Sunday, January 28, 2007

Kerry and Khatami at Davos

Andrew Sullivan linked approvingly to this blog post ripping into John Kerry for making comments critical of the Bush administration at the World Economic Forum in Davos, in the presence of (gasp!) Mohammad Khatami, former president of Iran. That disturbed me, so I sent him this email:

Mr. Sullivan,

I would be interested to read an explanation for your approving link to Hot Air's blog post ripping John Kerry for his comments at Davos. His comments seemed fairly reasonable; we have consistently burned our diplomatic bridges whether the topic was Iraq, global warming, the International Criminal Court, land mines, nuclear weapons, capital punishment, or torture. And we are facing a crisis of confidence and international isolation. We have been, as Kerry said, diplomatically tone deaf, and it has hurt us badly. I think Kerry is hardly wrong in voicing these concerns. For the most part, they don't seem terribly contrary to comments you yourself have made.

Is the crime merely that he voiced these opinions in the presence of Mohammad Khatami (or "the pig" as Hot Air refers to him)? Should our policy discussion be stifled whenever a Muslim might be listening? Should we imagine that none can see our network news, or read our newspapers or (heaven forbid) your blog? Hot Air suggests that "Khatami's masters" will thrill at these comments critical of the Bush administration. I thought you had disowned the idea that dissent gives aid and comfort to our foes. Isn't frank and open discussion part and parcel of deliberative democracy, even when others are listening? It's not as if they didn't hear all of this from Kerry in 2004 (and having heard it, Iran famously endorsed George W. Bush in the general election -- so much for being thrilled by Kerry's rhetoric).

Furthermore, I'm not certain that vilification of Khatami is terribly useful. Many responsible statesmen have suggested that engaging Iran in a regional dialogue would be to our benefit. Who do we think that dialogue will be with? We may not agree with Khatami across a broad array of issues (and certainly I agree his policies on homosexuality were abhorrent), but is Ahmadinejad better? Is Khamenei? Within the spectrum of politics in Iran, we might not do much better than Khatami. He at least pushed in directions we favored on democracy, on foreign relations, on the rule of law. If we wait to find someone who agrees with us on everything before even engaging in dialogue, then we'll wait (as the Bush administration has) for something that will never happen. Iran is not Iowa, and it is not going to become Iowa simply because we refuse to talk to them. If politics is, as Otto Van Bismarck stated, the art of the possible, we should realize that moderates like Khatami and Hashemi Rafsanjani are our most likely allies in Iran. That doesn't mean we have to agree with them or even treat them as friends, but gratuitous demonization is not going to further our dialogue.

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