David Harsanyi – ‘A cup of tea with a thug’

Would Barack Obama have held a sit-down with Ayatollah Khomeini in 1980? Or a face-to-face chat with Saddam Hussein in 1991? Is personal diplomacy with our enemies always productive?
A cup of tea with a thug – The Denver Post

These are interesting questions, especially considering that the US basically helped foster the political career of both of these characters. Khomeini indirectly, through our support of the coup that ousted the democratically-elected Iranian government and installed the dictatorial Shah; and Hussein through our supporting the rise of the Ba’ath party in Iraq, and then once he was in power, through direct aid, including chemical weapons which we encouraged him to use against Iran.

The question isn’t whether one should be willing to negotiate with one’s enemies, but rather how one negotiates. Obama’s critics, in both parties, love to try to make an issue out of his stated willingness to meet with the leaders of nations whom our current policy seems intent on simply pretending don’t exist.

It’s Obama’s critics, however, that end up with egg on their face. Harsanyi writes that “diplomacy without any preconditions is fraught with unintended consequences”. Be that as it may, it certainly seems that the alternative, diplomacy with preconditions, has become more or less ‘no diplomacy’, at least as regards parties like Iran and Syria, and ‘no diplomacy’ doesn’t seem to have helped further our national interest any either.

Let’s face it, our occupation of Iraq is a quagmire. The pretty charts and graphs notwithstanding, the recent Congressional hearings with Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker should make one thing perfectly clear to Americans: neither Petraeus nor the Bush administration has any exit strategy. They refuse to offer any criteria, timelines or otherwise, that might end the occupation. They don’t offer it, because they don’t know it, and they don’t know it, because Dubya is as incompetent as a discredited horseracing official.

The fact is, Obama is absolutely right on this point: we can’t have any solution until we suck in our gut and start talking to the Iranians and the Syrians. No matter how much moral superiority we might like throw around, no matter how great of a superpower we may be, we do not possess the capability nor the willpower as a nation to unilaterally recreate a peaceful Iraqi society. It sure is tempting to think that we do, but we don’t. I’m perfectly fine with that. Creating other nations is not our business, even if the British started the process for us. We have the capability to go toe to toe with any enemy country we need to, and that’s good enough for me. If push comes to shove with a country such as Iran, North Korea, even China, we can go toe to toe with ’em. And when we’re done, we don’t need to stick around for a McCain century to recreate them. Hit and run… that’s how we do.

So, no matter how long we hold our breath and turn blue until Iran and Syria starts doing everything we want, it ain’t gonna happen. They are adjacent to Iraq and in the long run, they know they’re gonna have considerable leverage over Iraq, whether we’ve got soldiers still there or not. So we can either cry about it on CSPAN, or do something about it. Doing something about it means checking our stubbornness at the door and negotiating with our enemies, without requiring them to submit to our every deman beforehand. Bush’s strategy of preconditions is a failure- it’s a failure in Southwest Asia, it’s a failure with Southeast Asia, and everywhere else.

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