Thursday, May 22, 2008

# Posted 12:12 PM by Patrick Porter  

TALKING HISTORY IN THE GULF: Barak Obama argues that it isn't appeasement to talk. He's absolutely right. Appeasement is a precise policy of purchasing peace for one's own interests and accommodating a dangerous state by sacrificing the interests of another.

So Chamberlain talking with Hitler wasn't appeasement, but abandoning Czechoslovakia in the hope that it would satiate Hitler's territorial desires was.

Obama talking to Tehran wouldn't be appeasement unless he deliberately abandoned an allied country in some fundamental way.

Obama is not an appeaser. For better or worse, he believes in the transforming power of dialogue.

But as K.T. McFarland argues, dialogue, no matter how eloquent, lacks power if there is no pre-existing leverage:

"Strong countries and strong Presidents talk to their adversaries," said Obama. "That's what Kennedy did with Khrushchev. That's what Reagan did with Gorbachev. That's what Nixon did with Mao."

Not so fast. I was in both the Nixon and Reagan administrations, and I can attest that those Presidents understood the danger of prematurely forcing top-level meetings without sufficient preconditions.

Neither Richard Nixon nor Ronald Reagan would sit down for face-to-face meetings with their counterparts in enemy nations until America hadsome realistic - and playable - bargaining chips. They recognized that negotiating without leverage isn't negotiating, it's begging.

McFarland doesn't in principle oppose talks with Tehran. But he argues that favourable talks are a result of careful prior strategy, the result rather than the cause of prudent statecraft.

However, despite the extraordinary efforts of Petraues and the US-led coalition in the past year, we are still in something of a strategic hell. In the sense that its hard to imagine building up enough leverage to realign the Gulf through talks with Iran without more years of steady progress, in a war we can hardly afford.

So the policy options seem to be: do talks, but with the risk that they are premature and lack leverage, or wait, grit our teeth and hang tight in Iraq, with the hope that this will strengthen America's hand.

My instinct is for the latter, but we haven't got that long. A war of $2 billion a week is hardly sustainable.
(3) opinions -- Add your opinion

Maliki taking on the Sadrists with minimal US support is exactly the kind of thing we need to build up that leverage - and Obama's promise to withdraw troops quickly is the best way to throw it all away.
The hype about Obama reminds me of that about Jimmy Carter in the lead up to the 1976 election.

Obama comes across as Jimmy Carter with more eloquence and charisma but even less experience.
We're assuming that the choice of candidate will still make a difference. I think by contrast, in light of the unfolding global financial situation, we are possibly witnessing a major strategic shift, in which the role of personality will become less important. The 1990s were the era of liberal peace theory, which in practice meant the export of democracy by military or economic pressure. What we are witnessing is the death knell of that era. Such shifts normally happen only once in a generation-what should be concerning us most of all at present is the manner that global negative phenomena are now 'speeding up', impacting the capacity of any state or national leader to cope. This is a direct consequence of globalization, which was meant to be a panacea. Instead, 'development' in the under-developed world in conditions of globalization means better roads for drug trafficking, easier access to light infantry weapons, better dissemination of successful assymetric techniques. I can see individual states returning to economic autarchy before very long (in historical terms).
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