McCain’s Historical Revisionism

Brezhnev: Too scary to meet?


In the US presidential debate the issue came up: Should the president of the United States be willing to talk to foreign dictators like Iran’s Ahmadinejad?

Arguing against such direct diplomacy, John McCain said:

The point is that throughout history, whether it be Ronald Reagan,
who wouldn’t sit down with Brezhnev, Andropov or Chernenko until
Gorbachev was ready with glasnost and perestroika.

Or whether it be Nixon’s trip to China, which was preceded by Henry
Kissinger, many times before he went. Look, I’ll sit down with
anybody, but there’s got to be pre-conditions.

What McCain said about Reagan and the Russians is not true at all. As a matter of fact Reagan was not just willing to meet with Brezhnev and company, he actually tried to arrange these meetings, but the Soviets kept putting off these requests (largely because their elderly ruling circle kept dying). And furthermore, Reagan met with Gorbachev before the policy of glasnost and perestroika were introduced.

Here is an account from Time magazine  Time magazine  from April 26, 1982:

In an interview with Pravda, the Communist Party newspaper, Brezhnev rejected President Reagan’s proposal, made earlier this month, that the two leaders meet informally in New York this June after the disarmament talks at the United Nations General Assembly.

The larger point is that America presidents have always been willing to sit down with foreign leaders no matter how terrible they might be, ranging from Franklin Roosevelt’s meetings with Stalin (an ally in the war against Hitler!) to Nixon’s dealing with Mao.

The whole purpose of international relations is trying to work with countries that have different values and interests. If every country in the world had the same values and interests, diplomacy would be virtually unnecessary, aside from perhaps trade agreements.

What makes McCain scary is that he doesn’t seem to understand the very meaning of diplomacy. He thinks moralistic blustering about American values is all the foreign policy you need.

One thought on “McCain’s Historical Revisionism

  1. Well, he’s a warmonger first and foremost, so he may see amed conflict as preferable to diplomacy. The constant and nauseating repetiton of his “war hero” status suggests that, in addition to his often unnecessarily belligerent attitude. Incidentally, your penultimate paragraph above strikes me as one of the most sensible and civilized I’ve read on the subject.

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