I believe that our president should be willing to meet with any foreign leader, no matter how much that leader “hates” the United States, without “preconditions.” I would rather my government work out a compromise with another country than send our young people into battle because a handful of old men cannot agree. Dialogue is an important part of life; if you do not get along with your co-worker, you do not shoot him, you sit down and talk and work something out. And, even if you refuse to talk, turning to violence is simply unacceptable. If a police officer would not accept the legitimacy of murdering a co-worker, then why must we accept the legitimacy of one 18-year-old killing another 18-year-old.
Now, I recognize that my analogy is somewhat problematic, and that it may be difficult to defend myself against charges of naivete. At the same time, however, I think that this issue merely scratches the surface of a larger problem: American exceptionalism. Our leaders do not want to meet with leaders they disagree with because they think they are better than them. Preconditions simply mean that other nations need to bend to the will of the United States. We say we’ll meet with them if they do what we want first. And we justify that by saying that we’re the best country in the world. That gets us (and the world) exactly nowhere. It’s like telling your co-worker that we’ll meet to resolve the problem as soon as you admit that you are wrong, and that I am right. But, in the workplace, one respects his or her co-workers. It’s a shame that, simply because we do not agree with their style of government, our leaders do not respect their counterparts in the world.
I could not help thinking about this during last night’s debate. More than a year ago, Barack Obama was criticized a great deal for saying that he would meet with the United States’ enemies. He was attacked by both Democrats and Republicans. Last night, for the most part, Obama re-affirmed this position. Now, Senator Obama has certainly engaged in the rhetoric of American exceptionalism, a regrettably necessary part of being elected. But actions do speak louder than words, and I can only hope that, as president, he would not succumb to the static pull of our institutions and instead sit down, face to face, as equal human beings, with America’s enemies. This would not mean that we are condoning their actions, and a compromise would not mean that we suspend our domestic security measures overnight. Rather, such a meeting would symbolize mutual respect, and it would ultimately keep the United States safer.