Devil's Bargain: America's Dance with Rogue Regimes
WASHINGTON -- ISIS is on the march in the Middle East, Iran is developing a nuclear bomb and Russian President Vladimir Putin is sizing up Ukraine. In this increasingly chaotic world, can America outmaneuver its enemies by talking to them?
In the Obama administration's foreign policy strategy, dialogue and diplomacy take the lead. Yet the president has caught heavy criticism in recent months for negotiating with the likes of the Taliban and Iran.
As far back as 2007, during a CNN/YouTube debate, then-candidate Barack Obama made no secret of the fact that -- unlike President George W. Bush -- he would seek dialogue with America's enemies.
"Would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration in Washington or anywhere else -- with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea?" Obama was asked.
"I would," he responded. "And the reason is this: the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them, which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of [the Bush] administration, is ridiculous."
Dancing with the Devil?
Once in office, Obama put this strategy to test by promising a "reset" of America's strained relationship with Russia. Putin, on the other hand, had different ideas.
In recent months, Russia seized the Crimea region of southern Ukraine and may have designs on the rest of that country and beyond.
In addition, pro-Russian separatists stand accused of shooting down a Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine in July, killing nearly 300 people.
The Obama administration has levied sanctions and warnings against Russia, but Putin does not seem to be changing course.
"We may want to be safe; we may want to repeat the mantra that the Cold War is over," Michael Rubin, a resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, said. "But what matters is what [Putin] thinks. And we have to play the game on his terms if we're going to win."
Rubin is author of the book, Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes.
He says the Obama administration wrongly believes it can negotiate in good faith with the likes of Iran.
The administration recently announced an extension on nuclear talks with the Islamic Republic after a deadline passed with the two sides no closer to a deal.
"In the year before negotiations began," Rubin explained, "the Iranian economy shrank 5.4 percent. In order to get the Iranians to the table, we've given them $20 billion in sanctions relief and new investment."
Despite ongoing talks with the Obama administration, the Iranian regime continues to sponsor global terrorism and threaten Israel -- and cries of "Death to America" remain staples at its rallies.
Obama vs. Reagan
Supporters of the president point out that Ronald Reagan met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev during the Cold War.
Rubin says Reagan did so from a position of strength, with America's economy and military might growing and the Soviets realizing they couldn't compete.
"For Reagan, this came at the end of the process, not the beginning, and after a multi-year military buildup," Rubin told CBN News.
For years, the United States stood strong on the policy of never negotiating with terrorists. It came as no surprise, then, that Obama came under fire recently for negotiating with the Taliban, exchanging five high-ranking Taliban terrorists for U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl, an alleged deserter.
"Why is it a big mistake trying to engage the likes of the Taliban, Hezbollah, and Hamas, which are terrorist organizations?" CBN News asked Rubin.
"First off all, you legitimize the organizations when you negotiate with them," he said. "Second of all, there's so many organizations that don't come to the table -- if they learn that the way to get to the table is to blow up buses -- then that's what they're going to do. You don't want to create an incentive for bad behavior."
Hamas gained legitimacy earlier this year when the Obama administration recognized it as part of a new Palestinian government.
Hamas kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers and unleashed a barrage of rockets that ignited a war with Israel shortly thereafter.
Washington's Moral Blindness
"Because of the moral relativism that most of the Washington policy community has really engaged in, they can't distinguish between good and evil," Middle East expert Sarah Stern explained.
"They can't distinguish between a genocidal, hate-infested organization like Hamas and a Western, liberal democracy with democratic values like Israel," she said.
Stern is president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) in Washington.
"I'm on Capitol Hill almost every day," she told CBN News. "And based on what I'm hearing from many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, they do not want to give money to the Palestinians if the Palestinians are entering into an accord with Hamas."
Rubin warns that foreign policy missteps today can have grave consequences down the line.
"When a president loses political credibility, that gets restored when the next president gets elected," he said. "But international credibility, that doesn't get restored. We're going to be picking up the pieces for decades to come."