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Obama and Ahmadinejad: Trust But Don't Verify

May 11, 2008
by Aaron Goldstein

Should Barack Obama be elected President of the United States this November then we can expect him to climb aboard Air Force One and fly to Tehran to initiate a conversation with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Obama is prepared to meet with a man who is supporting Muqtada al-Sadr and other anti-American Shiite forces in Iraq.  These forces are killing American soldiers.

Obama is prepared to meet with a man who is supporting Hezbollah, a terrorist organization that as I write this is trying to overthrow the democratically elected government in Lebanon.  A quarter century ago, Hezbollah was responsible for the deaths of 241 American soldiers at their barracks in Beirut.  

Obama is prepared to meet with a man who is leading the effort to develop a nuclear bomb while at the same time declaring that Israel should be “wiped off the map”.  For good measure, he said the Holocaust is “a myth.”   On the occasion of Israel’s 60th anniversary, the man with whom Obama so desperately wants an audience referred to the Jewish State as “a stinking corpse.”

This is the sum of the man with whom Obama seeks to engage in dialogue.

In an interview with 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft in February 2007, Obama said that not talking to Iran and Syria “flies in the face of our experience during the Cold War.  And Ronald Reagan understood that it may be an evil empire, but it’s worthwhile for us to periodically meet to see are there (sic) areas of common interest.” 

Well, it is clear that Barack Obama does not understand Ronald Reagan.  

Ronald Reagan did not meet with Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov or Konstantin Chernenko.  He did not meet with these Soviet leaders because they were not committed to allowing their people to live in liberty.   In Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan found someone who had some humanity in him and wanted to reform Communism.   Even though Reagan and Gorbachev had a great rapport, Reagan knew that Gorbachev was still committed to and part of the Communist way of life.   With Ronald Reagan, it was trust but verify.   With Barack Obama, it is trust at face value.  

I do find it interesting how some liberals who express a newfound respect for Reagan.  Take this case in point.  Earlier this week, I was corresponding with a singer/songwriter who enjoys a modest amount of fame.   She is an ardent supporter of Obama.   The singer/songwriter pilloried Hillary Clinton for pledging to “obliterate” Iran if it attacked Israel.  For his part, Obama said Hillary sounded too much like President Bush.   The singer/songwriter, while deploring Ahmadinejad’s language, believed that our leaders should not stoop to their level.  She added that Reagan was far more elevated in his language.

Funny, but I don’t particularly recall the Left being overwhelmingly enamored with Reagan after he publicly declared the Soviet Union as “an evil empire” in March 1983.  Anthony Lewis of The New York Times called the speech “primitive” and that his rhetoric was “a mirror image of crude Soviet rhetoric.”  When I pointed this out to the singer/songwriter, she replied that she was busy raising a 2½ year old and did not have time for further discussion.  I’m sure she would have reacted similarly had I pointed out that Richard Cohen of The Washington Post called Reagan “a religious bigot” or that The New Republic declared the speech left friend and foe alike “with the impression that the President of the United States was contemplating holy war.”   (LINK

Barack Obama might acknowledge the Soviet Union was an evil empire.  But I am sure a younger Barack Obama held a similar view of Reagan’s evil empire speech while attending Columbia University in the early 1980’s.  It is amazing how the passage of a quarter century can change the impression of a man and his message.   Maybe there’s a chance liberals will view George W. Bush with a similar fondness in 2033.  Perhaps by that time the singer/songwriter will have more time to discuss politics.  

But until then we must ask why Obama wants to talk to Ahmadinejad and what America gets out of such a conversation.  Like many liberals, Obama wishes to restore America’s reputation in the world, whatever that means.  By the world are liberals talking about every other member state in the UN?   Or do liberals simply mean socialist governments in Europe?  Or perhaps just the Muslim world?  If it is the latter why on earth do we want to restore our reputation with countries that execute people for engaging in homosexuality?   Restoring our reputation in the world doesn’t actually accomplish anything other than make liberals feel good about themselves.

Obama insists that he would offer Ahmadinejad a choice.  His platform on Iran reads:

If Iran abandons its nuclear program and support for terrorism, we will offer incentives like membership in the World Trade Organization, economic investments, and a move toward normal diplomatic relations.  If Iran continues its troubling behavior, we will step up our economic pressure and political isolation.  Seeking this kind of comprehensive settlement with Iran is our best way to make progress. (www.barackobama.com/issues/foreignpolicy/#iran)  

Never mind that Bush Administration withdrew its objections to Iran joining the WTO nearly three years ago and that negotiations to join the WTO are ongoing.  Does Obama honestly think membership in the WTO will serve as an inspiration for Iran to renounce terrorism, disband Hezbollah and re-establish diplomatic ties with the United States?  But let us, for argument’s sake, suppose Iran accepts these conditions.  How does WTO membership stop Iran from pursuing its nuclear program and supporting Hezbollah and Shiite militias in Iraq in a clandestine manner?   It is interesting that Obama prides himself as a candidate whose opponent will not be able to say he “gave George W. Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran.”   Yet Obama seems entirely prepared to give Ahmadinejad the benefit of the doubt on Iran.  Once again, Obama trusts but doesn’t verify.  While this policy might make us more popular outside the United States it will do little to serve America’s interests.

If you think about it you might ask how President Obama traveling to Tehran to meet with Ahmadinejad any different than former President Jimmy Carter’s recent meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus?   There is one difference.   Obama won’t wait until after he has left office to debase his reputation on the world stage.
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Aaron Goldstein writes about the things that pique his insatiable curiosity.  In addition to politics, he is an aficionado of baseball, poetry, music and ketchup flavored potato chips.  Aaron satiates his various appetites in Boston. 

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