Just over two years ago Barack Obama triggered the first and most enduring foreign policy debate of the presidential campaign when he was asked whether he would "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, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea."
"I would," responded Obama. He later hedged a little but otherwise stuck to that stance through months of pounding by Hillary Rodham Clinton and later John McCain, both of whom called him naive. His advocacy of what he called "direct diplomacy" became a prime feature of his campaign; the suggestion was that this energetic and eloquent man could, as president, bring about breakthroughs in some of the toughest foreign policy problems through his personal diplomacy.
So it seems worth noting that as Obama heads into the homestretch of his first year he has yet to meet with any of the enumerated rogues -- a passing handshake with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez at an inter-American summit notwithstanding. Nor is he likely to have any such meetings in the foreseeable future. In fact, one of the emerging lessons of the Obama administration's foreign policy might be summed up as follows: The idea that presidential "direct diplomacy" with actors such as Chávez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il or Fidel Castro is feasible or likely to produce results is, well, naive.
AND THE WORLD IS LESS SAFE AS A RESULT.
WE CAN FIX THIS IN 2012.