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Where Did the Idea We Don't Negotiate Come From?

06.06.2008 05:08 | DISPATCHES

The need to negotiate means one nation has problems to iron out with another. And those the US has the biggest problems with are much less likely to be friends than they are states that sponsor terrorism or are run by tyrants. Obviously then, the most critical negotiation is that between states at odds with each other.

Though this author has only been a student of foreign policy for five years he'd never come across the Bush administration's notion that you don't negotiate with countries like North Korea, Iran, or Syria. Besides that it suspiciously resembles a snit, where, we wondered, is the historical precedent?

Sparing us hours of research, that paragon of good sense, Fred Kaplan at Slate, mercifully provided it for us. It turns out, that with presidents, anyway, a precedent, to a certain extent, exists. In "Is Barack Obama Too Naïve To Be President?" Kaplan address Obama's willingness to speak with leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea without preconditions.

The remark did violate an article in the playbook of Cold War diplomacy: that a presidential visit is special, something that the recipient of the visit. . . needs to earn; that. . . before such a hallowed event can be scheduled, the grunts need to complete all the "spade work," leaving little for the presidents to do beyond signing on the dotted line.
Trouble is the Bush administration has bee averse to even allowing the grunts to dig the diplomatic ditches. Until, that is, it relented with Christopher Hill in North Korea -- perhaps the only act of foreign policy on the part of the Bush administration even resembling success -- and with Condoleezza Rice in the Middle East (not much to report on that front). Meanwhile Kaplan continues on the subject of presidential diplomacy:
But. . . and Obama seems to have a grip on this. . . A presidential visit is not the cherished commodity that it once was, because the United States is no longer the superpower that it used to be. Look at the deals that foreign leaders are cutting on their own. Israel and Hamas are talking about a cease-fire, using Egypt as a mediator. Turkey is serving as middleman in talks between Israel and Syria. The political factions in Lebanon worked out an accord, under Qatar's supervision. . . . the more these kinds of deals get struck without American involvement, the more marginalized we become.
In other words, because the rest of the world no longer quakes in fear of America, we can no longer remain aloof. Not only must its diplomats jump down in the ditches, our next president needs to show up at the job site and make sure the customer is satisfied.


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