I'm sure that Barack Obama's recent comments defending his pledge to meet "without precondition" with rogue leaders like Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were comforting to the MoveOn.org and Huffington Post crowd. It reaffirms the commonly held belief on the left that there are few issues that can't be solved through diplomacy and dialogue -- even with those who profess to seek your annihilation. In such idealism one finds such enduring myths of the "Middle East Peace Process", the on-going negotiations over Darfur and the persistent efforts of the IAEA and the UN to rein in the Iranian nuclear program. But fear not: Like many intellectuals who believe in the power of their ideas, Obama is convinced that he can bring terrorists like Ahmadinejad over from the dark side. Unfortunately, for those of us who understand the nature of this kind of evil, such misplaced confidence is yet another example of the risks inherent in an Obama presidency. It is also a depressing sign of his misreading of history, which is replete with examples of the false expectations of diplomacy with dictators and despots. It reminds me a bit of how Lyndon Johnson was convinced that if he could just sit down with Ho Chi Minh and offer him a huge public works program on the order of a "WPA for Vietnam", he could get the North to stop the generational struggle for independence and unification. LBJ was convinced that there wasn't anyone he couldn't cajole into a deal, believing that every man has his price. Little did he understand what motivated Ho and his fellow nationalists. It wasn't negotiable.
Of course, what Ahmadinejad seeks is also non-negotiable: the destruction of Israel, the pursuit of nuclear weapons, a destabilized Iraq, an exporting of terrorism to do damage against American interests. And, of course, like most Islamic fundamentalists, he wishes to do so from a nation that abuses its women, gays and other apostates with brutal repression. Much like Hitler, Ahmadinejad has a vision of the world that doesn't allow for diversity, and is based on a belief system that the ends -- however evil -- are always justified by the means. And for those idealists out there, that includes the use of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
It is difficult to understand what a President Obama would have to say to an Ahmadinejad that might possibly make a difference in these beliefs, or in the path down which he has chosen to take Iran. Does he think that the Iranian leadership doesn't really want to destroy Israel? Or they aren't really interested in killing American soldiers in Iraq? Or that they are only using the threat of nuclear weapons so that the world will listen to their myriad grievances against the West? Perhaps he believes, like LBJ, that everyone has their price. If we dangle more carrots, perhaps they will play nice. It has to be that simple, right?
Obama seems to think so, and he has been consistent in saying so. He has taken a tremendous beating by John McCain (and Hillary Clinton) for his "naive" willingness to meet openly with Ahmadinejad, Chavez, Assad, Kim and other despots around the world. And yet he persists in his claim that it is both a good and necessary thing to do. He often trots out the example of Kennedy meeting Khruschev in Vienna in 1961 as validation of his strategy. And yet, this again is a poor reading of history: Kennedy's meeting with Khruschev was an abject failure, putting the young president on his heels and leading indirectly to the Cuban Missile Crisis -- where Khruschev sought to press a perceived advantage. This perception was fueled by Kennedy's poor preparation in the meetings and the ability for Khruschev to bombastically dominate the discussions -- convincing Kruschev that Kennedy could be bullied. Kennedy was thus upstaged in Vienna and put on the defensive; he responded by showing that he wasn't to be underestimated by upping the ante in Vietnam. Historians now roundly agree that the Vienna meeting with Khruschev was among the more ill-advised decisions of the Kennedy presidency.
Barack Obama is, of course, no Jack Kennedy -- which only serves to make these examples even more alarming. Kennedy was a right-wing conservative by the standards of today's Democrat party, and together with his brother Bobby, had no compunction against using force in defense of American interests and ideals. Obama, on the other hand, proudly waves the banner of non-aggression that so animates the left-wing today. While JFK was willing to stand firm in the face of Soviet aggression in Cuba and a perceived communist threat in Vietnam, it is difficult to imagine Obama having the courage to defy the base of his party that is so central to his support. Obama sees the world in shades of gray, the way most of the Democrat party does. Such a view isn't well suited to the struggle between good and evil.
The response by Obama to criticism over his willingness to meet with the heads of terrorist states tracks closely to his anger over President Bush's statements on appeasement on his recent trip to Israel. Though Bush didn't name him specifically, Obama was enraged that the president would dare trot out the "politics of fear" to brand him as weak on the fight against terrorism.