April 5, 2020

Never fear to negotiate

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

Never fear to negotiate

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Of the 10 generals who became U.S. presidents, not one took us into a major war. Beginning with our first president, George Washington, on through the Civil War era, and up to and including Dwight Eisenhower. Men who had been in combat avoided war. It’s the armchair generals, those sometimes disparaged as chicken hawks, who advocate military action, even though they never served in combat. You can see it play out in the current debate over how to rein in Iran’s nuclear program.

President Obama, defending the diplomatic course he has chosen with Iran, quotes President Kennedy who famously said, “We should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate.” Critics say that the Iranians can’t be trusted, and that may well be true, but the six-month testing period that Obama and other world powers have agreed upon, if it goes well, should build trust.

As Obama has pointed out, he pledged as a candidate in 2008 that he would engage with America’s enemies. After all, what’s the point of only talking to your friends? After Iran elected its new president, Hassan Rouhani, Obama reached out and found Rouhani receptive. The two men had a well-publicized phone conversation a few months ago, and Rouhani touted the fact of their exchange on social media.

Iran is moving into the 21st century, and Obama sees an opening to engage with a country that has been the source of so much fear and controversy over its nuclear ambitions. Obama has often said that he was elected to end wars – not to start them – and he cites the end of the U.S. military commitment in Iraq, and the end of combat operations in Afghanistan. When Obama threatened to launch cruise missiles into Syria to destroy its chemical stockpiles, he met with fierce resistance in Congress from Democrats and Republicans.

Interestingly, of the presidents who took America into major wars – Lincoln, Wilson, and FDR – none served in combat. Lincoln was a militia captain but never saw action; neither Wilson nor FDR, who was assistant secretary of the Navy, served in the military. And were those wars as inevitable as common wisdom would have us believe? Could Lincoln have stuck with a blockade and avoided an invasion of the seven seceding states that resulted in four more states leaving the Union? In 1914, Wilson attempted to mediate peace in World War I, but failed to heed former President Theodore Roosevelt’s pleas to give teeth to the mediation by mobilizing? By 1917, America was in the war, but unprepared. And could World War II have been prevented through defense spending? By 1939, Germany was outspending the U.S. on its military by a ratio of six to one.

Combat experience, never a prerequisite for the presidency, does serve to temper the war drums of those who occupy the office. If the same goal can be accomplished through sanctions, or threats, or forming alliances – everything short of war – that’s what Obama is trying to do.

And that’s what Kennedy did when he was confronted with the Cuban Missile Crisis. He flexed America’s muscles – television images of troops assembling in Miami, stepped up overflights of Cuba with the U-2 spy plane, Navy ships in the harbor that signaled “quarantine.” He didn’t use the word “blockade” because that would have triggered war. He did everything short of war to demonstrate America’s strength.

Critics who accuse Obama of making concessions to the Iranians overlook the fact that Obama put the sanctions in place that brought the Iranians to the point where a deal might be possible to dismantle their nuclear program – while allowing under the watchful eye of international inspectors the peaceful use of nuclear energy.  Hardliners demand every centrifuge be destroyed, but politics is the art of the possible, and those who favor a military solution should be required to explain exactly who would fight in a war with Iran, and how it would be waged. To repeat the premise, those who know war best understand its horrors and limitations.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

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