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The Fallacy of Appeasement -- Kennedy and Khrushchev -- Three Articles


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Obama's Growing Gaffe

Kennedy Talked, Khrushchev Triumphed

A lesson for Obama


Obama's Growing Gaffe


By Charles Krauthammer
May 23, 2008
http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2008/05/post_40.html

WASHINGTON -- When the House of Representatives takes up arms against $4 gas by voting 324-84 to sue OPEC, you know that election-year discourse has gone surreal. Another unmistakable sign is when a presidential candidate makes a gaffe, then, realizing it is too egregious to take back without suffering humiliation, decides to make it a centerpiece of his foreign policy.

Before the Democratic debate of July 23, Barack Obama had never expounded upon the wisdom of meeting, without precondition, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bashar al-Assad, Hugo Chavez, Kim Jong Il or the Castro brothers. But in that debate, he was asked about doing exactly that. Unprepared, he said sure -- then got fancy, declaring the Bush administration's refusal to do so not just "ridiculous" but "a disgrace."

After that, there was no going back. So he doubled down. What started as a gaffe became policy. By now, it has become doctrine. Yet it remains today what it was on the day he blurted it out: an absurdity.

Should the president ever meet with enemies? Sometimes, but only after minimal American objectives -- i.e. preconditions -- have been met. The Shanghai communique was largely written long before Richard Nixon ever touched down in China. Yet Obama thinks Nixon to China confirms the wisdom of his willingness to undertake a worldwide freshman-year tyrants tour.

Most of the time you don't negotiate with enemy leaders because there is nothing to negotiate. Does Obama imagine that North Korea, Iran, Syria, Cuba and Venezuela are insufficiently informed about American requirements for improved relations?

There are always contacts through back channels or intermediaries. Iran, for example, has engaged in five years of talks with our closest European allies and the International Atomic Energy Agency, to say nothing of the hundreds of official U.S. statements outlining exactly what we would give them in return for suspending uranium enrichment.

Obama pretends that while he is for such "engagement," the cowboy Republicans oppose it. Another absurdity. No one is debating the need for contacts. The debate is over the stupidity of elevating rogue states and their tyrants, easing their isolation and increasing their leverage by granting them unconditional meetings with the president of the world's superpower.

Obama cited Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman as presidents who met with enemies. Does he know no history? Neither Roosevelt nor Truman ever met with any of the leaders of the Axis powers. Obama must be referring to the pictures he's seen of Roosevelt and Stalin at Yalta, and Truman and Stalin at Potsdam. Does he not know that at that time Stalin was a wartime ally?

During the subsequent Cold War, Truman never met with Stalin. Nor Mao. Nor Kim Il Sung. Truman was no fool.

Obama cites John Kennedy meeting Nikita Khrushchev as another example of what he wants to emulate. Really? That Vienna summit of a young, inexperienced, untested American president was disastrous, emboldening Khrushchev to push Kennedy on Berlin -- and then near fatally in Cuba, leading almost directly to the Cuban missile crisis. Is that the precedent Obama aspires to follow?

A meeting with Ahmadinejad would not just strengthen and vindicate him at home, it would instantly and powerfully ease the mullahs' isolation, inviting other world leaders to follow. And with that would come a flood of commercial contracts, oil deals, diplomatic agreements -- undermining precisely the very sanctions and isolation that Obama says he would employ against Iran.

As every seasoned diplomat knows, the danger of a summit is that it creates enormous pressure for results. And results require mutual concessions. That is why conditions and concessions are worked out in advance, not on the scene.

What concessions does Obama imagine Ahmadinejad will make to him on Iran's nuclear program? And what new concessions will Obama offer? To abandon Lebanon? To recognize Hamas? Or perhaps to squeeze Israel?

Having lashed himself to the ridiculous, unprecedented promise of unconditional presidential negotiations -- and then having compounded the problem by elevating it to a principle -- Obama keeps trying to explain. On Sunday, he declared in Pendleton, Ore., that by Soviet standards Iran and others "don't pose a serious threat to us." (On the contrary. Islamic Iran is dangerously apocalyptic. Soviet Russia was not.) The next day in Billings, Mont.: "I've made it clear for years that the threat from Iran is grave."

That's the very next day, mind you. Such rhetorical flailing has done more than create an intellectual mess. It has given rise to a new political phenomenon: the metastatic gaffe. The one begets another, begets another, begets ...


Kennedy Talked, Khrushchev Triumphed


By NATHAN THRALL and JESSE JAMES WILKINS
May 22, 2008
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/22/opinion/22thrall.html?_r=2&hp&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

IN his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy expressed in two eloquent sentences, often invoked by Barack Obama, a policy that turned out to be one of his presidency's - indeed one of the cold war's - most consequential: "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate." Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Kennedy's special assistant, called those sentences "the distinctive note" of the inaugural.

They have also been a distinctive note in Senator Obama's campaign, and were made even more prominent last week when President Bush, in a speech to Israel's Parliament, disparaged a willingness to negotiate with America's adversaries as appeasement. Senator Obama defended his position by again enlisting Kennedy's legacy: "If George Bush and John McCain have a problem with direct diplomacy led by the president of the United States, then they can explain why they have a problem with John F. Kennedy, because that's what he did with Khrushchev."

But Kennedy's one presidential meeting with Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet premier, suggests that there are legitimate reasons to fear negotiating with one's adversaries. Although Kennedy was keenly aware of some of the risks of such meetings - his Harvard thesis was titled "Appeasement at Munich" - he embarked on a summit meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna in June 1961, a move that would be recorded as one of the more self-destructive American actions of the cold war, and one that contributed to the most dangerous crisis of the nuclear age.

Senior American statesmen like George Kennan advised Kennedy not to rush into a high-level meeting, arguing that Khrushchev had engaged in anti-American propaganda and that the issues at hand could as well be addressed by lower-level diplomats. Kennedy's own secretary of state, Dean Rusk, had argued much the same in a Foreign Affairs article the previous year: "Is it wise to gamble so heavily? Are not these two men who should be kept apart until others have found a sure meeting ground of accommodation between them?"

But Kennedy went ahead, and for two days he was pummeled by the Soviet leader. Despite his eloquence, Kennedy was no match as a sparring partner, and offered only token resistance as Khrushchev lectured him on the hypocrisy of American foreign policy, cautioned America against supporting "old, moribund, reactionary regimes" and asserted that the United States, which had valiantly risen against the British, now stood "against other peoples following its suit." Khrushchev used the opportunity of a face-to-face meeting to warn Kennedy that his country could not be intimidated and that it was "very unwise" for the United States to surround the Soviet Union with military bases.

Kennedy's aides convinced the press at the time that behind closed doors the president was performing well, but American diplomats in attendance, including the ambassador to the Soviet Union, later said they were shocked that Kennedy had taken so much abuse. Paul Nitze, the assistant secretary of defense, said the meeting was "just a disaster." Khrushchev's aide, after the first day, said the American president seemed "very inexperienced, even immature." Khrushchev agreed, noting that the youthful Kennedy was "too intelligent and too weak." The Soviet leader left Vienna elated - and with a very low opinion of the leader of the free world.

Kennedy's assessment of his own performance was no less severe. Only a few minutes after parting with Khrushchev, Kennedy, a World War II veteran, told James Reston of The New York Times that the summit meeting had been the "roughest thing in my life." Kennedy went on: "He just beat the hell out of me. I've got a terrible problem if he thinks I'm inexperienced and have no guts. Until we remove those ideas we won't get anywhere with him."

A little more than two months later, Khrushchev gave the go-ahead to begin erecting what would become the Berlin Wall. Kennedy had resigned himself to it, telling his aides in private that "a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war." The following spring, Khrushchev made plans to "throw a hedgehog at Uncle Sam's pants": nuclear missiles in Cuba. And while there were many factors that led to the missile crisis, it is no exaggeration to say that the impression Khrushchev formed at Vienna - of Kennedy as ineffective - was among them.

If Barack Obama wants to follow in Kennedy's footsteps, he should heed the lesson that Kennedy learned in his first year in office: sometimes there is good reason to fear to negotiate.

Nathan Thrall is a journalist. Jesse James Wilkins is a doctoral candidate in political science at Columbia.


A lesson for Obama


May 23, 2008
http://www.nypost.com/seven/05212008/postopinion/opedcolumnists/
obama_to_ajad__atomic_assist_111819.htm?page=0


One would never know it from Barack Obama's remarks on the subject of negotiations with our enemies, but the subject of whether or not, and under what conditions, the United States should meet with the Soviet Union was addressed in the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debates. Obama, of course, cites Kennedy as authority for the proposition that the president should be agreeable to meeting with America's enemies without preconditions. Here is the instructive exchange on the subject of a summit with Moscow in the second Kennedy-Nixon debate, with the question initially posed to Nixon by then-Meet the Press moderator Lawrence Spivak:

MR. SPIVAK: Mr. Vice President, according to news dispatches Soviet Premier Khrushchev said today that Prime Minister Macmillan had assured him that there would be a summit conference next year after the presidential elections. Have you given any cause for such assurance, and do you consider it desirable or even possible that there would be a summit conference next year if Mr. Khrushchev persists in the conditions he's laid down?

MR. NIXON: No, of course I haven't talked to Prime Minister Macmillan. It would not be appropriate for me to do so. The President is still going to be president for the next four months and he, of course, is the only one who could commit this country in this period. As far as a summit conference is concerned, I want to make my position absolutely clear. I would be willing as president to meet with Mr. Khrushchev or any other world leader if it would serve the cause of peace. I would not be able wou- would be willing to meet with him however, unless there were preparations for that conference which would give us some reasonable certainty - some reasonable certainty - that you were going to have some success. We must not build up the hopes of the world and then dash them as was the case in Paris. There, Mr. Khrushchev came to that conference determined to break it up. He was going to break it up because he would - knew that he wasn't going to get his way on Berlin and on the other key matters with which he was concerned at the Paris Conference. Now, if we're going to have another summit conference, there must be negotiations at the diplomatic level - the ambassadors, the Secretaries of State, and others at that level - prior to that time, which will delineate the issues and which will prepare the way for the heads of state to meet and make some progress. Otherwise, if we find the heads of state meeting and not making progress, we will find that the cause of peace will have been hurt rather than helped. So under these circumstances, I, therefore, strongly urge and I will strongly hold, if I have the opportunity to urge or to hold - this position: that any summit conference would be gone into only after the most careful preparation and only after Mr. Khrushchev - after his disgraceful conduct at Paris, after his disgraceful conduct at the United Nations - gave some assurance that he really wanted to sit down and talk and to accomplish something and not just to make propaganda.

Frank McGee then asked Kennedy for his response:

MR. KENNEDY: I have no disagreement with the Vice President's position on that. It - my view is the same as his. Let me say there is only one uh - point I would add. That before we go into the summit, before we ever meet again, I think it's important that the United States build its strength; that it build its military strength as well as its own economic strength. If we negotiate from a position where the power balance or wave is moving away from us, it's extremely difficult to reach a successful decision on Berlin as well as the other questions. Now the next president of the United States in his first year is going to be confronted with a very serious question on our defense of Berlin, our commitment to Berlin. It's going to be a test of our nerve and will. It's going to be a test of our strength. And because we're going to move in sixty-one and two, partly because we have not maintained our strength with sufficient vigor in the last years, I believe that before we meet that crisis, that the next president of the United States should send a message to Congress asking for a revitalization of our military strength, because come spring or late in the winter we're going to be face to face with the most serious Berlin crisis since l949 or fifty. On the question of the summit, I agree with the position of Mr. Nixon. I would not meet Mr. Khrushchev unless there were some agreements at the secondary level - foreign ministers or ambassadors - which would indicate that the meeting would have some hope of success, or a useful exchange of ideas.


In the event, the June 1961 Vienna summit proved to be a disaster for the United States, but what a stark contrast Kennedy's approach to the issue provides to Obama's.
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