Founded by Drew Pearson 1932
Appeasement is the path not taken
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – President Obama is receiving flak from Republicans and some Democrats, too, over his attendance at the U.N. general assembly meeting in New York this week. They say it was a bust because the Iranians snubbed him and the Russians are stringing him along in their bid to keep Syrian President Assad in power. But particularly cynical and dark view of Obama’s leadership, which is now in its fifth year, is seeing the brush strokes instead of the picture – the big picture.
It is wrong to measure Obama’s effectiveness by whether the new Iranian president deigned to meet with him or not. What is important is that Obama has opened up a line of communication with President Rouhani, and that direct talks between the U.S. and Iran will take place. Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with the Iranian foreign minister in New York Thursday, the first such meeting in decades.
The last U.S. secretary of state to have any exchange with his Iranian counterpart was Colin Powell in 2001, and that was just a handshake. The last U.S. president to meet with an Iranian head of state was Jimmy Carter in the 1970’s when the Shah was still in power.
What happened in New York is important, not a snub, not an embarrassment, but forward progress on a global relationship that has been a longstanding problem not only for the U.S. but for our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel, although the Israeli leadership warns that Obama is naïve if he expects Rouhani to be substantially different than his predecessor, who vowed to wipe Israel off the face of the earth.
Obama is innately cautious, but in his first campaign for president, he put his marker down with a simple yes when asked during a multi-candidate debate whether he would agree to meet the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea “without precondition during the first year of your administration.” Hillary Clinton said no, and Obama exploited that difference between them in a later debate, saying, “I said early in this campaign I would meet not just with our friends, but with our enemies. Not just with those we like, but those that we don’t . . . . Senator Clinton said, ‘Oh no, that’d be naïve, that’d be irresponsible.’ I said, ‘Remember what John F. Kennedy said.’ He said, ‘You should never negotiate out of fear, but you should never fear to negotiate.’ ”
Six years later, Obama is delivering on his promise despite heavy pressure to stick to the same hard line that appears to finally be bringing Iran to the negotiating table. Rouhani campaigned on a promise of more engagement with the West, and he won in what was billed as a major upset. There are legitimate questions about how much maneuvering room he has with the mullahs ultimately in charge, but Obama is right to take advantage of this opening.
The president was faulted for going to New York without having everything pre-scripted. Aides hinted that Obama and Rouhani might meet “at the margins,” meaning in diplomatic-speak that they might bump into each other in the halls, or at a luncheon for heads of state. It turns out the Iranian president as a devout Muslim doesn’t attend luncheons where wine is served, and with so much symbolism at stake, no meeting would be accidental, and it didn’t happen.
Obama is being faulted for what he calls “style points,” but diplomacy is a long, hard slog, and so far he is getting more things right than wrong. Just because he has taken the first steps to engage with the new Iranian president doesn’t mean he is going to cave in to all his demands. It means diplomacy may be taking root in an area of the world where for too long it has been absent.
Apparently, his detractors believe that talking leads to appeasement, when, in fact, talking is the life blood of diplomacy. It is rarely exciting, but it is the tool of the true statesman. And the true patriot know that diplomacy offers many options, many paths, and appeasement is the path not taken.
© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND