I’ve long wondered about the pseudo-debate over whether the next President should meet foreign leaders with or without preconditions. Obama has said “without,” observing that the whole point of meeting with hostile leaders is to get them to agree to important changes; a meeting is not enough of a reward to compel someone to make major policy changes. McCain-Palin have been opposed, but I’ve been frustrated that no one ever asked for clarification of what pre-conditions they’d want to impose.

At last, Brian Williams came through for me:

WILLIAMS: ? that you both have been hammering the Obama campaign on. What ? first of all, what in your mind is a precondition?

PALIN: You have to have some diplomatic strategy going into a meeting with someone like Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong-il, one of these dictators that would seek to destroy America or her allies. It is so naive and so dangerous for a presidential candidate to just proclaim that they would be willing to sit down with a? a leader like Ahmadinejad and just talk about the problems, the issues that are facing them. So that ? that?s ? that?s some ill-preparedness right there.

As should be obvious, these are “preparations,” not “preconditions.” Preconditions would be something like requiring Iran to disassemble its nuclear weapons program before we meet with them. But to negotiate such an agreement would require someone to sit down with someone else, and to make decisions at that level, it would have to be two leaders, not their representatives.

John McCain has not taken a question from the traveling press since last month, so we’re unlikely to get any clarification from him.

I contend, though, that McCain-Palin’s willingness to push this line of argument without ever clarifying what it is supposed to mean, what preconditions they believe Obama is omitting, is irresponsible, and it is dishonest and dishonorable.

When John Edwards was scrapping with Barack and Hillary in the early primaries, we had a serious national debate about the merits of a universal mandate as part of a plan for universal healthcare. The three of them elevated our national discourse and informed voters. The debates were a chance to hash out important issues, and the campaigns and their surrogates invested serious effort in keeping the primaries substantive and smart. All three are heroes for that, and ennobled us all by their example.

John McCain and Sarah Palin have dragged us into the gutter, and whenever a reporter attempts to drag the discourse to drier, less odiferous areas, McCain and Palin claw themselves and the watching nation right back.


  1. #1 Pen
    October 23, 2008

    Pre-conditions for meeting foreign leaders? How about learn to use English words according to their dictionary meanings? Also, I didn’t know the opportunity to meet the US president was a ‘reward’ in its own right. I think that’s rather going to depend on who gets elected.

    That Palin is really scary isn’t she? She’s apparently starting from the premise that the world is just crawling with people who want to destroy America. Course, that’s rather going to depend on who gets elected as well.

  2. #2 SimonG
    October 23, 2008

    It’s not quite the same situation, but the end of the Troubles in Northern Ireland only happened because people were prepared to sit down and talk.

    In general, I don’t approve of meetings without an agenda but unless you’ve got some avenue of two-way communication you can’t even set that agenda.

  3. #3 Daniele
    October 23, 2008

    You are adorable and I want to stroke your beard, but enough of that, I applaud you for finding a topic of interest that has not yet been discussed to death. McCain/Palin are constantly parsing words and extrapolating logically weak arguments based on questionable semantic details. It’s clear from her answer that she doesn’t know what pre-conditions are. I actually kind of feel for her, as it must be overwhelming to be thrust into a position for which one is woefully under qualified. My empathy runs out when I remember that the only intelligent solution to her problem is to bow out, and yet she presses on.

  4. #4 Josh Rosenau
    October 23, 2008

    SimonG: Bear in mind that meeting “without preconditions” bears no relationship with “meeting without an agenda.” The latter would be “meeting without preparation,” and that’s just crazy.

  5. #5 The Ridger
    October 23, 2008

    I think Obama should just have a kegger at the White House on January 26. That’s a Monday, and nobody’s holy day, and if he has some lemonade the Mormons and Muslims can enjoy themselves, too. No agenda, no pre-conditions, just a big party, everyone’s invited, and they can all throw the keys to their government residences in the punchbowl at the end of the night…

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