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Precedents

By Judd Legum on May 22, 2008 at 10:40 am

"Precedents"

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Noah Millman is willing to concede that Munich analogies are inappropriate but wants to know “what is the historical model for Obama’s ‘meet with Iran/North Korea/Cuba/Venezuela without preconditions?’” Well, the trouble with trying to find an analogy of any sort that really holds up is simply that the geopolitical circumstance of unipolarity doesn’t have real precedent.

But if you want to talk historical models, I think the best model to look at is just the recent past history of North Korea. At times, we’ve conducted diplomatic talks with the North Koreans. When we’ve done that we’ve made progress. Conservatives, meanwhile, have screamed “appeasement!” and when they got their chance to try isolation they managed to make the situation much, much, much worse. Now, clearly, the Agreed Framework didn’t actually wind up involving a Presidential-level with Kim. But in my view, the current dispute between Obama and Bush/McCain isn’t really about the question of presidential-level meetings. If Bush/McCain were willing to have good-faith, high-level talks with Iran at the Foreign Minister level but had some weird hangup about the idea of a presidential-level meeting, I’d consider that odd but not so pernicious and perhaps justified by the ambiguity as to who the Iranian Head of State is.

But my understanding of what the current debate is really about is that the things Obama has said indicate an interest in vigorously pursuing good-faith negotiations with various countries, whereas conservatives are open to the “you surrender and then we don’t bomb you” model but fundamentally think that it’s not possible to reach agreements with evil regimes so we need to avoid putting ourselves in a position where the other side appears to be making a serious offer.

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