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Benjamin Pauker: Talking to Our Enemies

Ben Pauker, Managing EditorThe savvy early adopters that read our nascent blog in its first few days last week might have noticed a curious banner advertisement, supplied by Google, along the right-hand side of our homepage. It was hard to miss. Framed in black, the ad set photographs of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Barack Obama side by side, above the question: “Is it OK to Unconditionally Meet With Anti-American Foreign Leaders?” Below were two buttons: “Yes” and “No.” But the advertisement offered only the illusion of choice; neither button worked and a click sent one directly to a page on John McCain’s website. While the World Policy Journal has always been a magazine of opinion—both left, right, and center (mostly left and center, to be fair)—the World Policy Institute, both the home and publisher of WPJ, is a “progressive” institution, and decidedly non-partisan. Not to mention that, as a registered non-profit, the Institute is prohibited from supporting political campaigns. The ad is now gone, banished from our site. But there’s a much larger question lurking here behind McCain’s ad: when did the notion of “meeting” become such a scarlet letter? And how has active, engaged—dare we say preemptive—diplomacy with those who oppose us become tantamount to weakness? This controversy began as an internecine war, touched off by Obama’s answer to a question posed to the candidates in the July 2007 YouTube debate. Asked whether he would, in the first year of his presidency, meet “without preconditions,” with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea in order to “bridge the gap that divides our countries,” Obama responded affirmatively. In what was perhaps a gut response, Obama recalled that both JFK and Reagan had met with their Soviet counterparts—not because they trusted them or doubted the very real danger that Moscow posed—but because negotiation, in and of itself, opened a door to the possibility of progress. Senator Clinton was quick to pounce, calling Obama naive, even reckless, and this line of attack has been gleefully inherited by the Republican nominee. It will no doubt intensify through November.

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