Fred Kaplan, on Obama’s willingness to talk to bad people:

[H]ere’s a fact of our times (and Obama seems to have a grip on this, perhaps because he’s not so immersed in the diplomatic subculture): A presidential visit is not the cherished commodity that it once was, because the United States is no longer the superpower that it used to be.

When the Soviet Union imploded, so did the Cold War system whose existence bolstered our power and influence. After a while, many leaders—who once turned to the United States to permit, enforce, and legitimize their dealings in the world—began to go their own way, pursue their own interests, build their own alliances, not necessarily against the United States (though sometimes it worked out that way) but, more to the point, without giving much thought to Washington’s feelings about the matter. […]

No matter who is elected this November, the next president will have to take extraordinary steps to translate this global reach into power and influence—to restore American leadership. One of the main challenges in this effort will be to prove to others that this leadership is desirable.

The new reality is that to a degree we haven’t seen in our lifetimes, the United States is a normal country—a very powerful country, but normal nonetheless: not a superpower. A presidential visit, in this light, is not such a big deal. Or, to the extent that some countries might still regard it as a visitation from on high, it may be just the jolt to get things moving.

Either way, not only was Obama’s remark not naive; it reflected a more instinctive understanding of the post-Cold War world than either of his opponents seem to possess.

(And, as Ilan Goldenberg says, we have perfectly cordial relations with regimes that are as bad as many on our do-not-call list.) This is a point which goes beyond scheduling official visits. Our military is still designed to counter a Soviet invasion of Europe (an invasion which, it was assumed, would bear an eerie resemblance to WWII). Our response to 9/11 was to buy more jet fighters, reboot Reagan’s Star Wars, and try to cast OBL as Uncle Joe Hitler in the blockbuster sequel World War IV. (SPOILER ALERT: It sucked.) We are still pissed at Iran for taking American hostages (1979), Cuba for hosting Soviet missiles (1962), and North Korea for the war (ended 1953). Not that these countries have since spontaneously become model neighbors, but “containing” these regimes per Cold War Diplomacy 101 has not noticeably moderated their behavior, nor reduced their longevity – and, although something of a Johnny-Come-Lately to this group, the 12-year containment of Saddam’s Iraq did not turn out particularly well, either. People say Americans don’t know their history, and that’s partially true. The other problem – the far worse problem – is that they don’t know when to let it go. A more useful life skill, much harder to master.

I’m not saying Obama’s got all the right answers – he definitely doesn’t. And I’m not saying we can’t revisit historical decisions, or that they don’t matter. Sure they do. What I’m saying is that the conditions under which these decisions were made do not exist anymore; so, if you are still getting the exact same answers you would have gotten 50, or even 20 years ago, you probably aren’t doing it right. Banging on about how we need to keep doing something because that’s how we’ve always done it, much like analogizing everything to WWII, is not a sign that you are a deep strategic thinker, it’s a sign that you are a one-note moron who needs to invest in a new calendar. It sounds new and scary, but I promise it won’t hurt you. You can even get one with kittens on it.

And at the risk of leaving my parents’ generation with nothing to talk about this election season, will you please shut the fuck up about about Louis Farrakhan already?  Even Rakim doesn’t give a shit anymore.  Let it go.

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