Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Coalition of the Naive

Bad Timing of a Bad Idea by McCain

Walid Jumblatt, member of Lebanese governing coalition

Tzipi Livni, Israeli Foreign Minister

Bernard Kouchner, French Foreign Minister

Senator Barack Obama

John McCain, inept campaigner that he is, has chosen the perfect moment to call Barack Obama "naive" for his willingness to talk to leaders of other countries or movements who are not friends of the U.S.

We see in the news this week three sparkling examples of leaders of other nations talking to their worst enemies, or at least to other leaders to whose policies and actions they are adamantly opposed. The Bush administration opposed or opposes each example (in vain) and McCain would presumably do the same:

Israel Talks to Syria.

The startling news which broke this week of the new Israel-Syria negotiations sponsored by our friend Turkey was revealed not just in the world press, but yesterday, May 21, was openly declared on the website of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We learn from the N.Y. Times coverage that the Bush administration at first opposed the meetings (no surprise), but had to yield when it became clear that Israel was going ahead with or without Washington's blessing. The delicious irony here is that this news comes less than a week after Bush indirectly lectured Obama on talking with terrorists in his address in Jerusalem to the Knesset:
" Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before."
Tzipi Livni, sitting in the Knesset audience and knowing her talks with Syria were about to begin in Istanbul, must have swallowed hard over this line. We can put Israel down on McCain's "Naive Leaders and Nations" list.

France Talks to Hamas

On Monday of this week, Bernard Kouchner, France's Foreign Minister, confirmed that France has been having off-the-record talks with Hamas and that in fact he had met a month ago in Gaza with Ismail Haniya, the Hamas Prime Minister. Kouchner was careful to add that these talks were not negotiations but only "contacts." He explained, "We must be able to talk if we want to play a role." This revelation, common-sensical though it is, must have driven the Bush White House, and by extension, John McCain, up the wall. Didn't Kouchner pay attention to Bush's speech in Jerusalem (see above)? Is Kouchner deluded? Does he not realize this is appeasement? The Israeli government, for its part, is well-aware of the "contacts" between France and Hamas and is undoubtedly not happy about them, but is evidently acquiescing in them. What else could it do when its representatives are in Istanbul talking to Syria? So much for France's naivete. It must go on McCain's list of the naive.

The U.S.-backed Lebanese government settles with Hezbollah

In Lebanon, after several days of especially bitter and deadly clashes between the government and Hezbollah, the pro-western, U.S. - backed governing coalition not only talked to Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed group second only to Al Qaeda on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations with whom one must never speak, it made a deal with it. The deal was done in Doha under the sponsorship of Iran, Syria and, take a deep breath, Saudi Arabia -- our best friend in the Arab world. Normally Iran and Saudi Arabia do not speak to each other, let alone to terrorists sponsored by one or the other. Add the majority coalition in Lebanon to McCain's list of the naive.

What we see happening here is that the existential imperatives of peace and survival are driving some of our best friends to jump over their own, and Bush's, rhetoric and talk to the people with whom they must come to terms. Barack Obama, to his credit, has shown a realistic recognition that this must happen -- that all parties, including above all the U.S., must be prepared to talk to their adversaries -- and he has not been afraid to state his willingness to talk to the "enemy," and he has taken much flak (including, sadly, from Hillary) for doing so. McCain, with Bush, remains locked in a mind set long since trumped by reality that says, "we can get what we want by refusing to talk to the people who have what we want."

The Coalition of the Naive knows better.

Obama addressing 75,000 naive Oregonians on May 18