Engaging the enemy

17 years ago

To the editor:
President George W. Bush and several present candidates for president from both political parties have taken the stand that the U.S. should not meet with high officials of nations and groups like Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Syria, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Sudan, and others. Their claims for their positions include the belief that meetings would legitimate these leaders and their causes; that meetings would elevate such leaders to a level approaching our leaders; and meetings would not accomplish anything useful to us.     Counter arguments by those desiring meetings with our enemies include the facts that world opinion of the U.S. as a nation, our credibility, and our world stage legitimacy is quite low in comparison to those we refuse to meet; many of the leaders we will not join in dialogue are held as are their positions and past behavior in higher esteem than are the U.S. and our international and nation/leader specific behavior; and to predict a priori that nothing would be accomplished by meeting with enemies or those we strongly dislike and/or disagree with as both President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have often asserted is pompous and demeaning to well intentioned suggestions for serious international dialogue.
To not try to accomplish solutions to problems, attempt to close differences between arguing parties, or to negotiate widened gaps in international conflicts seems arrogant, silly, and totally non productive. We need to plan assiduously, wisely, and carefully for any meeting we engage in. We must stay goal oriented. We need to stay open minded to opposition viewpoints so as to take advantage of possible creative breakthroughs that may come our way.
Recall the subtle and useful nuanced creativity when President Kennedy and USSR leader Khrushchev deftly accepted and ignored select parts of shared messages in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. We saved a war by talking to an arch enemy and taking them seriously and making the adversary take us seriously. We need such professional, non partisan, non childlike pouting antics we have experienced recently from our leaders.
The American public need to speak loudly and forcefully about this issue, not let those who desire to ignore potentially productive meetings to be broached. Not all meetings entered into will bear useful fruit. In fact, some may be total flops. That ought not discourage us from tying in earnest to to connect with those we need to engage.

Ken Petress
Presque Isle