Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Obama's vulnerable on natioanl security

From Chicago Sun-Times on May 20, 2008 by Steve Huntly: "Barack Obama says the United States should not negotiate with Hamas "unless they recognize Israel, renounce violence and are willing to abide by previous accords" that Israel reached with neighboring Arab states and the Palestinians.

Which of those objections does not apply to Iran? The Democratic presidential candidate has said he's willing to meet, "without precondition," with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The difference between Iran and Hamas, Obama says, is that Iran is a country and Hamas is a terrorist organization. It's also true that the State Department describes Iran as "the most active state sponsor of terrorism," a provider of "extensive funding, training and weapons" to Hamas, Hezbollah and other groups, and an opponent of the Middle East peace process with "a high profile role in encouraging anti-Israel terrorist activity -- rhetorically, operationally and financially."

Obama further muddied the waters last week when he told David Brooks of the New York Times that Hamas and Hezbollah need to understand "they're going down a blind alley with violence that weakens their legitimate claims."

What would be the "legitimate claims" of Hamas, an organization founded for the purpose of the destruction of Israel? What are the "legitimate claims" of Hezbollah, also dedicated to the death of Israel, as well as serving as the agent of Iran and Syria in trying to kill democracy in Lebanon?

Obama has asserted unequivocal backing for Israel. But his "legitimate claims" remark gives you pause, making you wonder a bit about his worldview. Would the "legitimate claims" of Hamas be on the table in "no precondition" talks with Iran? National security has been a weakness for Democratic presidential candidates and doubly so for Obama because of his inexperience. Only four years ago he was an Illinois legislator.

That vulnerability explains the touchy reaction from Obama and his supporters to President Bush's speech in Israel likening negotiations with "terrorists and radicals" to the 1930s appeasement of the Nazis. Obama's defenders immediately jumped to argue that the problem with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain wasn't that he talked with Hitler, but what he did in those meetings.

The problem is a little more complicated than that. Chamberlain entered those talks without the simple precondition that the integrity of Czechoslovakia was not negotiable. Besides leading to the sellout of Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain's flying to Munich to talk to Hitler undermined the fragile German opposition to Hitler. Military leaders, convinced his intention to go to war over the Sudeten issue would lead to defeat, plotted to overthrow Hitler.

William L. Shirer in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is scathing in condemning the generals for failing to depose Hitler, but he wrote, "If, as the conspirators claim, their plans were on the point of being carried out, the announcement of Chamberlain's trip to Munich certainly cut the ground from underneath their feet." He added "such a golden opportunity never again presented itself to the German opposition to dispose of Hitler."

Presidential meetings carry consequences, for good and ill. Leaders are subject to misjudgment and miscalculation. Soviet boss Nikita Khrushchev saw John Kennedy as weak after the Bay of Pigs fiasco and left a 1961 summit over Berlin with his belief about the young president confirmed. According to the New York Times, "Kennedy naively thought he could make a breakthrough with face-to-face talks." Two months later, the Berlin Wall went up. The next year, Khrushchev moved to put missiles in Cuba. He was wrong about Kennedy, but it took the Cuban missile crisis to convince him. This is not an argument against summits, only a cautionary tale of how they can go wrong.

The issue here is not whether America should at some diplomatic level engage rogue nations like Iran. The issue is whether a president should hold talks without preconditions with the world's worst despots."