Mark, you ask what preconditions should be placed on meetings with the Iranian leadership or any of the greater or lesser thugs that you mention? Let’s just say that I attach less importance to ’preconditions’ than you do. If the U.S. can charge a price, so to speak, for a meeting, then great. But if not, a president of the United States should be confident enough both in his own abilities, and the strength of his cause, not to need them. The idea that a presidential visit would somehow ‘validate’ Kim Jong Il (say) is, I’m glad to say, nonsense. Assuming the right president, America has nothing to fear on that count.
If we are going to have preconditions, however, I’d put in at least these two: (1) the president can meet who he wants in the course of his trip, and (2) he must be offered the opportunity to speak directly to the people of those countries directly, and uncensored, over state-run TV. If those leaders wish to reject those conditions and thus the chance of a meeting, fine, let them, and let them be seen by the world to do so.As to what might come of all this globetrotting — most importantly, even if the missions failed (in the sense that nothing changes), there will have been little or no cost to them. Moreover, internationally the gesture is reasonably likely to have brought obvious advantages. As to what they could achieve – it would be interesting to see, wouldn’t it? As I said, there’s no cost to finding out.
You write that that I wrote that “a president meeting with Iran might lead to that government’s undoing.” Where did I say that? What I said was that a visit could be as uncomfortable for the mullahs as was Pope John Paul’s first trip as pope to Poland to that country’s communist rulers. So it would be, I reckon. However, as I’m sure you know, the communist regime in Poland limped on for another decade.
Then there’s Reagan. You rightly say that he didn’t meet with the Iranian leadership, but his White House was certainly prepared to deal with that regime, not least during the course of something now known as Iran-Contra. And, no, the Gipper didn’t meet Kim Il Sung, but what of it? In the Cold War world, priorities, and threats, were rather different. Reagan had bigger fish to fry. And yes, yes, you are right, he didn’t meet Castro either, but Castro was pretty much under the thumb of Moscow throughout that period. Reagan had no need to deal with the monkey when he could, and did, talk directly to the organ grinder…