On Talking to Enemies
Bush also launched into a fascinating disquisition on his view of diplomacy.--------------
Michael Abramowitz of The Washington Post asked about Bush Obama's view "that we would be better off if we talked to our adversaries, in particular Iran and Cuba, you know, without preconditions. And as president you have obviously considered and rejected this approach. And I'm wondering if you can give us a little bit of insight into your thinking about this, and just explain to the American people what is lost by talking with those with when we disagree."
Bush's response: "What's lost by embracing a tyrant who puts his people in prison because of their political beliefs? What's lost is it'll send the wrong message. It'll send a discouraging message to those who wonder whether America will continue to work for the freedom of prisoners. It'll give great status to those who have suppressed human rights and human dignity.
"I'm not suggesting there's never a time to talk, but I'm suggesting now is not the time not to talk [sic] with Raul Castro. He's nothing more than the extension of what his brother did, which was to ruin an island and imprison people because of their beliefs. . . .
"And the idea of embracing a leader who has done this without any attempt on his part to, you know, release prisoners and free their society would be counterproductive and send the wrong signal."
Abramowitz: "But no one's saying embrace them. They're just saying talk."
Bush: "Well, talking to is embracing. Excuse me. Let me use another, you know, another word. You're right. Embrace is like big hug, right? . . .
"Sitting down at the table, having your picture taken with a tyrant such as Raul Castro, for example, lends the status of the office and the status of our country to him. He gains a lot from it by saying, Look at me. I'm now recognized by the president of the United States. . . .
"Now, somebody will say, 'Well, I'm going to tell him -- you know -- to release the prisoners'. Well, it's a theory that all you got to do is embrace and these tyrants act. That's not how they act. That's not what causes them to respond. . . .
"I just remind people that the decisions of the U.S. president to have discussions with certain international figures can be extremely counterproductive. It can send chilling signals and messages to our allies. It can send confusion about our foreign policy. It discourages reformers inside their own country. And, in my judgment, it would be a mistake on the two countries you talked about."
So, essentially, Bush is saying that before any talking or negotiating begins, the other side has to cave in completely and give the US everything it wants. Well, gotta say, that philosophy sure simplifies things. Makes diplomacy very, very easy.
Update: Atrios has a marvelous reply from Yglesias, followed by Atrios' own comment:
- Ezra's certainly right to say that it's bizarre for George W. Bush to criticize Barack Obama on the grounds that "it'll send the wrong message" for Obama to hold a meeting with "a tyrant who puts his people in prison because of their political beliefs" considering that Bush does exactly that on a regular basis. Is it a good thing that the people of China and Russia and Saudi Arabia are, like the people of Cuba and Syria and Iran, ruled by dictators? Of course not. And if the lessons of history indicated that some kind of "no meetings ever" policy caused those regimes to melt and transform into wholesome democracies, then we wouldn't be having this debate. But things don't work like that, and in the world as it is it's hardly practical to eschew all meetings with everyone whose political system you don't approve on. The question is, thus, whether or not this posture of creating a mostly arbitrary class of "bad guy" that we're going to take down with our awesome powers of snubbing accomplishes anything meaningful. Obama's contention is "no." Bush's contention is "yes" but he has absolutely nothing to show for it.
The frustrating thing is that the media plays along, designating "bad guys" as whoever the US government is designating a bad guy that week, while perpetuating the notion that the "bad guy" designation is linked to some sort of human rights badness when in fact it's just because they're bastards, but not our bastards.