Since when do we not care about what the leader of a major regional power has to say, particularly where a war between his country and ours seems perilously close? And since when do we simply refuse to speak to people with whom we don’t agree?
I think the Bush Administration is to blame for this to a large extent. From the Korean Peninsula to the Middle East to Latin America, Bush’s instinct has been simply not to talk with our antagonists unless they meet preconditions, as though the privilege of a meeting is a prize to be doled out to the deserving. The Korean example is probably the clearest example of how shortsighted this policy is. Unfortunately, the Democratic candidates have mostly adopted Bush’s approach–recall how Senator Clinton took Senator Obama to task for suggesting he would speak with Pres. Ahmadinejad without preconditions, and how the pro-Clinton spin on the dust-up was that only Clinton had the necessary experience to conduct our foreign policy.
I say it’s time we grow up. It’s time we talk with our adversaries before we start shooting at them. It’s time we treat even bad actors with respect, not because they deserve it by our lights, but because it is in our national interest to do so–North Korea again being the best example.
I also think that leaving aside our legal obligations to allow foreign heads of state, even unsavory, to visit New York on U.N. business, it wouldn’t do us any harm to show a little bit of class and keep quiet if a particularly crazy head of state wants to make a fool of himself. Hugo Chavez’s speech at the UN is a good example. We don’t like him, we let him say his piece, and he ended up looking silly. Why not give Ahmadinejad the same medicine? Too subtle for most Americans, it seems. Too bad.