During the election campaign, the Palin/Whatshisname ticket made hay over Obama’s statements that he would engage in international conversations with unsavory knee-jerks such as the president of Iran. I call these people knee-jerks because they invoke a knee-jerk response in right wing and even moderate circles. Obama is of course right in that it is counter productive to write off any possibility of communication with another nation or a globally significant faction of any kind a priori. Sure, writing them off a priori makes a point, and does so in a powerful way. But then what do you do? “The Point” has been made with Cuba for almost 50 years, and as a strategy to rid the Western Hemisphere of it’s only major entrenched communist regime has worked as poorly as any national level foreign policy has ever worked ever, for any country, in all of modern history.
Engagement is an important question at local levels as well. For instance, I find the American Chemical Society to be obnoxious, and I find Shell Oil to be evil. You will notice however that these two companies appear to be two of the major sponsors of Scienceblogs.com. Am I complaining? No. Am I kicking their respective asses somehow? Well, I am actually ignoring the American Chemical Society, but yes, I speak out now and then against Shell, and will probably do more in the future. Does Seed Media care? Well, I hope they care in some way about stuff generally, but I don’t believe that there is any squeamishness on their part about Sb bloggers writing critically about Seed or Sb sponsor. And I’m not guessing here. This is the message that has been conveyed to me. Essentially, they are telling me “Just blog … whatever.”
Now, we have an interesting other example of the engagement issue playing out on the national stage. This is in relation to the UN’s Durban Review Conference, which is an international conference on racism starting now. There has been a lot of arguing about to related issues: 1) Israel and all it’s conservative government stands for (in relation to racism) and Islamic vs. Western perspectives (to the extent that this false dichotomy exists) on religious co-called “tolerance” or “intolerance.” As a result of this mucking around, several Western nations are not attending the conference at all, or are only sending low level officials. The only national leader who will be attending is Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whacko holocaust denier and general dickhead (all due respect intended).
I don’t know what the U.S. would be doing, under Obama, if this conference had come later in time or if the Bush Depression had not been in full swing at the start of Obama’s term. The failure of the entire “West” to engage at this conference certainly complicates matters. What will probably have to happen over the next few years is a lot of groundwork, followed by a national racism conference at which two or three Islamic World leaders, two or three Western World leaders (including the kid with the big ears and the funny name) and for or five “Third World” relatively non-Western and non-Religious state leaders (such as the leaders of South Africa and Indonesia) all play a prominent part and are all seen sipping tea together and so on.
Disengagement is not an option. The West is wrong for not showing up at this conference. The British, who are showing up at a low level, have said that if President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran starts in with the anti-Semitic thing, they’ll storm out of the hall. Well, that’s a start … at least somebody is doing something.
Change is made by those who show up. Let’s all start showing up, please.
Some details of the conference can be found here and here.