Rich Lowry

When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, the administration thought it had the strategic upper hand, and a man it could work with. Reagan met with his counterpart in Geneva and Reykjavik. Keenly aware of his inability to keep pace in a high-tech arms race, Gorbachev wanted any deal contingent on prohibiting SDI. Reagan said "no." Out of his weakness, Gorbachev eventually gave the Reagan administration the kinds of arms cuts it wanted and openings in the Soviet system. The Cold War was about to end.

If a President Obama handles relations with Iran as deftly, maneuvering the clerical regime to its doom, he's worthy of his hype. Nothing suggests that he even conceives of his desire to talk in these terms. To do so, he'd have to develop some appreciation for the concept of leverage.

Has the Bush administration been too diplomatically inflexible? Maybe, but it has allowed the EU-3 (Great Britain, France and Germany) to take the lead with Iran, and the Europeans have offered incentives for the suspension of its nuclear program. It has engaged in prolonged negotiations with North Korea, winning the (dubious) promise of the suspension of its nuclear program. It has relentlessly promoted Israel-Palestinian negotiations.

We have a recent example of even more active Middle East diplomacy. President Clinton had Yasser Arafat to the White House more than any other foreign leader, and his secretary of state, Warren Christopher, spent long, bootless hours with then-Syrian President Hafez al-Assad. When Clinton tried to pressure Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak into a deal that wasn't there near the end of his second term, the second intifada erupted. It wasn't appeasement; it was just foolish. Obama beware.

Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years .
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