Thursday, February 14, 2008

O'Hanlon, Boot and Their Critics: And an Overlooked Point

Following the script laid out by David Frum in the last issue of TNI, bloggers and "members of the foreign policy community" are again crossing swords. This time, the debate centers around two comments--Max Boot's assertion that the United States needs a president that dictators and rogues will "fear" (and sees McCain as better fitting this bill than Obama or Clinton)--and Mike O'Hanlon's critique that Obama's position that he is prepared to engage in presidential summitry with the "rogues" is dangerous.

In all the back and forth (does "fear" matter; did Nixon meet with Brezhnev and Mao with or without preconditions; etc.) another point is left out: how much is the U.S. president a factor?

With oil at $90 a barrel and $20 billion in new investments since 2003 (or at least pledges of such investments)--does Ahmadinejad of Iran or his successor really have a strong need to meet with the U.S. president? Wouldn't an Iranian leader be wary of an invitation from President Obama if he thought he wasn't going to get any real concessions and might end up looking weak or ineffective?

President McCain has a lot of bluster about Putin and Putin's Russia. But John Evans, a London based columnist for Eurasian Home, questions whether McCain--or any U.S. president in 2009 facing major economic challenges--is really going to be in much of a position to DO much (beyond rhetoric)? He concludes, "The Kremlin might well be saying, ‘the next US president? Who cares?’"

I think that is an overstatement. The U.S. still matters simply because it remains the world's largest military and economic power. But if the Weber/Barma/Ratner/Leverett thesis about growing interconnections that bypass the U.S. and shift more of the world's financial power away from North America and Europe continues to hold true, then it may mean that other world leaders will fear the U.S. a bit less and perhaps not be so eager to have a photo-op with the next president.

But Nick you also need to consider whether other leaders may want to play chicken with the US. We get bashed all the time for not meeting with others, not engaging in diplomacy, etc. Wouldn't Iran or others want to risk looking like they were the ones stonewalling?
I think (but I am not sure) that the Iranian President had desired engagement with US and the West.

2 Reasons:

1- His letters to Bush, Sarkozy, Merkel, and others. These were, in my opinion, discussion-starters. But US & EU were not interested since what they desired, in my opinion, was Iranian surrender.

2- When, at the start of his presidency, he was asked, by a reporter, about re-opening of the US Embassy in Tehran he stated that that was a possibility if it helped the Iranian people.
That's very true, anonymous 6:55, but would he want to meet if the US president was going to try and paint the meeting as some sort of Iranian surrender? Perhaps he would, to show that he was prepared to meet in good faith and "president Obama" was only prepared to lecture.
Anonymous 7:28

I think Iranians are always ready for a deal but they have concluded that no deal on core bi-lateral issues are possible.

I also think US has concluded the same thing.

Thus what we have now is going to be a test of wills and endurance; just like high-school.

Reality is more complex and both sides will be forced to deal with each other due to the events that they cannot control.
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