The U.S. can’t afford to be an international policy leader locked in antagonism against its rivals. A superpower’s diplomacy demands flexibility and negotiations, even with those considered to be enemies.
In recent weeks, two of President Obama’s actions, very different from each other, were similarly criticized by those who think that complete isolationism from rivals is a valid policy despite its previous lack of results.
The most recent is the greeting between the U.S. president and Cuban Raúl Castro during the memorial for Nelson Mandela. First, the handshake fit the theme of reconciliation, so important in the South African leader’s life. Second, relations between the U.S. and Cuba are being discussed at other levels, because there are common themes that require careful dialogueinstead of continuing the hateful mutual silence that for decades did not help the cause of freedom on the island.
Likewise, rejecting a dialogue with Iran for years also didn’t prevent that nation from continuing to build its nuclear capacity.
The recent deal struck by the U.S. together with European allies made the most of the moment that resulted from international pressure on Iran, imposing monitoring that previously didn’t exist on the Iranian nuclear project.
Compliance with what was stipulated with Iran remains to be seen. But it is wrong to believe that without the dealwhich officially recognizes that Iran is producing materialthat nation would have stopped its production.
There is public and private diplomacyone happens in front of the media and another behind closed doors. What matters is knowing and being in touch with friends and enemies. Rejecting a pragmatic analysis based on ideology is something that today leads to poor calculations and big mistakes in international policy.