Foreign Policy Blogs

Burns Gets Political

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Nicholas Burns, former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs (effectively the #3 position in the Department), penned an opinion piece for Newsweek this week titled “We Should Talk to Our Enemies.” In it, he defends Senator Barack Obama's stance on talking with US enemies, such as Iran. Here's an excerpt: “One of the sharpest and most telling differences on foreign policy between Barack Obama and John McCain is whether the United States should talk to difficult and disreputable leaders like Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. In each of the three presidential debates, McCain belittled Obama as naive for arguing that America should be willing to negotiate with such adversaries. In the vice presidential debate, Sarah Palin went even further, accusing Obama of “bad judgment that is dangerous,” an ironic charge given her own very modest foreign-policy credentials. Are McCain and Palin correct that America should stonewall its foes? I lived this issue for 27 years as a career diplomat, serving both Republican and Democratic administrations. Maybe that's why I’ve been struggling to find the real wisdom and logic in this Republican assault against Obama. I’ll bet that a poll of senior diplomats who have served presidents from Carter to Bush would reveal an overwhelming majority who agree with the following position: of course we should talk to difficult adversaries‚ when it is in our interest and at a time of our choosing…” He continues: “If we aren't willing to talk to Iran, we may leave ourselves with only one option‚ military action. The next U.S. president will have little chance of securing peace in the Middle East if he doesn't determine Iran's bottom line on the nuclear issue through talks. Similarly, there will be no peace treaty between Syria and Israel if we don't support the talks underway between those countries…” He concludes: “America faces a complex and difficult geopolitical landscape. The next president needs to act more creatively and boldly to defend our interests by revalidating diplomacy as a key weapon in our national arsenal and rebuilding our understaffed and underfunded diplomatic corps. Of course he will need to reserve the right to use force against the most vicious and implacable of our foes. More often than not, however, he will find that dialogue and discussion, talking and listening, are the smarter ways to defend our country, end crises and sometimes even sow the seeds of an ultimate peace.” Burns undoubtedly has the qualifications to come down on this hotly contested issue. I do hope that the next President, whomever he should be, listens to his sage advice. But I can't help but wonder, could it also be an attempt to vie for a certain cabinet-level position in an Obama administration…?



Melinda Brouwer

Melinda Brower holds a Masters degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She received her bachelor's degree in Political Science and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received a graduate diploma in International Relations from the University of Chile during her tenure as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She has worked on Capitol Hill, at the State Department, for Foreign Policy magazine and the American Academy of Diplomacy. She presently works for an internationally focused non-profit research organization in Washington, DC.