Commentary Magazine


Why Iran And Not Hamas?

Senator Barack Obama has staked out positions on both Hamas and Iran that are worth examining.

On Hamas, Obama says, “We must not negotiate with a terrorist group that’s intent on Israel’s destruction. We should only sit down with Hamas if they renounce terror, recognize Israel’s right to exist and abide by past agreements.” Elsewhere, Obama has said, “Hamas is a terrorist organization, responsible for the deaths of many innocents, and dedicated to Israel’s destruction, as evidenced by their bombarding of Sderot… I support requiring Hamas to meet the international community’s conditions of recognizing Israel, renouncing violence, and abiding by past agreements before they are treated as a legitimate actor.” So strongly does Obama feel about this matter that he has denounced as an offensive smear the implication that he would meet with Hamas.

On Iran, the story is different. According to Obama:

I would meet directly with the leadership in Iran. I believe that we have not exhausted the diplomatic efforts that could be required to resolve some of these problems — them developing nuclear weapons, them supporting terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas. That does not mean that we take other options off the table, but it means that we move forward aggressively with a dialogue with them about not only the sticks that we’re willing to apply, but also the carrots.

And this:

the notion that somehow not talking to countries [like Iran] is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous.

And this:

one of the disagreements that we have on this stage is the degree to which the next president is going to have to engage in the sort of personal diplomacy that can bring about a new era in the region. And, you know, that means talking to everybody. We’ve got to talk to our enemies and not just our friends.

And this:

Nothing’s changed with respect to my belief that strong countries and strong presidents talk to their enemies and talk to their adversaries … I find many of President Ahmadinejad’s statements odious and I’ve said that repeatedly. And I think that we have to recognize that there are a lot of rogue nations in the world that don’t have American interests at heart. But what I also believe is that, as John F. Kennedy said, we should never negotiate out of fear but we should never fear to negotiate.

So why would Obama emphatically insist that he would not meet with Hamas after saying he would meet with Iran’s President Ahmadinejad (a) without pre-conditions and (b) within the first year of his administration? According to the New York Times, Mr. Obama has been clear in making a distinction between his willingness to talk “not just to countries we like, but those we don’t,” as he puts it, and Hamas and other political movements similar to it. “Hamas is not a state,” Mr. Obama told a Jewish group last month. “Hamas is a terrorist organization.”

Of course, Iran is the world’s chief sponsor of terrorist organizations – including Hamas. Iran is also, to use the criteria Obama applied to Hamas, responsible for the deaths of many innocents, including the death of American troops in Iraq. It is manifestly failing to abide by past agreements. And Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has demanded that Israel be “wiped off the map,” hosted a conference of Holocaust deniers, and earlier this month referred to Israel as a “stinking corpse…on its way to annihilation.”

In addition, in January 2006 Hamas won a victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections, taking 76 of the 132 seats in the chamber — so the distinction Obama is making between the government of Iran and Hamas as a terrorist organization is more blurred than he would have us believe. Hamas, after all, is the de facto governing authority over the Gaza Strip. Would Obama meet with Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas, if Meshaal were the Prime Minister of a Palestinian state?

The more fundamental question is why Obama’s reasoning on Iran doesn’t apply to Hamas? Don’t “strong presidents talk to their enemies and talk to their adversaries”? Why doesn’t he “move forward aggressively with a dialogue” with Hamas and try to “exhaust diplomatic efforts”? Isn’t it the case that while we should never negotiate out of fear, we should never fear to negotiate? So what does Obama fear when it comes to negotiating with Hamas? And by the way, shouldn’t the next president engage in the sort of “personal diplomacy” that can “bring about a new era in the region” – and doesn’t that mean talking to “everybody,” to our enemies and not just our friends?

My own view is that Senator Obama is right to say that he wouldn’t meet with Hamas. At the same time, I would not say categorically that U.S. representatives shouldn’t meet with representatives of nations that are hostile to our interests (like Iran) under any circumstances. I concur with Charles Krauthammer, who says that in some instances presidents should meet with our enemies, though only after minimal American objectives have been met. The acid test for negotiations is whether they will advance or set back American interests, and those are matters of judgment and prudence. The problem for Obama is that the type of meeting he has in mind with Ahmadinejad would surely, in Krauthammer’s words, “not just strengthen and vindicate him at home, it would instantly and powerfully ease the mullahs’ isolation, inviting other world leaders to follow.” Beyond that, the arguments Obama has made and the logic he has employed for meeting with Ahmadinejad undercuts his rationale for not meeting with Hamas. And for Obama to so ferociously insist he won’t meet with Hamas unless it meets a set of conditions while showing such eagerness to meet with Ahmadinejad without any preconditions demonstrates how shallow and naïve Obama’s thinking is when it comes to foreign policy.

Barack Obama, a community organizer from Chicago, has no expertise in national security matters. And, we’re learning, he has very little wisdom as well.

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