you demand that someone give you what you want BEFORE they can even discuss with you what their issues are? How arrogant this country is to think that it should be our policy to not speak to someone because they don't agree with us? We have been wrong for more than 8 years on LOTS, if not MOST, issues, so why should a whole separate country do what we say before any talks takes place? That's so frickin' arrogant on sooo many levels!

This is why this administration hasn't gotten anything done (except tax cuts for the wealthy!), because they are too busy ignoring people because they think they are right! The Repiglicans are the worst kind of Americans on the planet! We are SUPPOSED to be, and set an example of, the best country on this earth, but we FAIL miserably at being diplomatic and acting like logical and sane, thinking human beings. Not only that, these same Repiglicans are the ones who put out the WORST kind of garbage in every single election. These people who behave so badly are the fake Christian.. oops... evangelical RIGHT who think that God likes their ugliness. The spew their trash on pro-life, no gay marriage, blah blah bulls***, but then turn around and smear honorable people.

WHY ON EARTH DO DECENT PEOPLE CONTINUE TO ELECT THESE ANIMALS INTO OFFICE? THINK PEOPLE! Think about alllll of the nasty Repiglicans that have come out as "gay, but married" or "playing footsie in the airport bathroom" or "cheating on their wives and having babies out of wedlock" and, oh yeah, which Repiglican stole all of that money from the Repiglican National Committee's treasury? By the way, why are our phones being tapped and our rights being stripped away? They want to ban abortion too? They already took prayer out of our schools and all hell has broken loose in schools with kids being murdered by gun-toting crazy kids! These right-wing SAINTS are NOT fit to run our government OR our country! Get those nasty dogs out of our Congress, our House of Representatives, and don't let them back into the White House... UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES!

Posted by: All American---> | May 22, 2008 5:51 AM | Report abuse

It doesn't matter. McCain will just say he doesn't remember saying it, even if it was only yesterday.

Posted by: All American---> | May 22, 2008 5:55 AM | Report abuse

There was a brief swipe in the first paragraph at Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela. Exactly how does he qualify as a "petty tyrant [or] thug?"

Posted by: Cameron | May 22, 2008 5:08 PM | Report abuse

There was a brief swipe at the president of Venezuela in the first paragraph. Exactly how does he qualify as a "petty tyrant [or] thug?"

Posted by: Cameron | May 22, 2008 5:11 PM | Report abuse

USA and dictators. The many love affairs:
http://tfclub.tripod.com/list.html

The reason some people have problem with talks with the "enemy" is because they're busy selling the world another war. This is why the Iranian president who doesn't even have much power is painted as some sort of new Saddam. They pretty much calculate that peoples' ignorance will do half the work. You give people the impression that diplomacy is failed so they can point out out, "look, it didn't work, now we have to use military to solve this, with or without support from the international community". I'm sorry but at least some of use have knowledge enough not to buy into their Machiavellian / Straussian deception.
Would like to point out one more thing:
How did Operation Ajax of 1953 work out? Good? Don't buy into imperialistic PNAC propaganda and their parrots.

Posted by: 1984 | May 23, 2008 12:42 AM | Report abuse

According to Indira Gandhi: we cannot shake hands with clenched fists.
Transparency had cause our country its current predicaments. The talk with China has started our trade relations and now we are blaming China for all that is made in China which have caused job displacement here in US. USA is no longer seen and respected as before because it is not seen as powerful because Americans has demeaned the US presidency. We have to clarify that the congress and the senate are the law making bodies yet the president is the one being blamed for everything. America lost its ability to negotiate with OPEC to drill more, so prices will go down.. Why do they care, they want America to be at their Mercy and then we will vote for a president who will probably beg??,unconditional talk?? We have to have a Republican attitude when it comes to talks especially with the middle east because violence is a PRN for them and they are not honest negotiators.Jimmy Carter led us to this mess and is continuing to do so.

Posted by: minority | May 24, 2008 4:47 AM | Report abuse

The "work" done for the pro-Obama media in playing down his gaffes on foreign politics
is done at our peril.

How could we give the car keys to somebody who does not know how to drive, and in the past showed many occurrences of being careless and showing bad judgment?

Very recently ( the week in Oregon when he added some 7 new states), in two days he had 2 contradictory statements vs. Iran.

In one day he said that Iran is a "tiny" country which does not "pose a serious threat to us".
The next day he said about the same Iran
that it is ""the greatest threat to the United States and Israel and the Middle East for a generation".

This is one of the many examples which shows Obama's retoric and his inability to
think before talking. Also it shows his
"happy" attitude to say anything to "impress" a large crowd!

It's time for media to start the Revelations on how badly his foreign affairs skills are!

What media is gaming now is a very dangerous and costly charade!

More on this subject below .....
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POTOMAC WATCH
By KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121149958822915813.html?mod=fpa_mostpop
The Obama Learning Curve
May 23, 2008; Page A13

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden took to the airwaves this week to "help" the rookie Barack Obama out of a foreign-policy jam. Oh sure, admitted Mr. Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee had given the "wrong" answer when he said he'd meet unconditionally with leaders of rogue states. But on the upside, the guy "has learned a hell of a lot."

Somewhere Mr. Obama was muttering an expletive. But give Mr. Biden marks for honesty. As Mr. Obama finishes a week of brutal questioning over his foreign-policy judgments, it's become clear he has learned a lot - and is learning still.
[The Obama Learning Curve]
AP

Right now, for instance, he's learning how tough it can be to pivot to a general-election stance on the crucial issue of foreign policy. He's also learning Democrats won't be able to sail through a national-security debate by simply painting John McCain as the second coming of George Bush.

Remember how Mr. Obama got here. In a July debate, the Illinois senator was asked if he'd meet, "without preconditions," the "leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea." It was an unexpected question, and Mr. Obama rolled with his gut: "I would," he said, riffing that the Bush administration's policy of not negotiating with terror-sponsoring states was "ridiculous."

Hillary Clinton, who still had the aura of inevitability, and who was already thinking ahead to a general election, wouldn't bite. At that point, any initial misgivings the Obama campaign had about the boss's answer disappeared. Mr. Obama hadn't got much traction differentiating himself from Mrs. Clinton over Iraq, but this was a chance to get to her left, to cast her to liberal primary voters as a warmonger. Which he did, often, committing himself ever more to a policy of unfettered engagement.

Today's Obama, all-but-nominee, is pitching to a broad American audience less keen to legitimize Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who provides weapons that kill American soldiers. The senator clumsily invited this debate when he took great umbrage to President Bush's recent criticism of appeasers (which, in a wonderfully revealing moment, Democrats instantly assumed meant them). Mr. Obama has since been scrambling to neutralize his former statement.

A week ago, in Oregon, he adopted the "no-big-deal" approach, telling listeners Iran was just a "tiny" country that, unlike the Soviet Union, did not "pose a serious threat to us." But this suggested he'd missed that whole asymmetrical warfare debate - not to mention 9/11 - so by the next day, he'd switched to the "blame-Republicans" line. Iran was in fact "the greatest threat to the United States and Israel and the Middle East for a generation" - but all because of President Bush's Iraq war.

This, however, revived questions of why he'd meet with said greatest-threat leader, so his advisers jumped in, this time to float the "misunderstood" balloon. Obama senior foreign policy adviser Susan Rice, channeling Bill Clinton, said it all depended on what the definition of a "leader" is. "Well, first of all, he said he'd meet with the appropriate Iranian leaders. He hasn't named who that leader will be." (Turns out, Mr. Obama has said he will meet with . . . Mr. Ahmadinejad.)

Former Sen. Tom Daschle, channeling Ms. Rice, explained it also depended on what the definition of a precondition is: "It's important to emphasize again when we talk about preconditions, we're just saying everything needs to be on the table. I would not say that we would meet unconditionally." This is called being against preconditions before you were for them.

And so it goes, as Mr. Obama shifts and shambles, all the while telling audiences that when voting for president they should look beyond "experience" to "judgment." In this case, whatever his particular judgment on Iran is on any particular day.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. Democrats entered this race confident national security wouldn't be the drag on the party it has in the past. With an unpopular war and a rival who supports that war, they planned to wrap Mr. McCain around the unpopular Mr. Bush and be done with it. Mr. Obama is still manfully marching down this road, today spending as much time warning about a "third Bush term" as he does reassuring voters about a first Obama one.

Then again, 9/11 and five years of Iraq debate have educated voters. Mr. McCain is certainly betting they can separate the war from the urgent threat of an Iranian dictator who could possess nukes, and whose legitimization would encourage other rogues in their belligerence. This is a debate the Arizonan has been preparing for all his life and, note, Iranian diplomacy is simply the topic du jour.

Mr. McCain has every intention of running his opponent through the complete foreign-policy gamut. Explain again in what circumstances you'd use nuclear weapons? What was that about invading Pakistan? How does a policy of engaging the world include Mr. Ahmadinejad, but not our ally Colombia and its trade pact?

It explains too the strong desire among the McCain camp to get Mr. Obama on stage for debates soon. There's a feeling Mr. Obama is still climbing the foreign-policy learning curve. And they see mileage in his issuing a few more gut reactions.
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Posted by: nrd2008 | May 26, 2008 4:04 PM | Report abuse

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