There is a word for Obama diplomacy: ‘Dangerous’
Sol Sanders also writes the “Asia Investor” column weekly for EAST-ASIA-INTEL.com.
“Naivete in grownups is often charming; but when coupled with vanity it is indistinguishable from stupidity.” — Eric Hoffer
President Obama’s encounter with Hugo Chavez at the Western Hemisphere summit may be soon forgotten as one of those footnotes, seemingly important and compelling at the time, but lost in the shuffle of history. In another time, another world, the “anti-imperialista” demonstrators who spat on then Vice President Richard Nixon [in Venezuela, by the way] didn’t know they were contributing to a political career that would shake the U.S. and the world. ShareThis
Obama challenged his media audience in the post-summit press conference to give him an argument why his extending a hand of friendship to Chavez in any way endangered American national interest. [By the way, most of the mainstream media has ignored a second meeting with more abrazos and conversation, which was aired on Venezuela state TV, obviously to enhance the image of a would-be dictator increasingly falling out of public favor.]
Apparently neither his interlocutors nor the President has followed recent Venezuelan events where the Chavez regime has removed or hounded into hiding opposition mayors of its two largest cities, its pistoleros have killed or banished into exile critical newsmen, U.S. government documentation nailing Chavez not only aiding anti-government guerrillas in neighboring Colombia, but cooperating with the Mexican cartels to move their cocaine into the U.S., and that The Caudillo himself starting the process of a lifetime presidency with a “plebiscite” in February authorizing him to run again for the presidency.
Would it be idle speculation to believe that not so far down the line, the Hemisphere which made democratic processes the only stricture for keeping The Castro Brothers out of what turned into an idle and useless meeting, the U.S. and its Latin friends would be facing a “threat to peace” in Chavez’ Venezuela? Was it worthwhile to give Chavez the needed prestige and “cover” for continuing this reign of demagoguery in Caracas before any issues were explored?
The Obama Administration’s mantra that they have discovered “negotiations” is almost as foolish as their belief that they have opened new channels of communication. As historians have always documented after the fact, there are always dozens of lines of contact out of sight of the media and the public between the major and the minor powers — even when they are at war with one another. They are carried on through all the government venues — including those “secret” rendezvous between opposition intelligence organizations. [In the 1960s at the height of the Cold War and the war in neighboring Vietnam, one of the least best kept secret in Bangkok was the table at Mizu’s Japanese restaurant on Patpong reserved for the CIA and KGB representatives to have their little friendly get-togethers — and exchanges.] And then there are the myriad channels of businessmen, academics, parliamentarians, and ordinary tourists who transmit information as well as governments carrying messages for other governments.
But lending the president’s persona and prestige to the preliminaries of any effort to unlock longstanding conflicts or threats to the national interest is dangerous. Or turning thorny issues into bumper slogans which so frequently distort the complications and danger of those issues. Why not, a talking head this morning said, see communication with a Communist Cuba in the same light as the U.S. communicates with a Communist China or a Communist North Korea? Because, if for no other reason, The Castro Brothers were once willing to see their country — 90 miles off the Florida keys — used as a base for Soviet weapons that could have brought on World War III. Yes, a great deal of water has gone through the Gulf Stream since then, but so long as Cuba has a one-party police state regime, headed by a personalized dictatorship, spouting anti-American propaganda on a 24-hour basis, that threat to national security exists. More than a half century later, of course, it is sage to invite a reexamination of issues. But Obama’s initial gesture of abruptly lifting restrictions on Cuban family visits and remittances has been matched by … a phrase in an otherwise typical Castro screed offering to talk about all issues by Raul. That is not the satisfactory beginning of a negotiation. [Even Beijing occasionally throws a political prisoner as a fish to a visiting U.S. VIP! And only 18 months ago the Cuban regime had a new razzia throwing hundreds of new political prisoners into its notorious jails.]
In Asia, the Obama Administration’s first adventure in “negotiation” has already come a cropper. It sent poor, beleaguered Japanese Prime Minister, obviously against his better judgment, to negotiate with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on what action the UN Security Council should take against North Korea’s latest flaunting of UN mandates to fly an intercontinental ballistic missile. It was a negotiation to dynamite a stalemate at the Council where China threatened to veto any really meaningful resolution. The development of such missiles by a regime which has repeatedly violated every norm of international peace and stability — and flaunted earlier UN resolutions. It was a threat to American national security. Aso proposed for the Americans to the Chinese — Tokyo had wanted the imposition of new economic sanctions at least — that a watered-down UN Security Council resolution [are there any other kind?] would through Beijing’s auspices bring Pyongyang back to the [so far] fruitless negotiating table. Beijing concurred, or seemed to. But the response was not the one anticipated: Pyongyang instantly said it would never [never is never never in North Korean] return to the negotiating table — and furthermore, told the American inspectors-in-waiting to pack their bags. Now does Washington send Sec. of State Hillary Clinton to Pyongyang to a tea dance with Kim Jong-Il as the Clinton Administrator sent then Sec. Madeleine Albright? Might that not be the beginning of a new “negotiation”?
The negotiating process is one of the oldest of mankind’s activities. It is a complex affair. Setting the stage is often as important as the negotiations themselves. [Remember the many-cornered table for the beginning of the negotiations on ending the Vietnam War which, of course, was a cover for more elaborate early soundings by both sides.]
Obama introduces the atmospherics of a young, fresh but highly inexperience participant. That’s the beginning of a negotiation, but, at best, only the beginning that may set the stage. Better that he take it a bit slower. As with Gertrude Stein’s rose, the essence of the activity is the activity itself. Plunging into it without forethought — and foresight — is an invitation to disaster.
Sol W. Sanders, (email@example.com), is an Asian specialist with more than 25 years in the region, and a former correspondent for Business Week, U.S. News & World Report and United Press International. He writes weekly for World Tribune.com and East-Asia-Intel.com.