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Criticizing Senator Obama’s pledge to meet with foreign dictators should he be elected President, President Bush said Thursday:

What’s lost . . . by embracing a tyrant who puts his people in prison because of their political beliefs? What’s lost is, it’ll send the wrong message. It’ll send a discouraging message to those who wonder whether America will continue to work for the freedom of prisoners. It’ll give great status to those . . . who have suppressed human rights and human dignity.The idea of embracing a leader who’s done this, without any attempt on his part to . . . release prisoners and free their society, would be counterproductive and send the wrong signal.Sitting down at the table, having your picture taken with a tyrant such as Raul Castro, for example, lends the status of the office and the status of our country to him. He gains a lot from it by saying, ‘Look at me. I’m now recognized by the president of the United States.’

All of this is true. The principle is: any attempt to deal with tyrants as if they were legitimate rulers of legitimate regimes legitimizes them. In foreign policy as in one’s own life, to grant one’s moral sanction to evil is to empower evil.But the obvious question is: by what sort of intellectual contortions does Bush name this principle while scurrying for diplomatic talks with Syria, Iran, Fatah, and North Korea, when diplomacy is based on the premise that these are civilized regimes that desire peace and prosperity for their citizens—the very premise that must be challenged?Obama’s response to Bush’s comments gives us a clue to the answer:

The American people aren’t looking for more of a do-nothing Cuba policy that has failed to secure the release of dissidents, failed to bring democracy to the island, and failed to advance freedom for fifty years, because they know we need to pursue new opportunities to achieve liberty for the Cuban people. If I am the Democratic nominee, I will offer the clearest contrast to John McCain’s call for four more years of George Bush’s policies, because I want to fundamentally change our foreign policy to secure the American people and restore our standing in the world.

It is true that Bush’s foreign policy hasn’t made us safer. Indeed, it has made us much less safe. But the cause of that failure is not too little diplomacy—it’s too much diplomacy and too little war. Or, more precisely, it’s the wrong wars fought the wrong way. But Bush is caught in an impossible situation: his anemic response to Islamic totalitarianism has done nothing to make us safer, and yet his morality forbids him from fighting a proper war for America’s self-defense. The only action left to him is to engage in a schizophrenic combination of empty moral denunciations and appeasement.It can’t work.

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