Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Nuance or confusion?


I don't think Barack Obama favors appeasing our enemies, and it's beyond my understanding why he cried foul when President Bush spoke last week to the Israeli Knesset about the general folly of appeasement. After all, even if Obama is raring to sit down and chat up the globe's worst thugs without any preconditions, it doesn't necessarily mean he'll give in to their demands. Talking isn't appeasing.

We'll only know if Obama is an appeaser if he gets a chance to parley with the leaders of Iran, Venezuela, Syria, Cuba and North Korea and they have their way with him. Until then, we only know that Obama's parley-at-any-price policy has created "issues" for him. He's taken a position that other top Democrats think unwise, and that he himself seems to realize is, at least, politically untenable. His "no preconditions" stand has also forced him to make statements that won't withstand scrutiny, or John McCain's attacks.

It began when Obama answered a YouTube/CNN debate question last July. "Would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea?" His reply: "I would."

Hillary Clinton just as quickly pointed out some of the problems with his "no preconditions" stand—she wouldn't want to be used for propaganda purposes or make things worse with these nations—and John Edwards agreed with Clinton. In recent days, Democratic graybeards such as Sen. Joe Biden have parted company with Obama on this. Now, Obama says that preparations would, of course, be necessary, and his campaign talks about these nations' leaders having to meet benchmarks before sitting down with him. He likely has a nuanced exegesis of the difference between preconditions and preparation and benchmarks, but the latter two sure seem like preconditions, and this sure seems like a case of being for preconditions when before you were against them.

In trying to talk his way out of his position, Obama's only made matters worse for himself. It began last week when he cited John F. Kennedy's sit-down with Nikita Khrushchev as a precedent: "When Kennedy met with Khrushchev," he said, "we were on the brink of nuclear war."

Uh, no, Senator, the brink of nuclear war came in the Cuban missile crisis more than a year later. In fact, Kennedy's weak performance in Vienna prompted the Soviet decision to put missiles in Cuba, which brought us to the brink of nuclear war.

In Oregon last week, Obama said Iran, Cuba and Venezuela "don't pose a serious threat to us" since they spend but one-one-hundredth of what we spend on our military. They're not like the Soviets. "If Iran ever tried to pose a serious threat to us," he said, "they wouldn't stand a chance."

Never mind that the threat posed by terror-sponsoring nations like Iran or terrorist groups isn't their conventional military strength, but their ability and inclination to use unconventional weapons against stronger nations in this age of asymmetrical warfare. The next day in Montana, Obama said Iran posed "a grave threat." Grave? Not serious? Whatever.

Team Obama isn't even clear what its own candidate favors. Obama adviser Susan Rice told CNN that Obama never said he'd meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, of Israel-is-a-stinking-corpse-and-must-be-wiped-off-the-map fame. He only said he'd meet with the appropriate Iranian leaders. An odd response in and of itself, but no sooner had she spoken then around came the YouTube video of Obama telling reporters last fall that he would meet with ... Ahmadinejad.

None of this seems to matter to Obamaniacs, but it should to the rest us. It certainly makes it hard to conduct a real debate. Tuesday, for example, Obama chided McCain for misrepresenting his (Obama's) Cuba policy. "His charges aren't serious," Obama said. "That's the problem. I have never said that I was prepared to immediately normalize relations with Cuba."

But this is how Obama replied to a question on whether he supported normalization in a 2003 candidate's questionnaire: "Our longstanding policies toward Cuba have been a miserable failure."

It's starting to appear that a naive eagerness to talk with U.S. enemies without preconditions is only part of Barack Obama's problem.

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