Atlantic blogger Megan McCardle doesn’t think much of the the ongoing discussion about whether or not the next President should meet with controversial foreign leaders.
To date, the current administration has been pretty resolute in its policy of not talking to people it doesn’t like. This could reasonably be described as the angry two-year-old approach to foreign policy.
Unsurprisingly, the lack of invitations to the White House has not had a huge impact on the policies of Iran, Venezuela or North Korea.
To be fair, the President’s lack of involvement has little to do with the administration’s difficulties in dealing with the country’s various foreign antagonists. The fact is, getting unfriendly regimes to do what you want is largely a question of leverage. For various reasons, the US doesn’t have any.
Going further, the administration’s no talking policy isn’t quite as pigheadedly stupid as it sounds. A meeting with the President can be a significant carrot. It’s the kind of thing that you might reasonably want to hold back until the final stages of negotiation.
More importantly high level talks with dictatorships can be dangerous for the President. In any high profile meeting the administration tends to be under enormous pressure to show results. Dictators, who don’t have answer to voters or the press, have no such concern. The playing field is thus not level, which can easily result in the good guys making concessions that they probably shouldn’t.
However, this is a concern that can easily be addressed. We have tended to get very hung up on whether or not the President should speak to problematic foreign leaders. What really matters is what the President would say. Obama could largely eliminate concerns about his engagement policy by addressing the issue along the following lines:
“Would I speak with President Ahmadinejad? Certainly. Communicating with foreign leaders is part of the President’s job. Would President Ahmadinejad enjoy the conversation? Probably not. I would tell him in no uncertain terms that his country is on a dangerous path that could lead to conflict with the United States.
We should have no illusions that my words alone will change the policies of the Iranian government. However high level engagement is one of the tools we have at our disposal. I will not neglect any opportunity to communicate our views and apply pressure to the Iranian regime. This is one of those times we need a full court press.”