Thursday, May 22, 2008

Further Negotiation

As expected, Obama's insisted willingness to meet with leaders of enemy countries is not going down well in some (many) quarters. The charges of naivete and inexperience are out in force.

Before I go any further, I should reiterate that I'm not a foreign policy expert and don't really know what would actually come with negotiations. That being said, I think many of the arguments used against possible negotiations are faulty on the face.

The big one I've been hearing has to do with this notion of giving legitimacy to whoever we negotiate with. I guess the thinking is that by having the president sit down with a foreign leader we grant added stature to that leader. I'm not really sure if that's the case. Take the case of Iran. In whose eyes would we be granting Ahmadinejad legitimacy? He's already the leader of his country and is probably well respected among his allies. Furthermore, we acknowledge him as the leader of Iran, which in itself seems to be what would most confer legitimacy. It doesn't seem realistic that he would gain greater legitimacy by meeting with an enemy (like Obama wouldn't gain more legitimacy in this country through the meeting).

In terms of his enemies, Ahmadinejad wouldn't be gaining much legitmacy with them either. It's already clear that he's a force to be dealt with in one way or another. A meeting also wouldn't lead to a wide scale reassessment of him and cause western powers to say, "Maybe he's not so bad after all." So the legitimacy thing doesn't make sense for me.

There's also the danger of appearing weak and emboldening our enemies. That's not an argument against negotiations. That's an argument for having smart negotiations.

As Bill Clinton quotes repeatedly in his autobiography, Israeli leader Rabin commented before meeting Arafat, "You don't make peace with your friends." We can't act like fifth graders and say "I'll talk to you, but I won't talk to you because I don't like you." That policy only gets you so far. It certainly doesn't lead to peace. It's time to acknowledge that.

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