Politics & Policy

A Talk-Is-Cheap Foreign Policy

Obama doesn't get it.

Democrats are right to feel upset about President Bush’s appeasement accusation. It is their Achilles’ heel in this election and they know it. The foreign-policy mantra of the Obama campaign amounts to this: Talk is cheap.

Over the next five months we will see the many tentacles of such a strategy emerge and the comeback “that’s political” — as Obama has objected — will be treated with the disdain it deserves. Determining how to deal with the enemies of freedom and democracy is as political as it gets.

Would-be President Obama’s first moves concerning the state sponsors of terrorism bear repeating — from now until November 3:

‐ From Obama’s website: “Obama is the only major candidate who supports tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions…. Talk to our Foes and Friends: Obama is willing to meet with the leaders of all nations, friend and foe.”

‐ From a July CNN debate: “Would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?” Senator Obama: “I would.”

The assumption here is that the leader of the free world sitting down to talk with a leader of the unfree world is like shmoozing with a friend over a cup of coffee about some creep you misjudged on a bad date — where there’s no endgame except commiserating for its own sake.

Talking with the enemy, however, is not such an encounter. The goal is to change the status quo in your favor, either by altering the subsequent behavior of your foe or your allies.

Achieving that aim is never cost-free. The buildup to any high-level diplomatic encounter is carefully prepared and highly orchestrated. The event itself will have consequences that need to be foreseen and manipulated.

The first inevitable consequence will be the appearance of legitimacy, that is, some measure of equality and serious grievances on both sides. In fact, columnist David Brooks reported this past weekend that Obama has already referred to claims of terrorist organizations Hezbollah and Hamas as “legitimate.”

For the steep price of fostering moral confusion, what will America get in return? Will our erstwhile allies and fair-weather friends be mollified by a photo-op? Will the semblance of discourse on our side yield more chips than the boost in ratings the enemy will achieve in his own neighborhood? The answer to both questions is an obvious “no.”

So there will be a second inevitable consequence — the necessity of having to give something up. One might try to assert that the photo-op itself was the “consideration,” and the appearance of legitimacy and accompanying grievances is all you’re prepared to offer. But that position won’t fly, since having lent legitimacy to the other side, turning round and ignoring them entirely will endear you to no one.

And so you ask, What’s the least you can give? Time. Time for diplomacy. Time during which you make no major hostile moves against your foe.

And time for the foe to, say, move a nuclear-armaments program further towards completion and nuclear arms into the hands of individuals who want nothing from you except to blow your brains out. Or as the non-diplomats would describe the time spent: Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

This Obama strategy has many corollaries. High on the list will be placing the United Nations at the cornerstone of any diplomatic agenda. The U.N. will be front and center regardless of its appalling record in realizing its raison d’etre — to protect peace and security, promote human rights, and respect the equality of nations large and small. This past year the U.N. apparatus condemned the United States for human-rights violations more often than 98 percent of all other U.N. members. But in a talk-is-cheap universe, the U.N.’s endemic anti-Americanism will be sloughed off as mere hot-air or just blowing off steam. Harmless, until America looks around the U.N. for allies to stop genocide in Sudan, starvation in Zimbabwe, subjugation in Lebanon, totalitarianism in China, slavery in Saudi Arabia, torture in Burma, or nuclear-weapons programs in North Korea and Iran, and discovers that in the world of U.N. diplomacy the real villains “R” U.S.

A New York Times editorial highlights another corollary — they call it yearning for a more civilized dialogue. Iranians champion a similar thought — they call it a dialogue among civilizations. Naturally, Iranian authorities consider their own country — in which stoning, public hanging, and cross-amputation are legally-sanctioned punishments — as one of those civilizations. A civilized dialogue with anti-civilization President Ahmadinejad brings to mind U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour’s September 2007 visit to Tehran for a “Human Rights and Cultural Diversity” conference. The day after she listened attentively to the president’s speech and dialogued with his officials, the regime executed 21 people, stringing up the bodies on cranes in public places.

In other words, talk isn’t cheap at all. And a President Obama’s stunningly specious foreign policy will be paid for in blood, sweat, and tears.

— Anne Bayefsky is senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. She also serves as the director of the Touro Institute for Human Rights and the Holocaust and as the editor of EYEontheUN.org.

Anne Bayefsky — Professor A.F. Bayefsky, B.A., M.A., LL.B., M.Litt. (Oxon.), is a Professor at York University, Toronto, Canada, and a Barrister and Solicitor, Ontario Bar. She is also an Adjunct Professor at ...


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