Thursday, May 15, 2008


So George Bush said this today at the Knesset in Israel:

Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We
have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in
1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to
Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this
what it is –- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly
discredited by history.

We don't know specifically the identity of "some," of course. Based on what I can tell, the some could apply to hundreds of American politicians, thousands of European politicians and millions of people around the world.

For some reason , Barack Obama thought that George W. Bush meant him, and responded this way:

It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel's independence to launch a false political attack. It is
time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and
failed to secure America or our ally Israel. Instead of tough talk and no
action, we need to do what Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan did and use all elements of
American power -- including tough, principled, and direct diplomacy - to
pressure countries like Iran and Syria. George Bush knows that I have never
supported engagement with terrorists, and the President's extraordinary
politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure
the American people or our stalwart ally Israel.

Just a couple of things:

Obama is wrong, of course. Reagan never negotiated directly with countries like Libya or North Korea. Neither Kennedy, Nixon nor Reagan ever directly negotiated with Cuba. Nor have any of their successors. If Obama believes that we should directly negotiate with all nations, regardless of how heinous the governments of those nations are, he can certainly pursue that should he get elected president. But he'll be the first president in a long time to do so. Maybe the only president.

Second, Obama has one definite credibility issue on the matter of talking with Hamas. One of his advisers, Robert Malley, was in regular contact with Hamas. Once word of that got out, Obama fired him. Apparently Obama was shocked, shocked that this sort of activity was going on in his establishment.

Finally, we know how George W. Bush feels about this issue. Nothing he said today is any different than anything else he's said previously. Lots of people have already discredited anything Bush says on this issue, or any other for that matter. So here's a question - why should Obama, or any of his supporters, care what George W. Bush thinks? If Bush is wrong and they are right, stuff like this should make them serene. Right?


Anonymous said...

So much to address. so little time to sleep. Regarding the appropriateness of Bush's speech, I don't really mind that Bush has chosen to wade into domestic politics while abroad. He's Pres and it's his prerogative. God knows he likes to exercise the option of shaming his office by transgressing the unwritten rules of our polity. As a political matter, too, it doesn't really amount to much. In fact, it might be helpful to Obama. Bush has opened up an opportunity for the Dem nominee to point out, yet again, that Bush has utterly bungled foreign policy, led the country into a disastrous war, never found Osama bin Laden, fubar'd the execution of the war, destroyed our soft power internationally, etc., and that McCain supports him in this 100%.
What is unfortunate is that the argument he is putting forward is a historical fallacy. Obama's support of negotiation does not constitute appeasement. Appeasement is a quid pro quo capitulation to an aggressor in which some demand or condition of said aggressor is met to avoid open conflict. Obama hasn't proposed giving anything to our enemies. I would argue that his support of negotiation constitutes a rejection of appeasement. So Bush and McCain raising the spectre of Chamberlain and 1939 is deliberately misleading. (Hey, I am not calling Bush stupid). Also, don't you think that outright rejection of all negotiation, even at the price of open conflict, might be considered just a tad obtuse?
Regarding who past presidents have deliberated with, I think your cherry picking your points here. No one has ever negotiated with Cuba, which is unfortunate considering its proximity to us, and all of our cultural, historical and personal ties. But Nixon did negotiate with China (and if a Democrat had, Nixon would have led the charge against him). Reagan did dialogue and negotiate with Iran, even if he couldn't remember doing so a year later in front of Congress. And every president in our history has deliberated with some pretty unsavory characters. Let's not forget, too, that Hamas is in power in Palestine because the Bush administration, over the objection of Israel and Fatah, insisted on holding elections at an inopportune time. If I was W, I might want to talk about 1939 too.


Right Hook said...

Funny how Obama took President Bush's comments to be referring to him. Sounds like a raw nerve was touched. Perhaps the recent endorsements of Obama by entities less than friendly to the US has embarrassed him.

Obama would be the appeaser in chief. He and his ilk have done everything in their power to sabotage the war effort through dragging their feet in funding the troops, publicly denouncing our foriegn policy, advocating a retreat in defeat (regardless of how the libs try to sugar coat it), etc.

Appeasement goes beyond a quid quo pro exchange. It can also be embodied in actions that inhibit the capabilities of our side. In past, less "tolerant" times, such actions may have been labled as sedicious or treasonous. As a presidential candidate, Obama's letting Harry Reid's declaration that the war was lost stand without protest is very telling.

President Bush has not prosecuted the war aggressively enough, but at least some of the blame rests with those in congress who effectively tied his hands. Bush did mess up in in supporting the Palestinian elections when he did, but his bigger mistake was not doing a thorough house cleaning of the Clinton holdouts and other liberals in the State Department who kowtow to the UN.

President Bush at least had the testicular fortitude to prosecute the war on terror by going after the thugs in Afghanistan and Iraq, actions that I'm not confident that a Obama Administration would take if a similar situation occurs in the future.

Mark Heuring said...


Only have a minute here. Three points:

If you have no reasonable expectation of gaining anything from a conversation, why have it? Entities like Hamas, the Iranian government et al. aren't interested in compromise, which is the purpose of negotiation. And of course when a president personally negotiates directly with another entity, he grants that other entity legitimacy, no? Since Obama said he would negotiate with the likes of Chavez, Ahmedinejad, et al. If he gets elected president, he can certainly do that. But good luck with it. As for the 1939 reference, well, that's called addressing the concerns of the audience you're speaking to. Most speakers tend to do that, right?

The business about "shaming his office by transgressing the unwritten rules of our polity" is a little over the top. My goodness, Bush has presided in an era where one of his predecessors (Jimmy Carter) blithely runs his own ad hoc diplomatic shop, while another (Bill Clinton) earns millions of dollars making speeches bashing current administration policies before adoring audiences of like minded individuals. The unwritten rule that former presidents should keep their own counsel is apparently no longer operative, and yet you think Bush is shaming his office by giving a speech that could just as easily apply to politicians in any number of different countries? Passing strange.

Finally, of course I'm cherry picking my arguments. I get to do that in my own orchard, right? :)


Daria said...

Don't forget that Nancy Pelosi also runs her own foriegn policy operation in opposition to official US policy.

Rush did a good analysis of this topic yesterday that effectively debunks the liberal spin on it.

- D

Anonymous said...

Right Hook, I honestly don't know what you mean with that very vague reference to what constitutes appeasement. In diplomatic circles, the definition of appeasement is "The policy of granting concessions to potential enemies to maintain peace." You don't get to redefine the meaning of the term to suit your political tastes. Frame all you want, but I don't watch Fox News, so this isn't going to work on me. It is what it is.

Mark, I really don't understand your opposition to keeping a line of dialogue open with those that oppose us. Diplomacy is generally a long hard slog. Dialogue may take years, and frequently doesn't yield many benefits, but that doesn't mean it is pointless. Let's take the Bush 43's tenure into consideration: He kept a dialogue open with Libya against many conservative's wishes, and in the end it yielded positive results. Results that he rightfully points to as one of his key foreign policy achievements. Was that line of dialogue the only thing that yielded results? Of course not. But it sure didn't hurt when it came time to sitdown at a table.
Conversely, with North Korea and Iran, Bush had, until recently, adamantly refused to negotiate with North Korea, and still refuses dialogue with Iran (although there is obviously considerable negotiations taking place between US military attaches in Iraq with the Iranian government). And in that time, North Korea has completed and tested a nuclear weapon, and Iran has advanced
its program to enrich weapons grade nuclear materials. So what has not negotiating yielded?

Now, lets address McCain's pandering and dissembling over the last several days. Two years ago, following Hamas' electoral wins in the Palestinian parliamentary elections that Bush forced, James Rubin asked McCain: "Do you think that American diplomats should be operating the way they have in the past, working with the Palestinian government if Hamas is now in charge?"

McCain answered: "They're the government; sooner or later we are going to have to deal with them, one way or another, and I understand why this administration and previous administrations had such antipathy towards Hamas because of their dedication to violence and the things that they not only espouse but practice, so . . . but it's a new reality in the
Middle East. I think the lesson is people want security and a decent life and decent future, that they want democracy. Fatah was not giving them that."

McCain on Chris Matthews said on April 23, 2003 "We know the Syrians allowed, or sent Syrians in to fight Americans." But McCain said that: "I think it's appropriate that Colin Powell is going there...

MATTHEWS: So you don't agree with Newt Gingrich dumping all over him? You don't agree with Newt Gingrich dumping on the Powell trip?

MCCAIN: You know, Dick -- Richard Armitage is Powell's deputy. And he's a wonderful guy. He served in Vietnam. And he's a really tough guy. And he was quoted someplace today that Newt Gingrich is out of therapy. Colin Powell is going to look Bashar aside in the eye and say, look, you know. You better clean up your act here. It's a
new day in the Middle East. And I think it's entirely appropriate to do that.

Would that be a flip or a flop?

Five days earlier on the Today Show on April 18th (2003), McCain said basically the same thing to Matt Lauer. When asked how he would proceed with Syria - a country that he believed to be a state-sponsor of terrorism - McCain said he would talk first.

LAUER: Let me ask you about Syria.

Mr. McCAIN: Sure.

LAUER: They have denied possessing weapons of mass destruction, they've also denied harboring any senior members of the Iraqi leader. The US administration says they have evidence to the contrary. How would you proceed with that situation?

Mr. McCAIN: I think it's very appropriate that Colin Powell is going to Syria. I think we should put diplomatic and other pressures on them. It's also a time for Mr. Asad Bashar to realize that he should be more like his father was. I think he's too heavily influenced by a lot of the radical Islamic elements and--and militant groups.

LAUER: Do you think Syria meets the criteria set forth by the president in his post-9/11 address to Congress that they pose an imminent threat to the US in that they are either sponsoring or harboring terrorists?

Mr. McCAIN: I think they're -- they're sponsoring and harboring terrorists. I think they have been occupying Lebanon, which should be free and independent for a long time, but I don't think that that means that we will now resort to the military action. We--we can apply a lot of pressure other than military--than the military action. So what I'm saying, we're a long way away from it.

LAUER: Under what circumstances -- under what circumstances would you back military action?

Mr. McCAIN: When we've exhausted all other options. And we have a lot of options to--to exercise. And I'm glad Colin Powell's going there, but the Syrians have got to understand there's a new day in the Middle East.

So McCain favors talking to heads of states we don't like and state sponsors of terrorism. I am shocked. How can this be?

McCain's seems to have a video problem. It's a little hard to hide from previous positions that have been recorded? Do you think he is pandering? Or is he having senior moments when he attacks his opponents for advocating the same
positions he advocated in the recent past?

BTW, I am in complete agreement with you regarding Jimmy Carter. Carter, too, has been guilty of shaming his office by transgressing the unwritten rules of our polity. His unauthorized and ad hoc attempts at diplomacy, which he can only do because of his position as an ex-president, are shameful, wrong and dangerous. I almost think that Bush should revoke his passport, but it would probably damage Bush more than Carter. But honestly, the man is a menace.


Mark Heuring said...


Let's try this again. What I'm talking about is formal diplomatic relations and direct negotiations where heads of state are talking. It's long been the policy of American presidents not to have summits with rogues.

Do presidents make exceptions? Yes, I suppose so - if the White House had been a hotel, Yasser Arafat would have had enough rewards points to buy dozens of tchotkes during the Clinton years. But what did Arafat ever give Clinton?

As for talking with other countries generally . . . my goodness, you and I both know that it happens all the time in various venues - buttonholing a diplomat at the UN or Davos or somesuch, low-level contacts between low-level people. All administrations have done that and continue to do that. When Obama bashes Bush and McCain for not talking to enemies and then backtracks and sends out people like Kerry to explain what he means is stuff like this, the nicest word you can use for it is disingenuous. It's one thing to send messages through low-level diplomatic lackeys; it's quite another to give someone like Ahmedinejad the honor of a face-to-face meeting. Obama is trying to have it both ways. I don't blame him for trying but I know what he's doing. And you're a smart guy, Rich, so I know you do, too.

As for McCain - well, that would be a species of the same thing - trying to have it both ways. But I am going to blow up the first of your three examples, because I can. Rubin left out the second part of what McCain said in that interview.

Rubin: “So should the United States be dealing with that new reality through normal diplomatic contacts to get the job done for the United States?”

Sen. McCain: “I think the United States should take a step back, see what they do when they form their government, see what their policies are, and see the ways that we can engage with them, and if there aren’t any, there may be a hiatus. But I think part of the relationship is going to be dictated by how Hamas acts, not how the United States acts.”

That is what Bush did, of course. And we know what Hamas has done. I would say that the answer to the second question pretty much undercuts your argument. I believe the term of art for what Rubin did here is "Dowdification." And Rubin has been called out for it various places since this came out, including at CNN, which is hardly a place full of McCain supporters.

As for Syria, I'm not going to argue with you. I thought that was a mistake at the time and nothing has happened since then to change my view.

Tell you what - you call bullshit on McCain and I'll call bullshit on Obama and when the campaign is over we'll laugh over it with the non-alcoholic beverage of your choice.


Anonymous said...

Very well. We can agree to disagree. But can we also agree on the definition of what appeasement is? Or does the right want to stick its head in the sand and end up looking like this clown:

You have to admit, this is funny.

Mark Heuring said...

You'll have to tell me what the link says - it's bombed out on me twice. Looks like it's Chris Matthews interviewing a couple of talking heads, one of which apparently is stupid. How novel.


Right Hook said...


All I meant, though I didn't put it very well, is that appeasement can be active or passive. Obama is a have it both ways kind of guy that will practice both forms. The formal definition of "appeasment" doesn't begin to cover the disaster waiting to happen of an Obama presidency.

Obama scares the hell out of me. He claims McCain's presidency would be the third George W. Bush term, but Obama would be the second Jimmy Carter term. The current situation of the world would make it even more dangerous for this country than Carter's numerous screw ups, several of which we have paid, and will continue paying, dearly for.