In keeping with his campaign promise to talk to America's enemies without precondition, Barack Obama plans to turn his charms on Burma's military junta. We're starting to understand what hope and change were all about. Translation: Sure hope this change works.
It may be too soon to pass judgment on Obama's new foreign policy strategy, but early returns on his gamble that talking is the best cure are less than reassuring. Each time Obama extends a hand to an anti-American despots, he is rewarded with an insult (Venezuela's Hugo Chavez) or, perhaps, a missile display (North Korea and Iran).
One may view these episodes as diminishing America's status or as a tolerable annoyance -- sort of the way Dobermans view toy poodles. At some point, the big dog reminds the little yapper of his place. Unfortunately, the American commander in chief is a cat in a dog-eat-dog world.
The shift in policy toward Burma, for instance, was announced Monday following the annual theater of the absurd, aka the United Nations General Assembly. Obama spoke eloquently there about the need for cooperation as the world tackles global problems, hitting his familiar theme of responsibility.
Perfectly timed for comedians with writer's block, Obama was followed by Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi. His 96-minute diatribe -- which included questioning the assassination of John F. Kennedy and expressing sympathy for the Taliban -- was a prolonged assault on sane people everywhere.
In the previous administration, the conventional wisdom was that talking to bad actors lent legitimacy where none was deserved. Bush, for instance, ignored Chavez, believing that acknowledgment was empowerment.
This year, Chavez complimented but also chided Obama for saying one thing and doing another. There may be two Obamas, he said. And more than a few Americans thought he might have a point.
One Obama is loquacious and inspiring. The other seems somewhat removed from threatening realities and people who don't share our appreciation for visionary rhetoric.
Chavez and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are building financial partnerships that may make sanctions irrelevant and have promised each other military support and cooperation. While in New York last week, Chavez did a little PR work, appearing on "Larry King Live." The former altar boy said he isn't power hungry, as some claim, nor is he mining uranium for Ahmadinejad, as suggested in a report last December by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
And Iran? Just days before Obama and five other leaders are scheduled to meet in Geneva to discuss Iran's nuclear ambitions, the Islamic Republic test-fired long-range missiles.
In the new era of talk diplomacy, we might call that a pre-emptive strike -- a nonverbal gesture worth a million moot words. Then again, there's always hope.Kathleen Parker (ndyStar.com)