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 writes that, if Obama says he wants a debate with John McCain on foreign policy, let's get it on. If McCain is going to reject the idea of face-to-face presidential negotiations, what would be his policy towards Iran and how would it be different from Bush's? That's the question whose answer I haven't heard yet.
Like all human activity, negotiation has costs and benefits. If only benefits were involved, then it would be hard to quarrel with the "what can we lose?" mantra one hears so often. In fact, the costs and potential downsides are real, and not to be ignored.
When the U.S. negotiates with "terrorists and radicals," it gives them legitimacy, a precious and tangible political asset. Thus, even Mr. Obama criticized former President Jimmy Carter for his recent meetings with Hamas leaders. Meeting with leaders of state sponsors of terrorism such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong Il is also a mistake. State sponsors use others as surrogates, but they are just as much terrorists as those who actually carry out the dastardly acts. Legitimacy and international acceptability are qualities terrorists crave, and should therefore not be conferred casually, if at all.
Moreover, negotiations – especially those "without precondition" as Mr. Obama has specifically advocated – consume time, another precious asset that terrorists and rogue leaders prize. Here, President Bush's reference to Hitler was particularly apt: While the diplomats of European democracies played with their umbrellas, the Nazis were rearming and expanding their industrial power.
In today's world of weapons of mass destruction, time is again a precious asset, one almost invariably on the side of the would-be proliferators. Time allows them to perfect the complex science and technology necessary to sustain nuclear weapons and missile programs, and provides far greater opportunity for concealing their activities from our ability to detect and, if necessary, destroy them.
Iran has conclusively proven how to use negotiations to this end. After five years of negotiations with the Europeans, with the Bush administration's approbation throughout, the only result is that Iran is five years closer to having nuclear weapons. North Korea has also used the Six-Party Talks to gain time, testing its first nuclear weapon in 2006, all the while cloning its Yongbyon reactor in the Syrian desert.
Monday, May 19, 2008
John Bolton explains what is wrong about Obama's pledge to meet without preconditions with all sorts of state sponsors of terrorism.