Petraeus Speaks At the Heritage Foundation
Published on October 10, 2008 By Larry Kuperman In Democrat

Trying as hard as I can to be fair and unbiased (which I will admit is difficult in these turbulent times and for me perhaps especially) General David Petraeus' recent comments at the Heritage Foundation seem to undercut John McCain's paraphrasing of the General's position and seem to lean more toward Barack Obama's offerings.

Asked by a questioner specifically about the disagreement on this topic that McCain and Obama had at Tuesday night's debate, Petraeus demurred a bit, but said: "I do think you have to talk to enemies."

The General continued ""I'm not trying to get into the middle of domestic politics, but I mean what we did do in Iraq ultimately was sit down with some of those that were shooting at us. What we tried to do was identify those who might be reconcilable."

Barack Obama's statements about negotiating with enemies has been a point of contention that John McCain has raised over and over again. Yet General Petraeus credited the recent success in Iraq to the willingness to negotiate with enemies, some “with our blood on their hands.”

While the General was cautious to stay away from expressing a particular endorsement (saying "Oh, I'm not walking into minefields now. I try to go around...." to an audience response of laughter) it was pretty clear that he agreed with the necessity of negotiating with enemies.

"I'm not trying to get into the middle of domestic politics," Petraeus also said, "but I mean what we did do in Iraq ultimately was sit down with some of those that were shooting at us. What we tried to do was identify those who might be reconcilable."

This is not the first time that McCain's position on this subject has come under at least mild criticism from presumed supporters. James Baker, a McCain supporter, said of John McCain's criticism of Barack Obama's willingness to talk to the dictators of Cuba and Iran "talking to an enemy is not in my view appeasement."

The link provided above is the full video. The section most relevant comes at 1:07 approximately. General Petraeus is a gifted speaker and it is well worth watching for yourself in it's entirety.

Let me be clear in summary. There is no ringing endoresement of Obama nor any strident refutation of McCain. But the General clearly knows what John McCain has said and offers a different point of view.

Your thoughts and comments are welcome.


on Oct 10, 2008

I've got to agree that there is a lot of polarization out there Larry. And from that comes a sharpening wherein blacks become blacker and whites become whiter. No, I'm not talking about race but rather ideas as in seeing things as black or white with no areas of gray.

Here's my point.

Yes, Obama said he would agree to sit down with certain leaders 'without preconditions'. I don't believe that is actually what he meant. I feel confident he would refuse to meet under circumstances that would be life-threatening to himself or others. I further believe his point was that the things that may prevent McCain from meeting with terrorist leaders wouldn't be an issue for him.

Obama's opponents don't know the preset conditions in his mind and see his statement as foolhardy. After all, why would the POTUS voluntarily put himself under the gun, so to speak, and give an enemy an ideal opportunity to kill him? I believe they are taking him at his word.


McCain takes the position that there would need to be preconditions. I have a hunch that his years as a POW has kept him more than a bit leery of an enemy leader. I belive McCain's preconditions would largely involve having a situation in which he or his security could be assured of absolute control, at least in terms of safety if not an assurance of a previously agreed agenda and/or outcome.

McCain's opponents feel his position is a sign that he doesn't want to nor will meet with an enemy leader.


Somehow I have feeling that the conditions both would require to meet with an enemy leader wouldn't vary by a large degree and would be dictated, for the most part, by security concerns and the diplomats that coordinate these meetings.

Now, as to what each might try to get in concessions? That might vary a great deal.

on Oct 11, 2008

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world."

Good line from Yeats.

I have no argument with McCain's position. And, BTW, I think that you explained it most eloquently. I think much of McCain's thinking on the subject comes from the Vietnam War negotiations, which were incessant and futlie. North Vietnam never had any real intention of negotiating; they used the peace talks to sap the will of the American people. I think it was mao that called the strategy "talk talk fight fight."

Where the issue lies, as far as I am concerned, is McCain's overly broad and increasingly strident characterization of Obama's position. As was cited, it is inappropriate to characterize what Obama has said as a policy of appeasement. There is nothing necessarily wrong with going to a meeting; it is what you say and do at the meeting that matters.

For example, McCain says that meeting with Fidel Castro would give Castro some additional degree of legitimacy. But Castro has been the ruler of Cuba since 1959! The same with Ahmadinejad of Iran. We ARE negotiating with Iran through the United Nations and both the US and Iran are member states. Why in world wouldn't we meet?

Yet universal opposition to Obama's statements has become a key talking point for the McCain campaign, as well as invoking General Petaeus' name. But General Petraeus says that negotiations were a key factor in his success.

on Oct 11, 2008

I don't think anyone is implying we don't talk to our enemies, just that it would be inappropriate for a president to unconditionally attend any high level meeting without any ground work being laid for said meeting. This is especially important with nations that sponsor terrorism. Why should the the US give any credibility to a nation (we'll say Iran) that is currently involved in the killing of US troops and supporting terrorist activity in attempt to destabilize  others (Lebanon and Iraq), as well as threaten an ally (Israel) with annihilation?  If after low level meetings become productive, sure go higher, but a presidential meeting - that should be rare indeed. The gerenals right, but he's not asking the president to go talk to them.

Perhaps a short look back in history will be proof you need. The Munich conference is one example. The Khrushchev/Kennedy meeting was taken as a sign of weakness by the Soviets and they placed nukes in Cuba upon sizing up Kennedy. Imagine what would happen if Obama dons his Muslim garb to sing a little  kum bi ah  with Ahmadinejad? Sure that's an exaggeration, but not too hard to imagine. There are all ready too many that provide aid and comfort to the enemies of the US living in this country without  the president doing it to. To be fair, if you can tell me one occasion where the US president met unconditionally with a non-allied, non-nuclear power and it had a positive outcome you might change my mind. 

on Oct 11, 2008

You do know that the United States, under John F. Kennedy, had secretly placed missles in Turkey that were pointed at the USSR? Far from perceived weakness, the Soviet Union was responding to an act of hostility.

Or you may not know that, since it isn't taught in US schools. Check out which includes some excellent original documents, including letters between the world leaders.

So the whole idea that the Cuban Missle Crisis was brought on by perceived weakness is just factually incorrect; it was in fact brought on by a very real act of aggression by the US.

But lets look further at your example. Bobby Kennedy met secretly with the Soviet Ambassador in Washington, D.C. Bobby Kennedy's official position was Attorney General, but there is no doubt that he was acting in his unofficial position as brother of the President of the United States. There were no pre-conditions to that meeting, it was simply a face to face discussion.

After that meeting Khrushchev broadcast the following message:

"You are disturbed over Cuba. You say that this disturbs you because it is ninety miles by sea from the coast of the United States of America. But... you have placed destructive missile weapons, which you call offensive, in Turkey, literally next to us... I therefore make this proposal: We are willing to remove from Cuba the means which you regard as offensive... Your representatives will make a declaration to the effect that the United States ... will remove its analogous means from Turkey ... and after that, persons entrusted by the United Nations Security Council could inspect on the spot the fulfillment of the pledges made."

This is pretty much the deal that was accepted and after that a hotline was put in place, allowing Washington and Moscow to talk directly. Or, if you prefer, to negotiate directly.


We have refused to negotiate directlly with Iran, instead working through the United Nations, a body that I am sure that you will agree is not known for its efficiency. So why not negotiate directly? Is there any downside besides the weak excuse of "legitimizing" the government of Iran that has been in power since 1979?


on Oct 12, 2008

You do know that the United States, under John F. Kennedy, had secretly placed missiles in Turkey that were pointed at the USSR? Far from perceived weakness, the Soviet Union was responding to an act of hostility.

Sure did know about the missiles in Turkey. They were not very accurate and of marginal value. Many may not know as part of the Cuban "deal" they were removed.

Here's one source, that I base my statement on, but there are many examples (source) and it is considered common knowledge.

"Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev viewed America's failure at the Bay of Pigs as a sign of Kennedy's weakness and inexperience, an assessment he felt was confined after meeting Kennedy at the Vienna Summit of April 1962, where it appeared to some that Kennedy was sandbagged by Khrushchev's threat to cut off West Berlin from the Western powers. Within six months, Khrushchev was placing nuclear missiles in Cuba, an action that brought the world as close as it has ever come to all-out nuclear war."

Tonight there is an excellent program about the "Cuban Missile Crisis" on the History channel. Check it out if you get a chance.

The difference between the Soviet Union and Iran IMO is that there have always been both high and low level discussions on a wide variety of issues with the Soviets. Low level talks are really the glue that keeps the high level talks going, even if they should break down. Depending on who you talk to, American or Soviet, thats who won the stand off. The Soviets could claim they got the missiles out of Turkey and we could claim the same for Cuba. A win - win for everyone.

Now I'm not saying we should never talk to the Iranians, but it needs to start on the lowest and most basic levels, perhaps agricultural or health issues. Remember they expelled our diplomats (after a despicable 444 day hostage situation). This was unprecedented among civilized nations. I would say trust should be earned and not freely given. The same people that were involved during the 1979 crisis are the same that are in power today. I also don't think the anti-American propaganda plastered on buildings, billboards and, streets, all with government support, is a very good start, along with the recent rhetoric either. Do you? 

But a unconditional (even a conditional visit at this point) presidential visit? IMO that is out of the question for the foreseeable future. That would only legitimize the leadership that wants to wipe Israel from the face of the earth, by giving them the diplomatic upper-hand, not to mention distressing Israel, an important ally. That president might as well don a dog collar and leash, than hand it to Ahmadinejad for the photo op. I think we all got a big taste of what a talk would be like between Ahmadinejad and the president, from the recent UN gathering. Larry I'm actually surprised you would support this. Libya has for the most part changed course (they are pretty quiet about middle east issues), and it didn't take a presidential visit to accomplish this, nor does it merit one in the foreseeable future. It took many years, but it started with Libya wanting to rejoin the rest world. Iran needs to do the same. You can love your enemies if you like, just don't be surprised if they club your head while your kissing their feet.

on Oct 13, 2008

So the whole idea that the Cuban Missle Crisis was brought on by perceived weakness is just factually incorrect; it was in fact brought on by a very real act of aggression by the US.

The crises was solved by an act of weakness.

Say what you want (and my mother idolizes JFK) that was the worst "cowboy diplomacy" since 1898.  But it worked.  So today JFK is a hero, not a goat.  History judges results, not intentions.  The present judges intentions.

on Oct 13, 2008

P.s.  As to your article, I think the very question speaks more for the intentions of the media.  Petraeus was trying to be as non political as possible.  I actually think he did a damn good job!  And the media stunk.