I watched the entire debate between McCain and Obama last night, and thought that both sides could see some positives in the performances of whoever their favorite candidate was. So I would mostly leave the debate topic alone, as there were no decisive blows, and emotions stayed on an even keel.
Except for one thing. One thing that irked me.
And since it remained on my mind, and I couldn’t sleep, I figured I’d better blog about it.
Since Obama’s early campaign appearances, he’s been talking this nonsense about him, as U.S. President, willing to meet anyone, including enemies, including Iran, face to face, to engage in diplomatic negotiations.
Last night, Obama said it again, only this time, he said that 5 prior Secretaries of State agreed with him. I watched that special on CNN hosted by Christiane Amanpour with 5 Secretaries of State (Henry Kissinger, Warren Christopher, Madeleine Albright, James Baker, and Colin Powell). Zero of them agreed with him. And that’s what irked me. That’s what made me mad.
None of those 5 Secretaries of State talked about meeting with Iranian leaders at the Presidential level without preconditions. All 5 of them agreed with having talks with Iran, which is something McCain agrees with, too, but the highest level of talks any of them spoke about without preconditions was at the Secretary of State level.
I repeat, the Secretary of State level was the highest level recommended by any of the 5.
Obama even named Kissinger as someone who agreed with him. McCain called him on it, clarifying that there would be talks with Iran in a McCain Administration, but not at the Presidential level without preconditions, and that Kissinger agreed with McCain. CNN’s fact-checkers confirmed that Kissinger sided with McCain.
But after being called on it by McCain, Obama backpedaled, as if to dismiss the notion that he, Obama, was referring to talks at the Presidential level, and tried to utter some nonsense about preparation, but that just irked me.
Obama had better decide what he’s saying. He can’t say contradictory things at once. Either he’s talking about Presidential summits with other world leaders with no conditions, like he’s done since the beginning of the campaign, or he’s talking about diplomatic communications at the lower levels, not at the Presidential level, which means he has to say that he is retreating from the position he took at his campaign’s outset. I’m not letting Obama have any wiggle room on this.
In international affairs, one must keep in mind that despite the long distances and large regions of the world that are involved in such discussions, “all politics are local.” Leaders of foreign countries have to worry about their own domestic bases of power. Often, the posture these foreign leaders assume on the world stage has everything to do with how they are viewed by the people at home, within their own countries, and not so much to do with what is accommodating to outsiders.
Keep that in mind.
If you are a President of the United States, you are a very busy person. Though very many people want to infringe upon your time, though many people want an audience with you, you have to be very judicious with how you spend your time. You have many very weighty responsibilities. You have to prioritize who gets access to you and who does not. For those who don’t get access to you, you have to allow them access to someone that you authorize to act on your behalf. For foreign governments, you authorize the Department of State, which has many capable diplomats in its ranks working on behalf of the President and the American people. The State Department can handle whatever diplomatic tasks you choose to delegate to them. There are, however, certain circumstances where you may decide that something is important enough that you do not delegate a matter to the State Department because you choose to deal with it yourself, as President.
Question: Would I, as President, want to allocate my scarce time to negotiate directly with an enemy foreign leader with no preconditions?
Question: Why not?
Answer: If I set no preconditions, then I have no indication from the enemy foreign leader that negotiations will lead to anything productive. When preconditions are met, that is a signal that negotiations might lead to a favorable outcome. Therefore, if there are no preconditions, or preconditions are not met, a summit could easily be a total waste of a President’s time. Therefore, delegate the matter to the State Department to handle until such a time arrives that the enemy foreign leader exhibits some sign that a summit might lead to progress. Unless an enemy foreign leader gives some signal that compromise is possible, having a summit with that leader would be trying to negotiate from a position of weakness. The President would be seen as caving in to the obstinate foreign leader, in which case, negotiations can only go badly, as only the United States is signaling a willingness to compromise. The President must be at least on equal footing, if not on firmer ground, in order to negotiate from a position of strength. Furthermore (and this is where the adage “all politics are local” fits in), if an obstinate foreign leader is granted access to the President without meeting any preconditions, the comparative weakness of the President will be exploited for domestic consumption by the enemy foreign leader to consolidate power within his/her own nation, further hampering future efforts to gain any concessions at all from the foreign leader.
The enemy foreign leader will brag. BRAG! The enemy foreign leader will brag to the people of his/her country that the uncompromising stance they took was able to humble the United States, forcing the U.S. President to crumble, and come crawling on their knees and begging for a concession, and the foreign leader defiantly and triumphantly decreed, “No!” Thus the enemy foreign leader becomes a hero/heroine in the eyes of his/her people that they were able to subordinate the United States to their will.
That is what John McCain means when he says that meeting with enemy foreign leaders at the PRESIDENTIAL LEVEL WITH NO PRECONDITIONS legitimizes tyrants. John McCain, as President, will not offer himself as fodder for the propaganda machine that tyrants employ to legitimize themselves and consolidate power.