At the same time that the polemic between democratic candidates over meeting with enemy leaders was going on, the news was matter-of-factly reporting on half a dozen high level international meetings, whose purpose was to try to solve various conflicts around the world.
Meetings are necessary to thrash out agreement between opposing view of governments. The antagonism between he US and Korea o, Iran and Venezuela are not the only cases of acute disagreement in the world. Yet with respect to the other problems – be it Somalia, Sudan, the Palestinian issue, the future of Iraq, or the many live conflictual situations around the globe, those involved seem to routinely believe they should talk to each other.
Furthermore, agreement and disagreement are located on a continuum, and a highly fluctuating one at that. To say, therefore, that at some point on the continuum it is not useful to talk to people we disagree with implies that we must use force to resolve our differences.
In all logic, in cases of profound disagreement, it is not enough for high level officials to meet. It takes concertation at the highest level to break through to a phase transition and effectuate a bifurcation. In the absence of a phase transition, profound disagreements lead to war.
It is interesting to note that high ranking American officials met and greeted Saddam Hussein, whom we ultimately had to depose.
Meetings between presidents of countries that have major disagreements must be of the meet and seek type: the leaders must seek to understand where the other is coming from. Only leaders, as opposed to high level officials, can do this because they share a common basic situation: broadly speaking, each will go to the limit of what his/her people will tolerate in order to remain in power. That crude if inescapable fact provides leaders with a common language which their officials do not share: only those wielding ultimate power can thrash out pathways to cooperation through a terrain of irreconcilable differences. But also, those wielding ultimate power share not only its advantages, but also its constraints – the greater or lesser constraints that their respective people throw up to limit to a greater or lesser extent their enormous power.
The world is a system – one system, a fact too often forgotten or overlooked in the face of the myriad of conflicts and challenges various parts of the system are suffering. System processes are highly complex but they eventually lead to phase transitions. Only leaders are able to cut through the myriad layers and interdependencies of these processes to inflect them – - to some extent.
Only people who do not realize how low the world’s opinion of us is could imagine that enemy leaders could reap PR benefits from a meeting with our president: some of our candidate leaders fail to understand that those leaders could just as well be seen by their people as kowtowing to the American giant – even Tony Blair didn’t escape that label.
When Raul Castro announces that he is ready for a dialogue with a new US administration, his brother’s editorial might was not slapping him down; it was opining that the chances of any US administration accepting to talk to the Cuba government were very slim. Yet most Americans agree that normalization of Cuban-American relations on a basis of live and let live is long overdue.
Had this normalization taken place twenty or thirty years ago, indicating an understanding of the intrinsic inequality of our relations with Latin America as a whole, perhaps there would be no Hugo Chavez today.
Are Americans going to choose another President who would essentially repeat the mistakes made with respect to Cuba?