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Talk is Cheap


What the hell is Barack Obama talking about?

He says that America should be talking with leaders in Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, Korea, Syria. Fine. But he calls this “talking with our enemies.”

What enemies?

Let’s get something straight. Enemies are people who are fighting against you, who are trying to destroy you.  Is Cuba fighting against America? Is Iran fighting against America? Is Venezuela fighting against America? Syria? China? No. These countries may be rivals, but they are not enemies.

The closest we come to having an actual enemy in today’s world is North Korea, where we are technically still in some kind of truce following a hot war, but of course that war itself has been over for half a frigging century, and nobody has been killing anyone on the Korean Peninsula in decades.

The truth is, America doesn’t have any real enemies, except for the ones it has made for itself in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of course the Al Qaeda organization. But Al Qaeda is a gang of terrorists, not a country, and in Afghanistan it is movement, the Taliban, once the government of that country, which we overthrew.  And even there, where we have enemies, talk is better than war. It is obvious that at some point if we are ever to exit from Iraq and Afghanistan, there will have to be talks with the people we are fighting. Afghanistan’s leaders have said this—that there will have to be talks with the Taliban. And Bush’s own “Iraq Study Group,” headed by former Republican Secretary of State James Baker and former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton, concluded that the US will have to negotiate to settle the Iraq conflict. Both those processes should be begun immediately, not after more thousands have been killed.

By calling other countries “enemies,” Obama fell into a trap of his own making, though admittedly, he’s not the first to define all these rival nations as enemies. It’s a logical outcome of the Bush/Cheney position that “either you’re with us or you’re against us.”

Instead of buying into that nonsense, Obama should have questioned the premise. Then he wouldn’t be in the mess he’s in now, trying to fine-tune whom he would talk to and whom he wouldn’t talk to. Erstwhile Democratic presidential candidate and former Alaskan Senator Mike Gravel had it right when, during an early TV “debate” before the media decided to black him out, he replied to the moderator’s stupid question to all the candidates of “Who, after Iran, are America’s biggest enemies?” He challenged the premise, asking, “Iran’s not our enemy. Who are we afraid of? We don’t have any enemies.” He got one of the biggest applauses of the evening for that.

As for the basic point—talking with people we have disagreements or rivalries with—it is obvious that not talking is idiotic, and gets you nowhere—or worse, into a war.

Let’s take Cuba. For exactly half a century since its Communist revolution, we have treated Cuba like a mortal enemy, blockading the country, forcing other countries to join us in an embargo (an act of war, by the way), plotting and attempting to assassinate the country’s leader, Fidel Castro, and financing and supporting an obsessed group of dispossessed rich Cubans who want to return the island to its mob-infested, neo-colonial days. In those 50 years, the only thing not talking has accomplished has been the impoverishment of two generations of Cubans. Meanwhile, of course, the US has talked, conceded, caved in, given in, pandered and invested in China, another Communist country that, unlike Cuba, actually has fought against the US (in Korea, by proxy in Vietnam, and against an ally, Taiwan). There is clearly no logical reason for not talking with Cuba, and if we were talking with Cuba, life there would be better, and no doubt, things would be better here, too.

Iran is another example. It is known that when the US invaded Iraq, in 2003, Iran tried desperately to initiate talks with the US. The Bush/Cheney administration didn’t want to talk. It was calling Iran an “Axis of Evil” nation. Had talks begun, there might not even be a nuclear dispute today. Indeed, there might not even have been a rivalry. Instead, we now have the Bush/Cheney administration pushing forward for plans to attack Iran.

We could go back to Iraq, too, of course. Before the US launched its attack, Saddam Hussein was telling the Bush/Cheney administration he was willing to leave the country. All he wanted was a safe haven like Idi Amin got, and a billion dollars. We were not told about this offer until years later. Yet think how much cheaper that solution, arrived at through a little talking, would have been than what we got through not talking. Instead of letting Hussein run off with a billion of his own ill-gotten wealth, we’ve spent close to a trillion dollars, killed upwards of a million innocent Iraqis, destroyed a country, driven four million people in a nation of 24 million into exile, ruined America’s global reputation, and bankrupted the US treasury, not to mention running up the price of oil four-fold.

Talk is cheap, I’d say.

Obama should be more forthright and admit that America has no enemies, and that we can talk to anyone.

DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press and now available in paperback edition). His work is available at


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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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