Saturday, September 27, 2008

Obama, McCain and Kissinger

In the debate last night, Barack Obama and John McCain went back and forth over Obama's idea that he would sit down with the President of Iran with no preconditions. Obama insisted, over and over, that one of McCain's own advisers, Henry Kissinger, agrees with Obama. McCain said he has known Kissinger for many years and he knows Kissinger does not believe that. Obama was unmoved.

Today Henry Kissinger weighed in saying that Obama had misstated his views. Ed Morrissey comments that "Either Obama lied, or he’s too inexperienced to understand what Kissinger said and actually meant."

For the rest of Ed Morrissey's excellent analysis of the debate see Hot Air.


Ian said...

Here are Obama's comments:

OBAMA: Senator McCain mentioned Henry Kissinger, who's one of his advisers, who, along with five recent secretaries of state, just said that we should meet with Iran -- guess what -- without precondition. This is one of your own advisers.

Now, understand what this means "without preconditions." It doesn't mean that you invite them over for tea one day. What it means is that we don't do what we've been doing, which is to say, "Until you agree to do exactly what we say, we won't have direct contacts with you."

There's a difference between preconditions and preparation. Of course we've got to do preparations, starting with low-level diplomatic talks, and it may not work, because Iran is a rogue regime.

But I will point out that I was called naive when I suggested that we need to look at exploring contacts with Iran. And you know what? President Bush recently sent a senior ambassador, Bill Burns, to participate in talks with the Europeans around the issue of nuclear weapons.

Again, it may not work, but if it doesn't work, then we have strengthened our ability to form alliances to impose the tough sanctions that Senator McCain just mentioned.

And when we haven't done it, as in North Korea -- let me just take one more example -- in North Korea, we cut off talks. They're a member of the axis of evil. We can't deal with them.

And you know what happened? They went -- they quadrupled their nuclear capacity. They tested a nuke. They tested missiles. They pulled out of the nonproliferation agreement. And they sent nuclear secrets, potentially, to countries like Syria.

When we re-engaged -- because, again, the Bush administration reversed course on this -- then we have at least made some progress, although right now, because of the problems in North Korea, we are seeing it on shaky ground.

And -- and I just -- so I just have to make this general point that the Bush administration, some of Senator McCain's own advisers all think this is important, and Senator McCain appears resistant.

Ian said...

And here are Kissinger's exact words on Iran negotiations:

KISSINGER: Well, I am in favor of negotiating with Iran. And one utility of negotiation is to put before Iran our vision of a Middle East, of a stable Middle East, and our notion on nuclear proliferation at a high enough level so that they have to study it. And, therefore, I actually have preferred doing it at the secretary of state level so that we -- we know we're dealing with authentic...


SESNO: Put at a very high level right out of the box?

KISSINGER: Initially, yes. And I always believed that the best way to begin a negotiation is to tell the other side exactly what you have in mind and what you are -- what the outcome is that you're trying to achieve so that they have something that they can react to.

Now, the permanent members of the Security Council, plus Japan and Germany, have all said nuclear weapons in Iran are unacceptable. They've never explained what they mean by this. So if we go into a negotiation, we ought to have a clear understanding of what is it we're trying to prevent. What is it going to do if we can't achieve what we're talking about?

But I do not believe that we can make conditions for the opening of negotiations. We ought, however, to be very clear about the content of negotiations and work it out with other countries and with our own government.

Dennis said...


Here is John McCain's reponse:

MCCAIN: [Kissinger] "said that there could be secretary-level and lower level meetings. I've always encouraged them. The Iranians have met with Ambassador Crocker in Baghdad."

McCain, Kissinger and Obama all agree that there should be lower level negotiations.

McCain was trying to pin Obama down on the fact that Obama had once said that he (Obama) as President of the United States, would sit down with Iranian president Ahmenutjob without preconditions.

Obama was able to weasel out of that by "re-stating" his position (read, "lying") and then, like a skillful illusionist, diverting attention elsewhere, in this case, to a dispute about what Henry Kissinger said or believes.

Ian said...

I'm making an honest Google effort to come up with a McCain quote saying he's in favor of secretary-level negotiations before tonight.

I am coming up with quotes about how he views negotiations with Iran as 'appeasement,' a position Bush also held before he ordered an assistant secretary of state to sit in on the Geneva talks. McCain, as far as I can find, never "encouraged" these negotiations. In fact it appears he opposed them.

If you can find any indications that McCain is pro-negotiation with Iran (before this morning's Kissinger clarification) I'd be happy to believe you and change my position.

Dennis said...


We do have Kissinger on record making that point and McCain says he agrees with his good friend Henry Kissinger.

I think the real issue in the debate last night, however, was about Barack Obama saying that as President of the United States, he would sit down with Ahmanutjob without precondition.

That is the point of contention, not whether lower level negotiations can take place. As far as I know, no one is disputing that.

Just moments ago, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said about Obama, "I think he's desperately trying to modify it in ways that don't look as confused as it really is."

Dennis said...

The "it" in Bolton's quote above is Obama's position.

Ian said...

So, if I understand you correctly, the two positions are:

Obama: Negotiations without preconditions which may lead to a negotiation at the presidential level.

McCain: Negotiations without preconditions which may lead to negotiation at the cabinet level.

This seems not to be the yawning ideological chasm Bolton makes it out to be.

Let me just say my opinion, since you've clarified what you think McCain has said:

We need to offer a high-level negotiation to Iran because, a) if they accept it will discredit their Great Satan rhetoric in the eyes of the Iranian population, and b) if they turn it down it will discredit them in the eyes of the world.

The US has allowed Iran to play its bluff as if it were a real hand of cards, which definitely does not have. IMHO.

Dennis said...


No, I don't think I've made myself sufficiently clear. My summary of the dispute between McCain and Obama goes like this:

Obama: As President of the United States I would meet with the President of Iran without preconditions.

McCain: It is not only stupid, but dangerous for the President of the United States to lend legitimacy to a rogue tyrant by giving that tyrant the PR value of meeting face to face with the President of the United States without preconditions.

Obama: WE (now changing the meaning from President of the United States to American representatives like the Secretary of State) must be able to meet with the heads of foreign governments--even your own advisor Henry Kissinger said so.

McCain: I've never opposed meetings between lower level representatives of the U.S. and any country. But the President of the United States should not meet with the President of Iran wihout preconditions.

Obama: Even your own advisor, Henry Kissinger said we should meet with Iran.

McCain: (Thinking Obama was still talking about meetings between the President of the United Statas and the President of Iran): Did not.

Obama: Did so

McCain: Did not

Obama: Did so (na ne na ne na na!)

Kissinger: Lower level representatives of the U.S.,like the Secretary of State etc., should be able to meet with Iranians, but the President of the United States should not meet with the President of Iran without preconditions.

Prior to coming into this debate, Barack Obama held to a position that was stupid and possibly outright dangerous to U.S. foreign policy, but during the debate he either deliberately or ignornantly misquoted Henry Kissinger in an attempt to justify his ignorance.

Whether lower level discussions would be fruitful is beside the point raised in the debate.