Thursday, May 15, 2008

Talking to People

Earlier this morning, President Bush gave a speech at the celebration for the 60th anniversary of Israel in which he criticized talking to organization with whom the United States is in conflict, saying:
Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided." We have an obligation to call this what it is – the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.
While I have never been much of a fan of Bush's foreign policy, I've become concerned that this "shut up and shoot" form of diplomacy has become so ingrained in our culture that even democratic presidential-hopeful Hillary Clinton has repeatedly tried to discredit Barack Obama for considering the possibility of talking to foreign nations with whom the United States does not see eye to eye. Obama's own response to such attacks is to invoke the names of powerful American presidents who maintained dialog with their rivals; however, I think a more principled discussion on the topic could be had.

While I acknowledge that there are some people who are beyond human capacity to turn from violence, I do not believe this is true for all "terrorists and radicals" and I most certainly do not believe it for the broader social networks that allow them to gain power.

I think Bush's reference to Nazi Germany is a useful one. By the time Hitler rose to power, it is indeed unlikely that a conversation with an American senator would have convinced him to stop his plans for world domination. However, if the victorious countries after WWI had been willing to pay more attention to the unrest in Germany, Germans may have been less willing to elect Hitler in the first place. Indeed, after WWII when the allied powers worked to rebuild Germany and Japan, the two countries became great allies of America.

The great wars between nations of the 20th century are not perfect analogies to our current situation, but I do feel that much could be gained by speaking to the leaders and people of nations and organizations that wish America and its allies harm, and finding out how to address the sources of their discontent instead of shutting off dialog and letting animosity ferment in solitude until it erupts in violence.Clearly, this topic can never be a black and white discussion that applies to all situations, and I'd be interested in listening to people discuss nuances (or flat out disagreeing with me).


Elana said...

I find it horrifying when people paint violence without discussion and willful ignorance as positive qualities. While it is naive to think that dialogue will solve everything, what can it possibly hurt??? What is gained by refusing to talk to somebody?!??

Mark said...

For me, the most depressing aspect of Bush's statement was that he actually believes that talking is the same thing as trying to basically convert the other side. That is not what diplomacy is about. Its about solutions and compromise. Of course the old Senator that Bush quotes sounds off his rocker. Talking to Hitler in 1939 would not have accomplished squat. But even with the shitty treaty that followed WWI, a concerted effort by the other European powers to actually ENFORCE the one they had probably would have at least given them a chance to resist Hitler's invasion, if not stop it from happening.

The parallel between modern "Islamofacism" and actual Fascism is also one that I disdain of. Besides for the general dislike of Jews, there really aren't all that many similarities. It is the rhetorical strategy of linking WW2 Germany with (insert Muslim enemy of the U.S. here) that needs to be addressed and put in its place.

Bush says he doesn't want to negotiate with "terrorists and radicals." Yet he is more than willing to talk with North Korea. He talks with Russia, and China. Russia especially I would argue is closer to 1939 Germany than Iran or Al Qaida are. They continue to meddle in Central Asian politics without much disruption from the U.S. China continues to incorporate Tibet into its cultural and political self. I'm not saying that these cases are really that similar to Hitler's Germany, but they are closer to Nazi Germany than Al Qaida, Hamas, Syria, Iran - take your pick.