An Open Letter to Samantha Power, Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to Barack Obama

19 02 2008

Ms. Power:

Your February 18th interview with Salon.com includes the following passage:

“The Bush administration has a long-standing policy that it doesn’t engage with terrorists or dictators. Is there a time when the United States should?

Absolutely. I’m with Barack on this. But it’s not indefinite. Barack’s point is you don’t treat meeting with America as if it’s in and of itself some great reward. It doesn’t buy the other side anything. In fact, today it hurts a lot of people to be in business with the United States. So what you do is you meet in order to achieve things. You meet in order to know your foe, if it’s a foe. You meet in order to get international wind at your back so that America is not seen as the problem — [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad is the problem. You meet because you want to stop lumping together the unlike — al-Qaida, Hamas, Iran, Iraq.”

Your response to this question represents perhaps the single element of Obama’s platform that is most abhorrent to many voters who have rejected all possibility of supporting him. I respectfully ask that you elaborate upon what you said here, given the weight this issue holds for many Americans.

A) You mention that an Obama administration would not only be open to engaging with dictators, but also with terrorists. Would you mind naming some of the terrorists you would be advising that Obama meet? Do you wish that he meets with Haniyeh? Bin Laden?

B) You mention that “you meet in order to know your foe, if it’s a foe.” I am not sure what you are saying here – you either wish to 1) meet with terrorists and dictators so as to “know them”, or 2) meet with terrorists and dictators so as to determine if they are, indeed, your foe.

If you intended the former, what is it you wish to know regarding the intents and motives of, say, Hamas and Al Qaeda? Have they not been clear?

If you intended the latter, what information do you need to receive from any terrorist entity or dictator to further determine if it is a foe? If an entity has committed acts of terror, or has established itself as a dictatorship, are you implying that you would advise consideration of the possibility that this entity could be considered a US ally?

C) You mention that “you don’t treat meeting with America as if it’s in and of itself some great reward. It doesn’t buy the other side anything. In fact, today it hurts a lot of people to be in business with the United States.”

Can you name some of the entities which would change their relationship with any other entity based upon their meeting with the US? The only ones I can think of are currently designated terrorist groups or dictatorships. Or are Vladimir Putin.

Are you advising that a President Obama, prior to meeting with a terrorist or dictator, somehow negate the concept that establishing relations with the US is “some great reward”, because the US should be concerned that said terrorist or dictator will lose his or her standing among other terrorists or dictators? Why should this be a concern to the US?

And how, exactly, would you advise President Obama establish that meeting with the US is no “great reward”?

D) You mention that “You meet because you want to stop lumping together the unlike — al-Qaida, Hamas, Iran, Iraq.” Are you implying that you would establish a hierarchy wherein one terrorist or dictatorship is more deserving of a meeting with the US than another? If so, what would be your criteria?

Al-Qaida wishes to establish a worldwide Islamic caliphate governed by the Koran. Hamas wishes to annihilate Israel so that they may establish a state governed by the Koran. Iran is a state enforcing brutal human rights abuses, with the goal being a state most closely aligned with the teachings of the Koran. You refer to these entities as the “unlike”.

Why are you looking to examine any possible differences between these terrorist groups and dictatorships, without first examining the similarity of which they scream at the top of their lungs?

Best,

David

http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2008/02/18/samantha_power/

samantha_power@ksg.harvard.edu

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