American Politics, Terrorism and Islam: Part 1: What’s wrong with jaw-jaw?
By Habib Siddiqui
In the last century very few world leaders could be compared with Winston Churchill of Great Britain for his stand against appeasement. And yet he is famously quoted as saying, “To jaw-jaw is always better than war-war.” So what is wrong in talking with Iran? After all, President Nixon and Secretary Kissinger did speak with their counterparts in China, the Soviet Union and Vietnam at the height of tension with those countries.
But this wisdom has consistently been rebuffed by President Bush. Like a drooling hound-dog fixated on the scent of its target while other crucial disasters may be happening all around him, Bush’s eyes and nose are locked onto Iran. Not surprisingly, in a speech on the floor of Israel’s Knesset this month (May ‘08), Bush criticized those who want to deal with “terrorists”. Bush said, “Some seem to believe that 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,” and then compared this diplomatic track with Sen. William Borah’s 1939 comment, “Lord if I could only have talked to Hitler, all 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.”
None of the political analysts had any problem decoding Bush’s speech. He meant Senator Obama who had earlier hinted that he would personally negotiate with Iran if its leaders abandoned any pursuit of nuclear weapons and stopped their support of violence, and also said he would meet Cuban and North Korean leaders. There is little doubt that the president’s speech was made to invoke the horrors of the Second World War, and was made deliberately in Israel, to drive a wedge between Obama and American Jewish voters. The New York Times in its Saturday editorial (May 17, 2008) stated, “Bush’s penchant for slash-and-burn politics is unseemly” when practiced at home; “it is shameful when put on display abroad.”
Democrats on May 15 condemned President Bush’s insinuation that they would be appeasing terrorist states by holding talks, with Senator Joe Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, going so far as to call his remarks “bulls**t.” “This is bulls**t. This is malarkey. This is outrageous. Outrageous for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, sit in the Knesset ... and make this kind of ridiculous statement,” said Senator Biden. Even Democratic Party presidential hopeful Senator Hillary Clinton called Bush’s original comments “offensive and outrageous, especially in light of his failures in foreign policy.”
Senator Obama, the probable Democratic Party candidate, wasted no time to condemn Bush. In a statement released to CNN by his campaign, he said, “It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence to launch a false political attack. George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the president’s extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel.”
John McCain, the presumptive Republican candidate, as expected, promptly came in support of Bush and said, “Barack Obama needs to explain why he wants to sit down and talk with a man who is a head of a government who is a state sponsor of terrorism that kills young Americans.” Asked if Obama was an appeaser, McCain said Obama must explain why he wants to talk with leaders like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and added that Obama’s position was a serious error. “It shows naivete and inexperience and lack of judgment to say that he wants to sit down across the table from an individual who leads a country that says Israel is a stinking corpse, that is dedicated to the extinction of the state of Israel. My question is: what does he want to talk about?”
On Friday, May 16, Senator Obama fought back stating, “It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel. Instead of tough talk and no action, we need to do what (Presidents) Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan did and use all elements of American power — including tough, principled, and direct diplomacy — to pressure countries like Iran and Syria.” He was ready to debate with anyone, anytime, anywhere on foreign policy.
While such hoopla about American foreign policy before this year’s presidential election is quite natural and desirable, it nonetheless once again unmasked how hypocritical and short-sighted politicians are. In an op-ed published on May 16 in the Washington Post, James Rubin, a former State Department official from the Clinton administration, said McCain, responding to a question in a television interview two years ago about whether U.S. diplomats should be working with the Hamas government in Gaza, said: “They’re the government; sooner or later we are going to have to deal with them, one way or another, and I understand why this administration and previous administrations had such antipathy toward Hamas because of their dedication to violence and the things that they not only espouse but practice.” McCain added: “But it’s a new reality in the Middle East. I think the lesson is people want security and a decent life and decent future, that they want democracy. Fatah was not giving them that.” [Rubin, who interviewed McCain for the British network Sky News, said McCain was “guilty of hypocrisy” and accused him of “smearing” Obama.]
So what has really changed in the last two years for Senator McCain other than the fact that he is now the Republican candidate for the White House, something that he was not before? Hamas still runs the Gaza Strip, and Dr. Ahmadinejad is still the elected president of Iran!
Well, hypocrisy and lying are nothing new to most American politicians when push comes to shove. They simply get worse in the election year. We have also noticed how the White House misled everyone with claims about Iraq’s threat, presence of the WMDs, etc. – all only to be found false.
The American people need a serious internal discussion about their foreign policy, especially about the Middle East (and Iran, in particular, in the light of her expressed desire to harness nuclear technology) that supplies oil, America’s newly stoked urge for global hegemony (empire building) and her perennial quest for security, not just for herself but also for her ‘stalwart’ ally – the Zionist state of Israel, with her despicable records of sadistic brutality, racism and inhumanity against the dispossessed Palestinians. They must also debate whether President Bush’s last eight years have been successful in their national quest for security, global leadership, peace and prosperity. Such a discussion needs to weigh in the pros against the cons. It must be done thoroughly, fairly and justly without the influence of any lobby group. If the last eight years were bad, what change must America bring about? As the only superpower in our time, the policies must not only be good for the American people but also for all humanity. Who, of all the candidates, may be the better presidential candidate to bring about that desired state?
(To be continued)