Certain Democrats, including Barack Obama, are terribly bothered that President Bush made the following statement before the Israeli Knesset today:
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.
Obama found it “sad” that Bush “would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence to launch a false political attack.” He added:
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.
It’s not clear why the occasion of Israel’s birthday is an inappropriate one on which to assure Israel that the American president does not favor negotiating with terrorists and radicals who are out to destroy Israel.
What’s telling here is Obama’s defensiveness. Bush didn’t say that Obama is among those who favor negotiating with terrorists. But it’s understandable that this is a sore point for Obama, inasmuch as, to cite just one problem, his former adviser Robert Malley not only favors negotiating with Hamas but apparently was actually “negotiating” with it.
Obama’s reference to former presidents by way of defending his plan to negotate with Iran is unpersuasive. Past presidents negotiated with the Soviet Union and China during the Cold War, but this is not the same thing as negotiating with a state like Iran that sponsors terrorism against both Israel and the U.S. Neither Kennedy nor Nixon did any such thing. It’s true that President Reagan made overtures to Iran (arms for hostages and all that), but for this he was widely and properly condemned. It was perhaps Reagan’s worst moment.
It’s also unprecedented, I believe, for a president to negotiate with an enemy state without pre-conditions, as Obama has promised to do, in order to persuade the world, as Obama puts it, that we aren’t “arrogant.” Even Hillary Clinton draws the line here. Obama’s claim that his diplomacy with terrorist-sponsoring states will be “tough” rings hollow when a purpose of the negotiations is to persuade the world that we’ve changed and now are suitably humble.
JOHN adds: I’m increasingly struck by the sheer incoherence of what Obama says. His statement accuses President Bush of an “extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear.” What on earth is this supposed to mean? Obama thinks we should be more willing to negotiate with terrorist states; Bush says we shouldn’t. If Bush is “politicizing foreign policy,” why isn’t Obama? In Obama’s eyes, it seems that anyone who disagrees with him about foreign policy has to keep his mouth shut, otherwise he’s “politicizing foreign policy.” But that doesn’t apply to Obama; he spends several hours a day attacking President Bush’s and John McCain’s foreign policy views in speeches where he’s trying to get people to vote for him. If that isn’t “politicizing foreign policy,” what is?
Likewise with the “politics of fear,” about which Paul did an excellent post yesterday. Obama says that President Bush’s policies have made us less safe and that al Qaeda is stronger than at any time since September 11. Why isn’t that the “politics of fear?”
It’s hard to imagine that any politician could get away with being as consistently incoherent and self-contradictory as Obama if he didn’t have the mainstream media running interference for him, non-stop.
UPDATE by JOHN: It’s probably foolish to apply a logical standard to Obama’s statement. He undoubtedly knew that it didn’t make any sense. His purpose, I suppose, was not to make a plausible argument, but rather to get credit for attacking President Bush. It may not be a bad political strategy: President Bush is unpopular, so if Obama pretends that Bush has attacked him (even if he didn’t) and responds with faux indignation, he’ll come out ahead politically even though his answer made no sense. It’s not exactly a noble approach to politics, but it’s typical Obama.