Friday, September 29, 2006

"We don't do 'engagement'."

An excellent example of pseudo-conservative allergy to the tools of diplomacy was described in James Mann's book, Rise of the Vulcans. On p. 280 Mann describes the Bush II administration's abrupt change in policy toward North Korea: "On the day after Kim Dae Jung [president of South Korea and strong advocate of engagement with the North Koreans] visited the White House [March 2001], a senior official pointedly told a reporter that North Korea was not a democracy and that the new administration had doubts about the extent to which it should do business with its leaders. During the early months of the new administration one of America's leading military commanders came home from overseas for a visit to the Pentagon and was startled to be told, "We don't do 'engagement.'"

The idea that the US should not "do business" with leaders of non-democratic governments is a great example of the Bush II administration's partial blindness and disrespect for any need to be consistent. In the past as well as in the present there are plenty of non-democratic governments with whom we have been thoroughly willing to "do business". The former Soviet Union and the current regime in China are only two examples. Thus the fact that North Korea is not a democracy does not by itself require us to avoid "engagement" with it.

There are obviously many things we do not like about the North Korean leadership and justifiably so, but you do not avoid negotiations with opponents just because you disagree with them; it is precisely the fact of disagreements that makes negotiations, "talk", engagement, etc., necessary. Just because we talk to an opponent does not remove our ability to threaten or use military action to coerce them to come to an accomodation. Unless you are an immature, ignorant, insecure, person or nation, you do not need to fear talking with opponents. Teddy Roosevelt recommended we "Speak softly but carry a big stick." The US obviously has the world's biggest stick and we have an abundance of blandishments we can also offer our opponents. It is some kind of psychological disoreder that makes the pseudo-conservatives so allergic to talking with our opponents.

"Engagement", negotiations, "talk" or whatever term you wish is just one more basic tool of foreign policy that pseudo-conservatives don't believe in and this severely limits their ability to conduct foreign policy.

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