Talking with our enemies? Oh dear

In recent weeks, the criticism of President Obama has shifted to his foreign policy, and specifically his stance on talking with our enemies (namely, that we should do it). This weekend, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and John Ensign (R-NV) decried Obama’s warm handshake with President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela as “irresponsible” and naive.

Venezuelan TV posted some video of Obama and Chavez conversing. As Jake Tapper of ABC notes, the body language isn’t quite as warm as it’s been cast.

Anyway, I suppose it’s possible that people might see Obama being open to people like Chavez. the Castros of Cuba, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as going soft on America’s ‘enemies’. As Gingrich put it, “It does matter to the world if the United States tolerates a vicious anti-American propaganda campaign, and then smiles and greets the person who has systematically been anti-American his entire career.”

I’d raise a couple of points in response to this:

  1. What happens when America is acting anti-American, contrary to the ideals that we seek to propagate? What happens when we aren’t in favor of freedom, liberty and justice for all, if not in word then in deed, policy and action? What happens when we let tragedies like Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans happen, tragedies that belie a lack of care and even racism, whether conscious or unconscious? What happens when we deny human rights to prisoners, when we torture? Don’t these things undercut the foundation we claim to stand upon? Doesn’t that make these things un-American or anti-American? [While this isn’t what Chavez and Ahmadinejad criticized about the US, I think the point remains.]
  2. Building on the previous point, as Christians, we have even less stake in a “my country, love it or leave it” approach. Jesus tells us love both our neighbors and our enemies. How exactly this translates into a political sphere is tricky and requires nuance, but the point remains, I think. God’s heart, as revealed in Scripture, is and always has been for the nations, and not just for a chosen people; our loyalties lie with the kingdom of God, and an ethic of love, life, mercy, grace and justice, before any earthly kingdom. So we extol these qualities wherever we find them, in whatever nation we find them; and we decry their abuse wherever we find that.
  3. Not talking with a country because they don’t like us strikes me as rather counter-intuitive. I don’t think I’ve ever really changed my opinion of anyone because they stopped talking to me; isolation only reinforces already-held positions. What disagreements or misunderstandings or differences have been worked out by not talking to each other? I understand that at an international and political level, it’s a little more complicated than this, and there are arguments about security, caution, etc. And I’m not saying that we go in blind or ignorant to the dangers–I’m certain President Obama isn’t either–but you don’t defuse hostile situations by being hostile. Unless you wipe out the other side. Which is (1) a strategy for an antiquated age; (2) even less Christian.

That’s my two cents on the topic. Or my tuppence. Depending on which side of the Atlantic you live.

Justin

Hong Kong | London | California | Washington, DC

Christian | Theologian | Musician | Activist | Sojourner

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