The Right is still trying to paint Barack Obama as an “appeaser.” In a hopelessly muddled column that, I believe, originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post, Caroline Glick argues that talking to Iran would be appeasement. Glick writes,
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.
This, of course, is a flat-out lie. Obama’s position is that talking is not the same thing as appeasing, which happens to be true. Look it up.
Obama and his supporters argue that seeking to ease Iranian belligerence by conducting negotiations and offering military, technological, military and financial concessions to the likes of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who refers to Israel as pestilence, daily threatens the Jewish state with destruction, and calls for the eradication of the US while claiming to be divinely instructed by a seven-year-old imam who went missing 1100 years ago is not appeasement.
I don’t have time to do an exhaustive search, but when did Obama say he intended to offer “military, technological, military and financial concessions” to anybody? The controversy over Obama’s position, I thought, was that he intends to have talks without “preconditions,” meaning (to me) that any deals that might be struck would be a result of talks, not that talks would be the result of a deal.
Obama recalls that US presidents have often conducted negotiations with their country’s enemies and done so to the US’s advantage. And this is true enough. President John F. Kennedy essentially appeased the Soviet Union during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis when he offered to remove US nuclear warheads from Turkey in exchange for the removal of Soviet nuclear missiles from Cuba.
I believe that is, in fact, what happened.
But there are many differences between what Kennedy did and what Obama is proposing. Kennedy’s offer to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was made secretly. And the terms of the deal stipulated that if its existence was revealed, the US offer would be cancelled.
Exactly why does secrecy make the deal less of an “appeasement”? Later in the article Glick says Obama “wants to undermine US credibility while giving Ahmadinejad and his murderous ilk the legitimacy that Kennedy refused to give Khrushchev.” Legitimacy? What did legitimacy have to do with anything then? I recall Kennedy had face-to-face meetings with Khrushchev at some other point in his presidency, as did Eisenhower. Our heads of state in those days were not burdened by the Bushies’ childish attitude that we should punish people we don’t like by not talking to them.
As I remember it — again, I’m sorry I don’t have time for history research this morning — the negotiations over the Cuban missiles were kept secret to allow both governments to stand down from the crisis without losing face to their respective citizens. Kennedy had been concerned that if he attacked Cuba, the Soviets would retaliate by attacking West Berlin. Basically what happened is that while publicly saber-rattling, privately the Kennedy Administration was willing to concede a great deal to the Soviets to prevent war. And vice versa.
More importantly, Khrushchev was open to a deal and was ready to give up the Cuban nuclear program. And – most importantly of all – Kennedy deployed military forces and went to the brink of war to make the alternatives to negotiation credible.
Kennedy didn’t want war, but Khrushchev didn’t want war, either. This made for a decent basis for striking a deal. I agree that Teddy R.’s advice to carry a big stick probably is still operative, but I haven’t heard that Obama plans to dismantle the U.S. military. Oh, wait …
Obama has repeatedly stated that unlike Kennedy, if he is elected president, he will not openly threaten war while being open to private talks. Instead, Obama intends to surrender the war option while conducting direct, public negotiations with the mullahs.
The plain fact is that the stick’s not as big as it used to be. Back in the day the Soviets rightly feared us, as we feared them. But after getting bogged down in Iraq all these years, who’s afraid of us now?
And saying that one will not openly threaten war is not the same thing as surrendering the “war option.” But to threaten a war option we must have a credible war option, and thanks to Iraq I don’t think we do.
Far from exerting force to strengthen his diplomatic position, Obama has pledged to withdraw US forces from Iraq where they are fighting Iranian proxies, cut military spending and shrink the size of the US nuclear arsenal.
We need to talk about military priorities. Every day we spend in Iraq whittles the stick down a little more. Talk to people in the military, and they will tell you they are seriously concerned about our military readiness. Once we’re out of Iraq it’s going to take years to build the military back up to what it was before we invaded. Military spending needs to be redirected toward restoring our military instead of pouring whatever billion dollars we pour every month into the sands of Iraq.
Put another way, Iraq is the biggest reason we’re neither feared nor respected any more. “Shock and awe” devolved into disgust and ridicule.
SINCE THE definition of appeasement is to reward others for their bad behavior, and since the US has refused for 29 years to reward the Iranians for their bad behavior by having presidential summits with Iranian leaders, Obama’s pledge represents a massive act of appeasement.
Let’s see, what is the definition of appeasement? The American Heritage dictionary defines it as “The policy of granting concessions to potential enemies to maintain peace.” But merely talking to someone is not appeasement. Again we see right-wingers thinking like eight-year-olds who punish other children they don’t like by refusing to sit next to them.
The notion that we are “rewarding” somebody by engaging in negotiations assumes that the heads of hostile governments actually feel bad that we won’t talk to them, or that our mere presence at a negotiating table is a special privilege only to be handed out to the deserving. This is the way children think.
And as Glick says, we’ve not held summits with the leaders of Iran for 29 years. We can see how well that’s turned out.
Glick goes on and on, and I’m out of time to write further, but skipping down to the last paragraph she says “in a world in which evil men are combining and preparing for war and genocide, good men are preparing for pleasant chitchat with their foes because they have come to prefer attitude to substance.”
Preferring attitude over substance is a brilliant description of the Bush Administration’s approach to foreign policy. The Bushies have no substance; they just whip out their ever-shrinking sticks (double meaning intended) and threaten to hit everyone they don’t like. The challenge to an Obama administration will be to put aside the attitude and embrace substance. I don’t know if that will work, but it’s worth a try. Nobody’s done it in a while.