a challenge

John Bolton challenges Barack Obama’s non-cowboy diplomacy. Read it here.

At first glance, the idea of sitting down with adversaries seems hard to quarrel with. In our daily lives, we meet with competitors, opponents and unpleasant people all the time. Mr. Obama hopes to characterize the debate about international negotiations as one between his reasonableness and the hard-line attitude of a group of unilateralist GOP cowboys.

The real debate is radically different. On one side are those who believe that negotiations should be used to resolve international disputes 99% of the time. That is where I am, and where I think Mr. McCain is. On the other side are those like Mr. Obama, who apparently want to use negotiations 100% of the time. It is the 100%-ers who suffer from an obsession that is naïve and dangerous.

Negotiation is not a policy. It is a technique. Saying that one favors negotiation with, say, Iran, has no more intellectual content than saying one favors using a spoon. For what? Under what circumstances? With what objectives? On these specifics, Mr. Obama has been consistently sketchy.

Bolton also says that countries like Iran can use negotiating talks as a ploy to buy time while they continue to chart the same destructive course. To be fair to Senator Obama, we do need more specific details under what circumstances and conditions he would agree to meet with countries like Iran. It’s possible that his foreign policy vision has undergone some evolution from the beginning of his campaign until this particular challenge, so if Barack Obama really wants to fight this battle directly with McCain, I’m with John Bolton — bring it on.

I’m anxious to hear his grand plan on how to get dictators and other foreign heads of state who desire our destruction and Israel’s to stop their evil intentions. In truth, foreign policy is a difficult business. No president has ever handled it perfectly. We have no guarantees that Barack Obama or John McCain will make every right decision, but we should have this foreign policy debate before we decide who should be President.

7 thoughts on “a challenge

  1. Oh yes, the neocon who brought us the miserable failures of Iraq wants us to believe that he’s also so very right about Iran. Bolton must be in a different galaxy if he believes, and wants us to believe, that there was only a 1% chance of Bush & Co. not using force in Iraq.

    “On one side are those who believe that negotiations should be used to resolve international disputes 99% of the time. That is where I am, and where I think Mr. McCain is. On the other side are those like Mr. Obama, who apparently want to use negotiations 100% of the time.”

    That’s simply not true. Obama has called for sending troops into Pakistan to capture bin Laden. He’s also called for military action on countries aiding and harboring terrorists when we have clear intelligence backing up the claims. Wanting to use the military as a last resort to resolve international disputes is using negotiations 99% placing Obama in the same group that Bolton wants us to believe he and McCain are in.

  2. I dispute Bolton’s math as well, but his point remains the same without it. Barack Obama has previously said that he would talk to countries like Iran without preconditions. He said it to Russert in one of the debates. Even some Democrats are distancing themselves from that policy. Maybe this is not his current policy, so we do need specifics on how he would handle Iran, as Bolton says here.

    You can discount the opinion of John Bolton as one of those crazy neo-cons if you want to, but surely you recognize the risk in giving legitimacy and credibility to countries who are openly calling for the destruction of other countries. Read the rest of what Bolton said. You can disagree with him about Iraq, but he makes some very good points about Iran head-faking us by pretending to negotiate in good faith, while continuing to build up its nuclear program. That’s something we need to be aware of when deciding what to do about possible future talks with them.

  3. It isn’t even fathomable to trust Professor Bolton’s numbers. Here’s a guy who has advocated invading nearly every country in the Middle East including any other country that he might not like that week and he says he’s for diplomacy 99% of the time. Also here’s a guy who hasn’t been right about one thing in the last 8 years yet that hasn’t stopped him from getting op-ed access and tv airtime whenever he feels the urge. There just isn’t any logical reason to believe anything the man says.

    You are right about Obama’s policy, and he hasn’t changed it. I agree with Obama’s policy, and I fail to see how wanting to talk to Iran equals wanting to use diplomacy 100% of the time.

    Saudi Arabia’s main foreign policy issue was the destruction of Israel. Even though they have changed their official policy to recognizing Israel, their state run religion is wahibism. Their religious doctrine teaches the destruction of Israel openly in every mosque. There is no one country that wants to destroy Israel more than Saudi Arabia. There is also no one country that funds Hamas more than Saudi Arabia. Surely you recognize the risk of George Bush giving legitimacy and propping up the Saudi government, a government that calls for the destruction of other countries.

  4. Re: Saudi Arabia — we have already discussed the relationship between Bush and the Saudis as well as some of the things Reagan did that we might consider unwise today. That’s why I wrote that no president gets everything right on foreign policy. That’s also why we have to produce more domestic oil, so that we can stop being so dependent on Saudi Arabia.

    Let’s talk about George Bush and his foreign policy, since this is what you think makes Barack’s foreign policy ideas vastly superior. In some areas, yes, there has been flawed execution of the grand democracy plan. We have previously discussed the merits of this approach to the Middle East. But I think his instincts are correct — not that democracy is a cure-all for what ails the countries afflicted with radical Islam, but that there has to be negative incentive for countries who have bad intentions toward their neighbors. More stick, less carrot.

    We have seen the attempts to compromise and make deals with North Korea, and how ineffective this has been in stopping them from their nuclear ambitions. Similar attempts with Iran have not produced the desired results. Haven’t we learned from history that countries like this suddenly acquire the willingness to cooperate with the world community when there are severe repercussions for bad behavior? I’m not necessarily talking about sanctions, because thanks to countries like France and Russia, who have enabled Saddam’s Iraq and Ahmadinejad’s Iran to circumvent any punishment by the UN, sanctions don’t work as well as they should. The UN has not been very useful in stopping bad actors, so the member states are on their own as far as negotiating and making deals in their own best interest — the United States has few friends there.

    You can say (and probably will) that this is all George Bush’s fault that the UN hates us. This will be true no matter who is President. Barack Obama can’t change this. There’s nothing wrong with talking to countries like Iran as long as we recognize that there needs to be accountability for them if we make a deal with them and they don’t hold up their end of the deal. The Bush administration has not done as well as they could here, and I don’t know what will magically change with this under an Obama administration.

    I guess I’m just skeptical about the idea that successful negotiations as well as making significant progress in Middle East peace talks are as easy as Barack seems to think.

  5. I don’t know of anyone who has claimed that talks with any country would be easy. The last time I remember someone claiming something would be easy it was the Bush administration when trumping their glorious invasion of Iraq. That was supposed to be a cakewalk and a slam dunk. It obviously wasn’t and I’ve yet to see such naiveté from Obama’s camp about how “easy” things will be.

    What’s being confused here is the difference between negotiations and appeasement. The right seems to think that Obama’s willingness to negotiate is appeasement. It’s not. No where does Obama say that negotiating with Iran about it’s threat to the region will be easy or for that matter successful. It could very well turn out to be a failure and lead to no other option but striking Iran. Obama and his foreign policy team have never ruled out the military option on any country. In fact, they are doing what Professor Bolton claims he does all the time and that is negotiate 99% of the time and use military action as a last resort.

    No one in their reasonable mind can possibly suggest that the Bush administration has used diplomacy/negotiations 99% of the time with Iran. Considering we don’t even have diplomatic relations with Iran, it’s entirely impossible to believe anyone who says we’ve exhausted our diplomatic possibilities with them.

    After seeing what knee jerk wars can lead to, I think it’s very reasonable to do what Bolton claims he does and give Iran the 99% rule. However, Bolton and the right wing are claiming that Obama has ruled out military operations totally and wants 100% diplomacy. That’s not the case and it’s very slanderous to suggest such.

    I’m not necessarily talking about sanctions, because thanks to countries like France and Russia, who have enabled Saddam’s Iraq and Ahmadinejad’s Iran to circumvent any punishment by the UN, sanctions don’t work as well as they should.

    Actually the country most responsible for enabling Saddam Hussein’s Iraq with WMD is the United States. The same is true for Iran as well. Reagan supplied Saddam for almost 8 years and illegally sold Iran weapons in exchange for hostages. If we are to learn from history like you suggest, we can’t just pick and choose which histories to remember. I couldn’t imagine would John Bolton and the neocons would be saying if it were Clinton who had supplied both Iraq and Iran. They certainly wouldn’t have made him an idol like they have Reagan.

  6. Maybe you haven’t heard such talk directly from the Obama camp, but I certainly have heard expectations like this from Obama surrogates in the press and in the blogosphere — that George W. Bush is the only one standing in the way of all these bad actors falling in line with the expectations of the world community. All we need is a President who will listen to people like Ahmadinejad and then we can make serious progress toward stopping Iran’s nuclear program. That’s the theory anyway. Some of your friends on the left have unrealistic expectations of how much Barack Obama will be able to fix about US foreign policy.

    It’s good to know that Barack would consider using the military if needed, but it’s simply not the case that he has always been consistent about this policy. I am relieved to know that he has adopted part of Hillary’s more hawkish foreign policy views, no matter how long ago he came to that realization. 🙂

    I have nothing else to add to what I have already said. I have acknowledged that Reagan made mistakes, and even Bolton says that Bush is currently making mistakes with our foreign policy. What more do you expect me to say here? I’m not opposed to negotiations if they are as I previously described, and I agree that negotiations aren’t always appeasement. However, they can lead to one-sided deals that involve concessions far greater on our side than on Iran’s or North Korea’s side. That’s what we need to avoid.

    There are no guarantees than McCain or Obama will be successful in stopping Iran’s nukes or in helping to keep other rogue states in line, but it is useful to have someone who recognizes that we need to proceed with caution, acknowledging the limitations in any future negotiations. Is Obama that guy? For the country’s sake, I hope so. In spite of his current struggles, he still has an excellent chance to be our next President. I hope that he surrounds himself with knowledgeable foreign policy folks. I’m not rooting for him to fail here, because the decisions our next President (McCain or Obama) makes affect all of us.

  7. I’m sure there are some nations that are unwilling to enter into agreements with the US simply because of George Bush. I don’t find that hard to believe at all. But if there are Obama surrogates saying that Bush is the only reason why they won’t, then they are sorely wrong. Clinton was never able to garner much international support for any agreements other than North Korea and Northern Ireland. His venture into the Middle East was a disaster and largely responsible for the intifada in 2001. In 2000 many medal ceromonies at the Sydney Olympics were boycotted because of American dominance in the Olympic games that year. None of that had anything to do with George Bush at the time. There will always be nations, France, that will never want to follow, France, and will almost prove to be an obstacle, France, than a partner, France.

    I’ve never heard Obama or any Obama surrogate state that he would not use the military as a means to protect this country. Or even as a means of diplomatical leverage. I don’t know how he hasn’t been consistent with his stance. If he’s not been, please link to it.

    I’ve only heard Fox News, John Bolton, Rush Limbaugh and pretty much the entirety of the GOP say that Obama has already taken the military off the table. What Obama is saying is exactly the same thing John Bolton said in the op-ed: Negotiate 99% of the time to avoid that 1% chance of war.

    As we all know, Bolton has seldom practiced the doctrine he claims to always abide by, and shouldn’t be trusted when saying that Obama doesn’t follow rules Bolton sets for everyone else.

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