Dover Bitch

Thursday, July 26, 2007

To talk or not to talk

DB has been tied up this week, so apologies for the light blogging. I'm also a little late getting into this topic, but here's some scattered thoughts about the dust-up between Clinton and Obama over their answers to a YouTube debate question.

Here's the brief synopsis: The candidates were asked if they would, in their first year in office, speak with the leaders of Iran, Syria, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela. Obama came right out and said yes. Clinton said she would increase the diplomatic efforts, but she wouldn't promise to meet them in her first year, not wanting to be used for propaganda purposes. Since then, Clinton has called Obama naive. Obama has responded by saying that voting to authorize the war in Iraq was naive.

Time will tell who comes out on top. The media, naturally, jumped on the experience vs. judgment angle. I think there are other elements to this disagreement that make it interesting.

International diplomacy is more than simply one president calling another or rolling out the red carpet at the ranch. Obviously, that's important, but diplomacy is a multi-dimensional endeavor and the Bush Administration has been ineffective not just because the doors at Kennebunkport or Crawford weren't wide open, but because the doors at the State Department were essentially closed. It goes without saying that the nation's top diplomat has been more successful at shoe shopping and raising awareness of golf as a sport than she has been at bringing countries together to solve major international problems. The answer to our failed diplomatic record needs to be more than simple cosmetics.

On the other hand, who cannot recognize the absurdity of Bush's notion that it's somehow a form of punishment to be told you can't meet (or get a back rub from) him?

This debate is giving me some flashbacks to 2004 because it's not much different than when John Kerry said he could "fight a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side and lives up to American values in history." Dick Cheney responded by mocking Kerry for wanting to show al-Qaeda our "soft side." Obviously that wasn't the point Kerry was making, but in the general election, Cheney's bottom-feeding quip was effective enough.

Clinton's answer was clearly more thoughtful. Obama's was more appealing emotionally. Will the Democratic primary voters choose thoughtfulness over emotion? It doesn't look like it.

Then there is the post-debate debate. I'll just say that I think Obama's response (that it was naive to vote for this war) was a pretty good stinger, at least as far as the primary goes.

The point I think will be lost in all this is the idea that a president should do the right thing for the right reasons. The GOP came into power believing that everything President Clinton did was, by default, wrong. If Clinton did it this way, we'll do it that way. Just ask New Orleans how that worked out. Bush's policies are catastrophically bad across the board and the damage he has done will require extensive repair. But the decisions the next president makes have to be more than just opportunities to repudiate George W. Bush.

If the next president is going to speak to another world leader, it has to be because America is ready to talk at that level, not just because a talk is overdue (though it most certainly is). If it takes two or three years of strong diplomatic efforts to get to the point where a talk between top leadership can be productive, that's how it ought to be done. However, if the president feels that a meeting in January 2009 will send the right statement to the world, then that's a justifiable reason to do it, too.

But we cannot allow the next administration to exist solely to prove it's not the Cheney administration. The best way to do that is to be thoughtful and to do what's best for America.

In case you think that sounds too much like Lieberman, keep in mind that I'm not saying it to stop anybody from disagreeing with me. Or to keep America in some sort of insane biblical conflict.

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