Saturday, May 24, 2008

Lookaround 4: Barack ignorant of history

Charles Krauthammer:
Another unmistakable sign [that election-year discourse has gone surreal] is when a presidential candidate makes a gaffe, then, realizing it is too egregious to take back without suffering humiliation, decides to make it a centerpiece of his foreign policy.

Before the Democratic debate of July 23, Barack Obama had never expounded upon the wisdom of meeting, without precondition, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bashar al-Assad, Hugo Chavez, Kim Jong Il or the Castro brothers. But in that debate, he was asked about doing exactly that. Unprepared, he said sure -- then got fancy, declaring the Bush administration's refusal to do so not just "ridiculous" but "a disgrace."

After that, there was no going back. So he doubled down. What started as a gaffe became policy. By now, it has become doctrine. Yet it remains today what it was on the day he blurted it out: an absurdity.
While I was away - in defending his improvised doctrine of counseling with Castro, et al - Barack launched a series of invalid, ahistorical comparisons with previous Presidential meetings.

If Barack simply had good people around him (to pull him back from the edges of both intemperate and ahistorical cliffs): much else could be forgiven. Instead, the necessary impression is of historically ignorant ideologues surrounding historically ignorant Barack.

Here we go with:

Barack Obama's Review of History Which Only Occurred in Liberals' Dreams...

Barack, in defending himself against Pres. Bush, said JFK met with Khrushchev in Vienna "when we were on the brink of nuclear war with the USSR".

We were not on the brink of nuclear war until Khrushchev - during that very Vienna meeting - judged JFK to be weak. JFK's meeting with Khrushchev was a disaster(for both the U.S. and Germany). Nathan Thrall and Jesse James Wilkins in NYT:
Senior American statesmen like George Kennan advised Kennedy not to rush into a high-level meeting, arguing that Khrushchev had engaged in anti-American propaganda and that the issues at hand could as well be addressed by lower-level diplomats. Kennedy’s own secretary of state, Dean Rusk, had argued much the same in a Foreign Affairs article the previous year ... “Are not these two men who should be kept apart until others have found a sure meeting ground of accommodation between them?”

But Kennedy went ahead, and for two days he was pummeled by the Soviet leader. Despite his eloquence, Kennedy was no match as a sparring partner, and offered only token resistance as Khrushchev lectured him on the hypocrisy of American foreign policy, cautioned America against supporting “old, moribund, reactionary regimes” and asserted that the United States, which had valiantly risen against the British, now stood “against other peoples following its suit.” Khrushchev used the opportunity of a face-to-face meeting to warn Kennedy that his country could not be intimidated and that it was “very unwise” for the United States to surround the Soviet Union with military bases.

Kennedy’s aides convinced the press at the time that behind closed doors the president was performing well, but American diplomats in attendance, including the ambassador to the Soviet Union, later said they were shocked that Kennedy had taken so much abuse. Paul Nitze, the assistant secretary of defense, said the meeting was “just a disaster.” Khrushchev’s aide, after the first day, said the American president seemed “very inexperienced, even immature.” Khrushchev agreed, noting that the youthful Kennedy was “too intelligent and too weak.”
Kennedy went on: “He just beat the hell out of me. I’ve got a terrible problem if he thinks I’m inexperienced and have no guts. Until we remove those ideas we won’t get anywhere with him.”

A little more than two months later, Khrushchev gave the go-ahead to begin erecting what would become the Berlin Wall. Kennedy had resigned himself to it, telling his aides in private that “a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.” The following spring, Khrushchev made plans to “throw a hedgehog at Uncle Sam’s pants”: nuclear missiles in Cuba. And while there were many factors that led to the missile crisis, it is no exaggeration to say that the impression Khrushchev formed at Vienna — of Kennedy as ineffective — was among them.
In extricating the U.S. from the specter of Soviet missiles in Cuba, JFK agreed to remove U.S. missiles from Turkey. JFK demanded Khrushchev keep the agreement secret. Hollywood spent ensuing decades lionizing JFK for standing up to Khrushchev.

Barack, in defending himself, referenced FDR and Truman meeting with Stalin. (Stalin is apparently the reference - as no one can remember any other controversial leader which either FDR or Truman met with)

Barack seemingly discounts that Stalin was America's ally at the time. If Ahmadinejad were helping us fight Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Mahdi Army (as opposed to what he is doing: helping Al Qaeda and the Mahdi Army fight us) then a Presidential meeting might arguably make sense.

Barack, in defending himself, referenced Nixon going to China.

First, Nixon needed China as a counterbalance to the USSR during the Cold War. Nixon going to China was strategically brilliant.

Second, Nixon's career long anti-Communist credentials inoculated him - both domestically and internationally - against any criticism or perception that he would not stand up to Communism. This is why it was said: "Only Nixon could go to China." Barack, ahem, doesn't have the same credentials.

Third, there were not exactly "no preconditions". Karl Rove, in a WSJ op-ed:
I recommend [Obama] read Henry Kissinger's book, "The White House Years." Mr. Obama would learn it took 134 private meetings between U.S. and Chinese diplomats before a breakthrough at a Jan. 20, 1970 meeting in Warsaw. It took 18 months of behind-the-scenes discussions before Mr. Kissinger secretly visited Beijing. And it took seven more months of hard work before Nixon went to China. The result was a new relationship, announced in a communiqué worked out over months of careful diplomacy.

The Chinese didn't change because of a presidential visit. In another book, "Diplomacy," Mr. Kissinger writes that "China was induced to rejoin the community of nations less by the prospect of dialogue with the United States than by fear of being attacked by its ostensible ally, the Soviet Union." Change came because the U.S. convinced Beijing it was in its interest to change. Then the president visited.
Barack, in defending himself, referenced Reagan meeting with Gorbachev.

As discussed in this post, Reagan was making a strategic effort to crumple the government of the USSR. In contrast, Barack would be making a direct Presidential effort to beseech Ahmadinejad: Please don't hurt us! We'll give you stuff.


More Krauthammer, for the road:
A meeting with Ahmadinejad would not just strengthen and vindicate him at home, it would instantly and powerfully ease the mullahs' isolation, inviting other world leaders to follow. And with that would come a flood of commercial contracts, oil deals, diplomatic agreements -- undermining precisely the very sanctions and isolation that Obama says he would employ against Iran.
What concessions does Obama imagine Ahmadinejad will make to him on Iran's nuclear program? And what new concessions will Obama offer? To abandon Lebanon? To recognize Hamas? Or perhaps to squeeze Israel?

Having lashed himself to the ridiculous, unprecedented promise of unconditional presidential negotiations -- and then having compounded the problem by elevating it to a principle -- Obama keeps trying to explain. On Sunday, he declared in Pendleton, Ore., that by Soviet standards Iran and others "don't pose a serious threat to us." (On the contrary. Islamic Iran is dangerously apocalyptic. Soviet Russia was not.) The next day in Billings, Mont.: "I've made it clear for years that the threat from Iran is grave."

That's the very next day, mind you. Such rhetorical flailing has done more than create an intellectual mess. It has given rise to a new political phenomenon: the metastatic gaffe. The one begets another, begets another, begets ...
Now Obama is saying his detractors are "obsessed". Balderdash. Obama sprung the new doctrine of Presidential level engagement. Obama mischaracterized U.S. efforts as "not talking" - then labeled that strawman "a disgrace". Obama serially asserted invalid comparisons involving 5 U.S. Presidents. When his doctrine and assertions are found wanting; when he cannot defend himself on merit: he falls back on "obsession" + "this is a distraction". Horse manure.

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