Posted by Ilan Goldenberg
Seriously how is it that Mike O'Hanlon (R-Petraeus) manages to get himself into every single major op-ed page in this country so often? I know so many more responsible and thoughtful people, who write much higher quality stuff but have a much harder time getting published. His latest masterpiece in the WSJ today attacks Obama for his willingness to talk to regimes we don't like.
If elevated to a doctrine, reliance on presidential-level diplomacy is a mistake. It risks rewarding foreign leaders who cause the most trouble, creating perverse incentives for those desiring the attention of the U.S. It also can confuse us about the nature of diplomacy. Foreign leaders, nice or not, make deals based on assessments of their interests, and any new diplomatic doctrine that fails to recognize as much would ignore centuries of history and potentially damage American security.
This is a classic case of an unfair strawman. O'Hanlon is basically implying that Obama's foreign policy doctrine is that he will rely solely on talking to dictators as a way of dealing with them. That's just absurd. What Obama has said is that direct talks (instead of Bush's high school or kindergarten theory of diplomacy of not talking to people we don't like) need to be a central element of a broader strategy.
Anyone who thinks that America's strategy should be to talk to dictators all day, without laying the necessary groundwork through lower level negotiations, offering incentives, and sometimes using threats, is a moron. So, there are a number of options: A. O'Hanlon thinks that Obama and his whole team of advisors (including Tony Lake, Susan Rice, Richard Danzig and Greg Craig) are just a bunch of morons; B. He is deliberately misrepresenting Obama's position; or C. He hasn't actually paid close enough attention to figure out what Obama's policy really is. I'll go with some combination of B & C.