Scowcroft: ‘Hard to Make Things Better if You Don’t Talk’
When I first saw the headline “Brent Scowcroft Echoes Obama” at memeorandum, I read it as “Brent Scowcroft Endorses Obama,” which struck me as sufficiently newsworthy to immediately click the link. The actual story is markedly less surprising:
Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, said on Monday that he agrees with the position, stated mainly by Sen. Barack Obama, that the U.S. would benefit from having direct talks with the leaders of its most distrusted adversaries.
“Absolutely,” said Scowcroft, when asked by The Huffington Post whether he thought the next president should meet with the likes of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “It’s hard to make things better if you don’t talk.”
Scowcroft, in addition to his more famous resume’ entries, is a former Chairman and current head of the International Advisory Board of the Atlantic Council of the United States, the organization that issues my paychecks. Thankfully, we’re in full agreement here. Indeed, what Scowcroft says is so axiomatically true as to not be in dispute in serious foreign policy circles.
My strong sense, however, is that the difference between Barack Obama and John McCain on this issue is one of posturing rather than substance. Obama wishes to present himself as a healer and conciliator, so he pronounces that he’ll hold summit meetings with the most bellicose dictators and try to work out our problems. McCain, by contrast, wishes to present himself as a touch guy who won’t cozy up to bad actors, so he says he won’t talk to these people without some concessions.
In reality, regardless of which president occupies the Oval Office, the United States will hold routine discussions with every international actor with which we have business. Which is to say, pretty much all of them. No president is going to hold summit talks with the Iranian ayatollahs without serious back channel ground work by his diplomatic people and without getting concessions ahead of time so that he can make some grand announcement at the end. Nor will any president refuse to talk to the Iranian regime, at least in back channels, given their incredible importance in a region vital to American interests. At the end of the day, this is a matter of style rather than substance.