A couple weeks ago, Dubya lit a match near some oily rags when he compared holding talks with Iran to appeasing Nazis. This was a not-so-subtle dig at Barack Obama, who holds the apparently revolutionary idea that one should talk to their enemies rather than threaten them incessantly. John McCain quickly piled on by saying it was evidence of Obama’s “inexperience and reckless judgment.”
This was followed by a maelstrom of commentary, whose only endpoint could be a raving conservative talk show host revealing his basic lack of historical knowledge. Kevin James was on Hard Ball yelling over and over again that Neville Chamberlain was an appeaser, while Chris Matthews was yelling at him over and over asking him what Chamberlain did that was appeasement. James obviously didn’t know, and it became a painful and sad spectacle to watch a man be so aggressively dumb. Matthews finally jumped in to explain that appeasement isn’t talking to one’s enemies, it is giving them things. Chamberlain wasn’t an appeaser because he talked to Hitler. His problem was giving away half of Czechoslovakia.
Republicans love to question Democrats’ commitment to fighting terrorism. They also love to question Democrats’ patriotism. They even enjoy yelling “boo” and “Nazi” at them to watch them flinch. The usual response from Democrats is to hide under a table and whimper. Republicans always eventually find them though, drag them out from under the table, and then force them to sign fealty oaths, unconstitutional security laws, and authorizations to wage war.
So, it was highly refreshing to see Obama’s response. Rather than slinking away and begging Republicans for leniency, he said, in effect, that these guys are a bunch of raving lunatics, and he can’t believe anyone believes them anymore.
OK, that was paraphrasing it a bit. Technically, he started off with this:
I want to be perfectly clear with George and John McCain. If George Bush and John McCain want to have a debate about protecting the United States of America, that is a debate I’m willing to have anytime, anywhere because that is a debate that I will win because George Bush and John McCain have a lot to answer for.”
Amen, brother. He’s calling them on their own blunders and seems hungry to mix it up. A few days later, he followed up with some more shame-the-devil truth:
Here’s the truth: the Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear weapons, and Iran doesn’t have a single one. But when the world was on the brink of nuclear holocaust, Kennedy talked to Khrushchev and he got those missiles out of Cuba. Why shouldn’t we have the same courage and the confidence to talk to our enemies? That’s what strong countries do, that’s what strong presidents do, that’s what I’ll do when I’m president of the United States of America.
Iran is the single biggest beneficiary of a war in Iraq that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged. For all their tough talk, what are George Bush and John McCain afraid of? Demanding that a country meets your conditions before you meet with them is not a strategy. It’s naïve, wishful thinking. I’m not afraid we will lose some propaganda fight with a dictator. It’s time for America to win those battles because we’ve watched George Bush lose them year after year after year.
Obama completely ignores the conservative framing of the issue, and hits back hard with an intelligent, forceful rebuttal. He even gets some digs about their manhood and their courage into the conversation. Finally, a Democrat who stands by his ideals and remains articulate but passionate in defense of sanity.
This guy just might go places.
Some might think that foreign policy arguments like this are bad for Obama, because they highlight his inexperience in that area. I don’t think so. When he is able to immediately shoot back forceful, yet thoughtful reasons for his strategies, he shows that he is ready to lead. He also never misses the chance to mention what experience has gotten us the last seven years. A smart and thoughtful person without experience is much better than an experienced person who consistently gets it wrong.
Our foreign policy during the Bush administration has been much like a drunk man at a bar, swinging his fists at whoever is within reach. Sure, he was hit over the head with a bottle when he first came in, but at some point you have to stop slugging people and stop making new enemies.
There’s a German word for bully, halbstarke, that literally means “half-strong.” The Germans understand what bullies are — they are not manly so much as trying to overcompensate for their insecurity. The Bush/McCain foreign policy is halbstarke — a lot of chest-thumping and peeing on territory to mark it as ours, but it hasn’t made the world any safer. Indeed, it has made the lives of Iraqis even worse, and it has radicalized a new generation of Arabs to hate us.
I’m hopeful people are tired of halbstarke foreign policy, and ready for — dare I say it — change.