February 29th, 2008

Obama: hope is not enough (nor is talk)

Now that he seems poised to become the Democratic Presidential nominee, Obama is taking a bit of heat from McCain, his likely opponent, especially about Obama’s touchy-feely (that is, predominantly talky) foreign policy.

It’s a different sort of heat than Clinton can give out, because the audience is different. Hillary can’t criticize Obama’s extreme liberal positions, nor his antiwar stance, all that effectively, for the simple reason that in order to have a chance at her party’s nomination she needs to appeal to the huge number of Democrats who agree with those very positions.

Obama seems to believe in talk. Lots of it. Hope and talk. Hoping to talk. Talking about hoping to talk:

Obama repeatedly has advocated meeting without preconditions with leaders of such hostile nations as Cuba and Iran, saying current U.S. policy is not working and it is time for a fresh look at ways to improve relations.

“The next president has a job to do to repair our image and to send a signal … that a new era is being ushered in and that we are not afraid to talk to anybody, including those who we have grave problems with,” Obama said.

“Not afraid to talk” is a clever phrase, designed to portray those who won’t cozy up and have a “dialogue” as being motivated by fear rather than practical reality or strategic considerations. Obama is nothing if not clever. But he certainly is naive.

He is not alone, however. Belief in the power of talk has a long history. Ask Neville Chamberlain, if you could. Or Jimmy Carter, if you care to.

I think some of the current faith in talk comes from the popularity of “the talking cure”—therapy. Much of the rest of this post will consist of me quoting myself from an earlier piece; no need to reinvent the wheel. As I wrote some time ago:

But even therapists must acknowledge that there are times when talking does no good, when therapy is inappropriate, and when the tools of the trade not only don’t work but can be harmful. But Pelosi and Lantos and so many others [such as Obama] seem to think of dialogue as something magical and universally appropriate [the following is a Lantos quote]:

“…however objectionable, unfair, and inaccurate many of [Ahmadinejad’s] statements are, it is important that we have a dialogue with him.”

Why? Why is it important? In order to feel that we are peaceful and good people? In order to empower him to think that we are fools? In order to allow him to buy time while he develops his nuclear weaponry? In order to give him greater prestige in the eyes of the world? In order to afford him propaganda opportunities and photo ops?

Lantos and Pelosi don’t seem to feel the need to explain the value of dialogue; it is felt to be self-evident. But it is not.

The original meaning of the word is “a conversation.” But it has taken on a special meaning in the peace movement: it’s been reified as a good in and of itself.

Here’s a definition of dialogue in that sense, by David Somm:

“…a new kind of mind begins to come into being which is based on the development of a common meaning…People are no longer primarily in opposition, nor can they be said to be interacting, rather they are participating in this pool of common meaning, which is capable of constant development and change.”

Commonality and cooperation rather than opposition is a goal of dialogue, and some element of these must be present in the first place in order to even conduct a dialogue in the sense it’s used here. But these things are not present in a “dialogue” with a group such as the leaders of Iran.

Even Pelosi and Lantos, who so badly want to dialogue with Iran’s leaders, describe them as “repulsive” and “outside the circle of human behavior.” So, does Somm’s definition of “dialogue” apply to them? Can it apply to them?

The bottom line is that to have a dialogue the parties must speak the same language—and I don’t mean the sort of language that can be easily handled by interpreters.

Obama is a confident fellow. His experience so far has been in Chicago and Illinois politics, and a short stint in the Senate. Now, running for President and slaying the dragon Hillary, he no doubt has only gained confidence in his remarkable persuasive powers. But I think he’ll find that Raul and Mahmoud are a lot more immune to his considerable charm and intelligence than the American people have been. They might even think of him as a useful idiot.

34 Responses to “Obama: hope is not enough (nor is talk)”

  1. gcotharn Says:

    Our national policy is to encourage dissenters inside an oppressive dictator’s nation.

    A U.S. Presidential meeting further legitimizes a dictator inside his own country. By meeting with the dictator, a U.S. President thus discourages the success of internal dissenters who are risking their lives to oppose the dictator.

    This is not to say a U.S. President should NEVER meet with an oppressive dictator. Rather, a U.S. President should leave that meeting with enough gained value to offset the resulting discouragement of internal dissent inside the dictator’s country.

    Barack and Nancy P. seem to want to meet so they can be educated about what the dictator wants. This is ridiculous. These dictators’ desires are open books already. Maybe Barack and Nancy are strictly using the prospect of such visits for Democratic Party political gains and for personal political gain.

    The levels of oppression inside Cuba, Iran, and N. Korea do not seem to have registered with Barack. For him, oppression seemingly is what happens when the media accurately quote Michelle.

  2. Terrye Says:

    You have the right to remain silent. We say that because talking to someone gives them power over you. Obama understands that, he is just feeding gullible and naive people a line of crap. Just like his faux populism, he knows his audience, that is for sure.

  3. Terrye Says:

    How long was it after Nancy’s trip to Syria that the next anti Syrian Lebanese politician met with a violent death? Not long if I remember correctly.

  4. Vanderleun Says:

    Obama: Emperor of the Talking Cure.

  5. Ymarsakar Says:

    I don’t see why Obama believes that he can profit off of providing people like Castro what Castro needs to keep his bootheel on the face of women and children.

  6. njcommuter Says:

    Because, with the help of the Left, Prince Obama can profit. The USA doesn’t profit except in the Pink Ink of Leftist Accounting.

  7. Cappy Says:

    Maybe Obama finds some of Castro and Mahmoud’s thinking attractive.

  8. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Interestingly, one place that we do talk is in the WTO and with other nations to make trade agreements. Obama now wants to back out of those.

    What, exactly, do these people mean when they say they want to use diplomacy? I fear I know the answer.

  9. Sergey Says:

    This simple fact that Obama talk works with American audience and has such tremendous success, that it is therapeutic to millions of his listeners, can mean only one thing: scores of US citizens are neurotics who need therapy. A disturbing symptom of a sick society. But his probable political opponents like Castro and Akhmedinejad are NOT neurotics, they are under spell of paranoid eschatological delusion, and such persons are beyond the reach of any kind of therapy.

  10. SteveH Says:

    There is something rather strange with so many Americans taking Obama seriously. The man can tell them how to butter toast and they’d be in awe.

  11. thud Says:

    As an outsider watching the growing fascination with obama is akin to watching a slow motion car crash…even the media here are starting to adore him…I just see a vacuous void.

  12. njcommuter Says:

    Interestingly, one place that we do talk is in the WTO and with other nations to make trade agreements. Obama now wants to back out of those.

    Talk with our enemies, walk out on our friends. We have more than half a year for people to see that this is what Obama is selling. But will the argument be made to them?

  13. Perfected democrat Says:

    It’s the setup for bait and switch; Lenin did, Hitler did it, Mao did it, Castro did it, Chavez did it… and B.O., with his bitter culture, mentors, and the “advisors” he surrounds himself with, is exactly the type, too…

  14. harry McHitlerburtonstein the Extremist Says:

    Is it OK if I use the guy’s middle name? Or would that upset the McCain supporters here?

  15. Jimmy J. Says:

    njcommuter said, “Talk with our enemies, walk out on our friends.”

    Fortunately, McCain has already begun to take this on. He points out that Canada is part of NAFTA and getting out of NAFTA would be a slap in their faces. He points out that the Canadians are doing a good job in the Afghanistan operations; he asks if dumping NAFTA is the way we repay them for their efforts?

    Yep, the anti-free trade line will not resonate except with the hard core left and a few trade unions. I’m encouraged already.

  16. chris chambers Says:

    Huh? Wuh? Talking, scheming, ranting from neo-cons is what got us into the messes we’re in now. Talking to a neo-moron like the President. Talking with other neo-morons like the GOP in Congress and neo-pundits online like you amplifying this crazy talk.

    Barack’s not about “talk” for talk’s sake. He’s about engagement and finding out what’s up someone’s ass before all hell breaks loose. Not just overseas. At home. Recall the mess at home? Oh yes–you probably don’t shop or get gas or worry about health care like we regular folks. Notice I said regular folks, not liberals.

    Please try to be part of the solution rather than a ranting, panting defense of an insane paradigm. Join Barack and help–if you are indeed so much smarter than he.

  17. harry McHitlerburtonstein the Extremist Says:

    Chris:
    “Oh yes–you probably don’t shop or get gas or worry about health care like we regular folks. Notice I said regular folks, not liberals.”

    I guess your first mistake was including yourself in with both groups. On your second mistake, it is that we normal people understand the issues as they actually exist and do not ascribe them to some mysterious faceless and evil corporate entity sucking the masses dry for profit. Understanding the world as it actually is, means not talking to world despots and mass murderers to find out “what’s up someone’s ass”, if that “something” is readily apparent.

    I suspect the real reasons Barak Hussein Obama wishes to “talk” to our enemies is so that he can bide his time while somebody else tells him how to work that particular problem out for him with real world solutions. He will find out soon as did Nancy Pelosi has found out; not everybody is impressed with meaningless rhetoric and bringing “good intentions” to the table alone is absolutely worthless.

  18. Larry Says:

    Dialog is presented as a sort of Pascal’s wager; you can win big, or lose nothing. Like a free lottery ticket. But it’s not free. That’s the part that his minions don’t want to get.

  19. Perfected democrat Says:

    chris chambers Says: “He’s about engagement and finding out what’s up someone’s ass before all hell breaks loose.”

    If you haven’t figured out “what’s up” with America’s adversaries by now, then you’re acting dumb to work for them, or you have your head up your own …

  20. Mark William Paules Says:

    Statesmen do not “talk” to their enemies. They go to the table to engage in diplomacy. The purpose is to push the opponent away from a policy that he considers to be in his self-interest, and closer to a policy that aligns with our self-interest. To be effective diplomacy must be backed by a credible threat of force, especially when dealing with tyranny. As Clauswitz said: “War is diplomacy by other means.”

    Diplomacy is not therapy. Its only purpose is to achieve national objectives before more drastic measures are called for. The only reason to “talk” with Iran is to make it clear that a nuclearized Iran is unacceptable. The choices are two: voluntary compliance or destruction of the program by military force. There’s room to negotiate over how we achieve the first, only with the understanding that diplomatic failure must and will result in the second. The president has the duty to see that our national policy trumps the policy of our opponents.

    What Obama means by “talk” is either accomodation or capitulation; both amount to appeasement. The effort will only convince our enemies that we have no intention of using military force to achieve our objectives. For Iran such an outcome means game, set, and match. They become a regional nuclear power. What then follows is the credible threat of nuclear weapons to impose Iranian national objectives on the Middle East. America loses, as do our allies in the region. Attempting to put the genie back in the bottle invites Armageddon. The ultimate trump card.

  21. gringo Says:

    If Obama is so willing to talk with American enemies – why can’t he publicly talk to Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity? It seems like he has no problems with the enemies – it’s the conservatives that he cannot really stand.

  22. harry McHitlerburtonstein the Extremist Says:

    The enlightened also prohibits its cadidates from debating on Fox News. Not only are there some enemies you dint talk to, there are some enemy news networks that you dont appear on talking to each other.

  23. Vince P Says:

    If anyone wants to see the result when you engage in “talks” with an enemy that has no intention in actually following through with anything or compromising, watch this:

    http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/805.htm

    Title of Video: Chief Iranian Negotiator on the Nuclear Issue Hosein Musavian: The Negotiations with Europe Bought Us Time to Complete the Esfahan UCF Project and the Work on the Centrifuges in Natanz

  24. ex-democrat Says:

    IMO, what Obama means by “talk”, regarding Iran, is to sit down with them and tell them in person, as one revolutionary to another, that he knows they only want nukes because that warmonger bush has been threatening them and so, now that he’s in charge, they’re quite safe and so can knock it off. he then expects them to say “phew, that’s a relief, we’ll quit the program then.”
    when they don’t, he’ll be genuinely surprised but, of course, put it down to the fact that bush has destroyed our credibility.

  25. Ymarsakar Says:

    Conservatives are Obama’s enemies, not Castro or Amanie.

  26. Chris White Says:

    Lenin did, Hitler did it, Mao did it, Castro did it, Chavez did it… and B.O.

    The only reason to “talk” with Iran is to make it clear that a nuclearized Iran is unacceptable. … What Obama means by “talk” is either accomodation or capitulation; both amount to appeasement.

    Barak Hussein Obama

    An outbreak of ODS anyone?

    Perhaps Obama’s talk about talk appeals to many Americans who have concluded that talking is a better approach than preventative (as opposed to preemptive) military action for advancing our long-term interests. Perhaps many Americans have heard the voices of those dissenters inside an oppressive dictator’s nation who point out that shunning and threatening those regimes tends to strengthen their grip and better enable them to suppress such internal dissent by making their own intransigence seem more reasonable in the face of the current American administration’s strategy of threats and disengagement.

    What do those commenting here make of the fact that Iran has become the first nation in the area to recognize the government in Iraq? How does having Akhmedinejad be one of the first “world leaders” to visit Iraq and engage in diplomatic conversations there change the dynamic in the ME? Is this one of those “unintended consequences” of the way the Bush administration’s handling of democratization in Iraq has intensified rather than reduced the differences among the Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish populations?

    What seems implied by many of the comments here are (1) the better answer to our disagreements with Iran and Cuba (and no doubt a long list of other nations) is military invasion rather than diplomacy; and (2) that those who disagree with (1) must be leftist radicals whose loyalty to America is suspect by that disagreement.

  27. House of Eratosthenes Says:

    [...] is inspired by He Who Walks On Water and wants to dialog with our enemies, to quote herself on the subject of useless and potentially dangerous talk: …even therapists must [...]

  28. Gringo Says:

    Anyone who follows Hugo of Hugoslavia, and has listened to his press conferences or his TV show, Alo Presidente, knows that Hugo talks, and everyone listens. Hugo never met a quiet person he didn’t like.

    In the sense that both persons talk and both persons listen, a DIALOGUE with Hugo is an Oxymoron.

  29. Gray Says:

    What seems implied by many of the comments here are (1) the better answer to our disagreements with Iran and Cuba (and no doubt a long list of other nations) is military invasion rather than diplomacy; and (2) that those who disagree with (1) must be leftist radicals whose loyalty to America is suspect by that disagreement

    The problem is that ‘diplomacy’ as you use it here consists of recognition, and ass-kissing.

    Remember when Castro Shook his finger under Carter’s nose and lectured him about human rights?

    The dirty Lift just loved that!

    You personally loved it when Hugo Chaves insulted our president and called him ‘the devil’.

    You would love to see Ahmadinejad humiliate the US with Obama as the agent of concession and conciliation.

    No, we can’t trust leftists to ‘negotiate’ with strong-men or dictators, they aren’t honest brokers–remember Madeliene Albright shaking her fat ass for Kim Jong Il !?

  30. A Prime Example of The Left Lying to Itself and Everyone Else - Warner_Todd_Huston’s blog - RedState Says:

    [...] folks on the right disagreed, even to the rank-and-file. In February of 2008, for instance, one commenter on a blog said that it is a bad idea to meet with dictators. “A U.S. Presidential meeting [...]

  31. A Prime Example of The Left Lying to Itself and Everyone Else : Stop The ACLU Says:

    [...] folks on the right disagreed, even to the rank-and-file. In February of 2008, for instance, one commenter on a blog said that it is a bad idea to meet with dictators. “A U.S. Presidential meeting [...]

  32. A Prime Example of The Left Lying to Itself and Everyone Else | Social Debate: Barack and American Politics Says:

    [...] folks on the right disagreed, even to the rank-and-file. In February of 2008, for instance, one commenter on a blog said that it is a bad idea to meet with dictators. “A U.S. Presidential meeting [...]

  33. The Reality Check » Blog Archive » A Prime Example of The Left Lying to Itself and Everyone Else Says:

    [...] folks on the right disagreed, even to the rank-and-file. In February of 2008, for instance, one commenter on a blog said that it is a bad idea to meet with dictators. “A U.S. Presidential meeting [...]

  34. A Prime Example of The Left Lying to Itself and Everyone Else Says:

    [...] folks on the right disagreed, even to the rank-and-file. In February of 2008, for instance, one commenter on a blog said that it is a bad idea to meet with dictators. “A U.S. Presidential meeting [...]

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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