In his victory speech after the North Carolina primary, Sen. Barack Obama said
something that is all the more remarkable for how little it has been remarked upon.
In defending his stated intent to meet with America's enemies without preconditions,
Sen. Obama said:
"I trust the American people to understand that it is not weakness, but wisdom to
talk not just to our friends, but to our enemies, like Roosevelt did, and Kennedy
did, and Truman did."
That he made this statement, and that it passed without comment by the journalists
covering his speech indicates either breathtaking ignorance of history on the part
of both, or deceit.
I assume the Roosevelt to whom Sen. Obama referred is Franklin D. Roosevelt. Our
enemies in World War II were Nazi Germany, headed by Adolf Hitler; fascist Italy,
headed by Benito Mussolini, and militarist Japan, headed by Hideki Tojo. FDR talked
directly with none of them before the outbreak of hostilities, and his policy once
war began was unconditional surrender.
FDR died before victory was achieved, and was succeeded by Harry Truman. Truman did
not modify the policy of unconditional surrender. He ended that war not with
negotiation, but with the atomic bomb.
Harry Truman also was president when North Korea invaded South Korea in June, 1950.
President Truman's response was not to call up North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung for
a chat. It was to send troops.
Perhaps Sen. Obama is thinking of the meeting FDR and Churchill had with Soviet
dictator Josef Stalin in Tehran in December, 1943, and the meetings Truman and
Roosevelt had with Stalin at Yalta and Potsdam in February and July, 1945. But
Stalin was then a U.S. ally, though one of whom we should have been more wary than
FDR and Truman were. Few historians think the agreements reached at Yalta and
Potsdam, which in effect consigned Eastern Europe to slavery, are diplomatic models
we ought to follow. Even fewer Eastern Europeans think so.
When Stalin's designs became unmistakably clear, President Truman's response wasn't
to seek a summit meeting. He sent military aid to Greece, ordered the Berlin
airlift and the Marshall Plan, and sent troops to South Korea.
Sen. Obama is on both sounder and softer ground with regard to John F. Kennedy. The
new president held a summit meeting with Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev in Vienna in
Elie Abel, who wrote a history of the Cuban missile crisis (The Missiles of
October), said the crisis had its genesis in that summit.
"There is reason to believe that Khrushchev took Kennedy's measure in June 1961 and
decided this was a young man who would shrink from hard decisions," Mr. Abel wrote.
"There is no evidence to support the belief that Khrushchev ever questioned
America's power. He questioned only the president's readiness to use it. As he once
told Robert Frost, he came to believe that Americans are 'too liberal to fight.'"
That view was supported by New York Times columnist James Reston, who traveled to
Vienna with President Kennedy:
"Khrushchev had studied the events of the Bay of Pigs," Mr. Reston wrote. "He would
have understood if Kennedy had left Castro alone or destroyed him, but when Kennedy
was rash enough to strike at Cuba but not bold enough to finish the job, Khrushchev
decided he was dealing with an inexperienced young leader who could be intimidated
It's worth noting that Kennedy then was vastly more experienced than Sen. Obama is
now. A combat veteran of World War II, Jack Kennedy served 14 years in Congress
before becoming president. Sen. Obama has no military and little work experience,
and has been in Congress for less than four years.
The closest historical analogue to Sen. Obama's expressed desire to meet with no
preconditions with anti-American dictators such as Iranian president Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad is the trip British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French
premier Eduoard Daladier took to Munich in September of 1938 to negotiate "peace in
our time" with Adolf Hitler. That didn't work out so well.
History is an elective few liberals choose to take these days, noted a poster on the
Web log "Hot Air." The lack of historical knowledge among journalists is merely
appalling. But in a presidential candidate it's dangerous.
As Sir Winston
"Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it."