Yesterday, President Obama shook hands and briefly chatted with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, explaining in a press conference afterwards that he was trying to move towards a “more constructive” relationship with the South American country.
The right wing has responded with outrage to Obama’s meeting with Chavez, claiming face-to-face talks with a dictator show that Obama is projecting weakness. On NBC this morning, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Obama “bows to the Saudi King and is friends with Venezuela” and claimed the President showed “shallowness” in talking with Chavez. Gingrich then claimed that U.S. presidents do not “smile and greet” with Russian leaders:
Q: But do you think he should not be trying to mend relationships with other world leaders?
GINGRICH: How do you mend relationships with somebody who hates your country, who actively calls for the destruction of your country and who wants to undermine you?
Q: But we certainly have mended relationships with countries that have hated us in the past. Russia comes to mind, China comes to mind.
GINGRICH: But we didn’t rush over, smile, and greet Russian dictators. We understood who they were.
Dr. Gingrich, who has a Ph.D. in European history, should re-read his history books. As the Cold War waned, President Reagan (whose foreign policy Gingrich repeatedly praises) met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at four summits, leading to nuclear arms reductions. President George H. W. Bush negotiated the Start II treaty alongside Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and President Clinton discussed foreign investment with Yeltsin. President Bush, of course, said he saw into Vladimir Putin’s soul after a private engagement. Each meeting had smiles all around: