Much was said over the weekend regarding Barack Obama's abandonment of his previous promise to talk to our most bitter enemies, just like Roosevelt did with Hitler and the Japanese. In case you haven't heard of this little situation, it's quite something. During the YouTube debate last July, Obama boasted that he would meet "separately and without precondition" with the leaders of the world's worst nations like the crazy guy in Iran who wants to annihilate Israel and Venezuela's crackpot strongman.
The transcript of the debate makes Obama'a diplomatic plans rather unambiguous:
QUESTION: In 1982, Anwar Sadat traveled to Israel, a trip that resulted in a peace agreement that has lasted ever since.
In the spirit of that type of bold leadership, would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?
OBAMA: I would.
Clambering as ever to claim the moral vanity high ground, the Obama campaign even memorialized this ill-advised pledge on his website. Then on Saturday, the campaign withdrew its aggressive Kumbaya foreign policy via its house media organ, the New York Times. Credulous Times reporter Larry Rohter bought the Obama campaign's spin that the McCain campaign had distorted Obama's ambitious summiting plans and instead "reported" that Obama "does not advocate immediate, direct or unconditional negotiations with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president." I eagerly await the Times' parsing of this issue and its angry insistence that "during the first year" does not necessarily mean "immediate" and how "leaders" doesn't necessarily mean the guy in charge.
Additionally, the Times' reportage over the weekend differed markedly from a write-up the Times did of a November interview with the longtime community organizer:
Making clear that he planned to talk to Iran without preconditions, Mr. Obama emphasized further that "changes in behavior" by Iran could possibly be rewarded with membership in the World Trade Organization, other economic benefits and security guaranteesâ€¦
Mr. Obama's willingness to conduct talks at the highest level with Iran â€¦ differs significantly from the Bush administration.
Clearly, Obama has had a change of heart regarding whether or not to have a love-in with Ahmadenijad. The real interesting question is what brought this change of heart about. There are three possible scenarios:
1) Obama always thought that meeting with the world's tin pot despots was a goofy idea, but made such a pledge nonetheless in a craven effort to appeal to the far left of the Democratic party which thinks a hope-based foreign policy is preferable to one based on iron and steel.
2) Obama still believes that a goodwill tour of chatting up the world's worst people is a swell idea, but has abandoned it in a craven effort to appeal to the vast middle of the American body politic which thinks the idea is screwy.
3) Obama originally thought the Kumbaya foreign policy was a good idea, but having considered the matter more fully has since realized that it's rash and naÃ¯ve and thus has abandoned it.
As to which scenario is the correct one, your guess is as good as mine. Me, I personally go with door number three. I think he really believed what he said at the YouTube debate at the time, and has since come to appreciate the comprehensive idiocy of the idea.
It's important to note that while this interpretation may seem the most Obama friendly, it actually casts him in the most negative light of the three possibilities. The first two options simply show Obama as a politician eager to appeal to certain factions that will facilitate victory. While this kind of pandering and flip-flopping is ignoble, let's face it - it's what politicians do. I know Barack Obama is supposed to be a completely different kind of politician, the honorable likes of which we have not seen since Abraham Lincoln entered Ford's Theatre, but voters who have yet to swoon at the Obama altar have more reasonable expectations.
Instead of being a craven politician, which is in itself a redundancy, Obama comes across here as inexperienced and having exhibited - you better sit down for this - poor judgment. My biggest unease with Obama isn't about merely his lack of experience and qualifications. A larger concern is that it often appears that Obama hasn't thought about serious presidential-level issues with any rigor prior to entering the race. When you hear him stumbling while discussing the capital gains tax or ignorantly assessing FDR's negotiating habits, you begin to realize that the typical reader of this magazine has probably given the world's most significant matters more serious thought than the Democrats' presumptive nominee.
Obama's a smart guy. Scratch that - he's a very smart guy. You don't graduate Harvard Law School magna cum laude unless you have intellectual firepower to spare. Thus, it was shocking at the YouTube debate that he didn't seem to realize that he was promising an unprecedented and highly risky shift in our foreign policy. He was very blithe about meeting with the world's despots.
What's most concerning about a potential Obama administration is the whiff of amateur hour that the candidate often gives off. Yes, his campaign has done a swell job raising money and corralling voters, but when forced to discuss serious issues without the aid of a teleprompter, Obama often seems ill-informed yet still supremely confident. It took Obama 10 months between the YouTube debate and this weekend to realize his Goodwill Tour for Bad Men was a crazy idea. But as president, his decisions and policies, even the half-baked ones, will have consequences in real time.