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the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

McCain Surely Needs Lessons in Diplomacy

John McCain, the Republican nominee for president, ridicules as naive his rival Barack Obama's promise to talk to the leaders of the nation's adversaries -- among them Iran and North Korea.

So would McCain prefer to keep the U.S. in a state of permanent hostility, possibly leading to war? He falsely claims that Obama would enter a dialogue without preparation. No U.S. leader would come to any summit meeting with a designated enemy without an agenda -- but no responsible leader would fail to seek all possible roads to peace.

Would McCain prefer to start another war rather than discuss formidable issues with other nations? For those who prefer war, any such contacts are foolishly called "appeasement."

Not true.

War should be the last resort rather than at the top of the agenda as the neo-conservatives would have it. Those who prefer hostilities usually leave the fighting and dying to others. McCain and his followers want to impose conditions before any U.S. talks with Tehran and Pyongyang. Why would a sovereign nation submit to conditions imposed by an adversary simply to begin a dialogue? Iran and North Korea are under constant threat from U.S. policy makers. The result is not to scare those countries, but to bolster their belligerence.

We live in a dangerous and changing world and the first thing American leaders have to learn is that -- despite our military might -- we cannot call all the shots. Pax Americana no longer applies, especially with the economic train wreck we now face. So why not talk?

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the World War II military commander, said at the beginning of the cold war that he would go anywhere, anytime, in pursuit of peace. No one dared to call Ike an "appeaser." At the outset of his administration he pushed for co-existence with the former Soviet Union.


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Most leaders who followed Eisenhower to the White House understood the value of sounding out our adversaries and negotiating with them.

In his 1961 inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy said "we should never negotiate in fear or fear to negotiate." Kennedy met in Vienna with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and was shocked at Khrushchev's ranting, but the U.S. and Soviet Union later set up a "hot line" to speed up communications in any crisis. It served both nuclear-armed superpowers well during the Cuban missile crisis.

President Richard M. Nixon also initiated arms reduction talks with Moscow and ushered in an era of detente. With the Helsinki Accords, President Gerald R. Ford paved the way to breaking down Soviet travel barriers in Eastern Europe. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan also took strong stands on the Cold War but stood ready to talk to Soviet leaders.

So the predecessors of President Bush understood the value of seeking rapprochements with antagonists. As part of the neo-con philosophy Bush invaded Iraq without giving the nation an honest reason for the war. America and Iraq have paid a heavy price for that war.

U.S. officials are hoping for "victory" in Iraq, but this is an impossible dream. With heavily armed American troops still in Baghdad, U.S. officials are speaking of winning the war. McCain says it is a "must" and while casualties are down, the war is far from over. And the neo-cons, whose philosophy of empire building is being repudiated, have fled to the safe houses, universities and Washington right-wing think tanks.

The administration has found a way to diminish the number of Iraqi fighters by paying 90,000 Iraqis not to fight us. When is the U.S. going to get its act together?

Let's hope the new leader we pick on Nov. 4 will opt for peace and arms negotiations instead of mindless war.

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Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas was an American author and former news service reporter, member of the White House Press Corps and columnist. She worked for the United Press International (UPI) for 57 years, first as a correspondent, and later as White House bureau chief. She was an opinion columnist for Hearst Newspapers from 2000 to 2010, writing on national affairs and the White House. Among other books, she was the author of Front Row at The White House: My Life and Times. Helen passed away on July 20, 2013.

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