John McCain and GOP’s Platform Revealed: “Hitler, Hitler, Hitler, Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, And Hitler!!!11!!!”

The Republican party seems to think that the crucial swing voter in this election will be Apollo Braun. How else to explain their decision to abandon anything resembling a traditional political strategy — including their recent instant classics of fearmongering … Read More

By / May 15, 2008

The Republican party seems to think that the crucial swing voter in this election will be Apollo Braun. How else to explain their decision to abandon anything resembling a traditional political strategy — including their recent instant classics of fearmongering — in favor of a months-long extended violation of Godwin's Law at once hysterical in its desperation and overreach, and nearly impenetrably byzantine in its content. Apart from a certain minority of ignorant American Jews afraid of their own shadow, it's difficult to imagine any undecided voters who are on the right wavelength to pick up such rarefied dog-whistling.

George W. Bush has been in Israel this week to take part in 60th anniversary celebrations, and had a chance to address the Knesset earlier today. Rather than say anything remotely germane, he decided instead to denounce an unnamed American senator who reacted to the Nazi invasion of Poland by exclaiming, "Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided." The reference was to Sen. William Borah (R – ID), who left office in January 1940. Bush's press flack, Dana Perino, assured the press that any apparent comparison to another senator from a state starting with "I" is purely coincidental; but John McCain (and his pet soothsayer Joe Lieberman, natch) missed the memo about not unveiling veiled slanders. Hence he piled on:

If Senator Obama wants to sit down across the table from the leader of a country that calls Israel a stinking corpse, and comes to New York and says they're gonna, quote, "wipe Israel off the map," what is it that he wants to talk about? What is it that he wants to talk about with him?

Hmm. That is a real poser of a riddle, but let me take a crack at it. Obama would want to talk to Iranian leaders (not necessarily Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who wields very little actual power) about negotiating Iran out of pursuing nuclear weapons, about nuclear non-proliferation generally, the stability of the Iraqi state, a resolution to the Kurdish national question, Lebanese sovereignty, shutting down anti-Iranian and anti-Shiite terrorist networks, opening up the Iranian economy to American goods and vice versa, trade and allocation of petroleum resources, relaxation of infringements of the rights of women and religious minorities, integrating Iran into western political institutions, setting up student exchange programs, and of course, Israeli security.

Part of the reason Obama would talk to Iran about all the foregoing is that George W. Bush — unlike other American presidents since the fall of the Shah, who found uses for back-channels to Iran other than flipping them off — has abdicated his responsibility. Bush's grounds for his foreign policy malfeasance is his belief that it's futile at best, Chamberlinian appeasement at worst, to talk to "terrorists and radicals" (note the elision of an important distinction) unless you can "persuade them they have been wrong all along." Which is a nice encapsulation of many of Bush and McCain's strategic blinders. It is possible to talk productively with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (or the actual leadership of Iran) — for example, by negotiating a framework for Iraqi stability — without convincing him that Israel is not, in fact, a stinking corpse. It's even possible to talk to Iran about curtailing their support of Hezbollah — say, by offering something in return, perhaps something that could be revoked if the Iranians break the agreement — without deciding one way or another whether Israel is a stinking corpse. Believe it or not, it's even possible to conduct diplomacy with Iran without giving away the Sudetenland.

Sure, it may sound nuts, or worse, like Chamberlain, to conceive of diplomacy as an exercise in anything other than demanding that other states bow to our will or else, but hey, since that approach hasn't worked out perfectly, maybe we should roll the dice.

Not if McCain has his way. Negotiations with Iran, he claims, entail "enhanc[ing] the prestige of a nation that's a sponsor of terrorists and is directly responsible for the deaths of brave young Americans"; so arguing for such negotiations demonstrates a lack of "the knowledge, the experience, the background to make the kind of judgments that are necessary to preserve this nation's security."

So at least we know what strategic concept is McCain's top priority — prestige — but it's a concept unlike anything recognizable in the history of political or diplomatic history. It has nothing to do with the GDP of Iran, nothing to do with its International Red Cross, Human Rights Watch, or Freedom House ratings, nothing to do with the esteem in which anyone on earth holds Iran, nothing to do with its technological capabilities, and nothing to do with its military, political, and economic power. It can't have anything to do with any of them, since talking to Iranian leaders can't enhance any of them.

Still, we should probably trust in John McCain's knowledge, experience, background, and most importantly, his direct access to the Platonic form of prestige. After all, if pre-empting any enhancement of Iran's prestige weren't a matter of existential importance, then John McCain's monomaniacal pursuit of policies guaranteed to augment Iran's actual power and diplomatic clout, let alone his fatuous comparisons of anyone who stands in his way to Neville Chamberlain, would be alarming, inexcusable, and disgraceful, and probably render him unfit for the presidency.

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