When I saw the news at UUA.org that Unitarian Universalist Association president Bill Sinkford had met, in a delegation, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, I groaned. I did not, however, write about it because
- Jonathan and I were up to our eyeballs in boxes, and
- I try not to get worked up about lame-duck presidents.
But it’s clear there’s a lot of warm and righteous anger about this meeting. And I share it.
The one thing I haven’t seen is a comparison of this meeting with the dust-up at the first presidential debate of whether the United States president should or should not meet with leadership like Ahmadinejad “without preconditions.”
For the record, I think that American diplomats and presidents should be able to meet with anyone without preconditions. You don’t conduct hard and vital diplomacy only with your best friends, and I’m not willing to tie anyone’s hands if there can be a peaceful and successful diplomatic solution that prevents an economic or military action. And Senator McCain would have my backing thus should he end up president.
But I can imagine the fear behind the “meetings without preconditions” rhetoric. Wouldn’t we just be Iran or North Korea or whomever’s patsy? Wouldn’t the full faith and credit of the American people and republic be flushed down the crapper to satisfy some impossible tyrant?
Well, no, but that level of trust doesn’t devolve to private citizens. There’s a difference between a diplomat and a dilettante.
For Sinkford, there came the opportunity to something relevant, that most intoxicating of mod-churchly ideals.
For Ahmadinejad, he gets Americans who seem to support him. Sinkford’s unflattering (and unnecessary) comparison of Ahmadinejad with President Bush — for whom I hold no love or esteem — only reinforced the point. Propaganda gold that’s as useful as the delegation’s message is forgetful.
For Unitarian Universalists? Well, I can imagine the finger-shaking we’ll get from Bahais and — as others have mentioned — Jews in days to come.
In a word, while diplomats play hardball, Sinkford — and by extension, us — just got played.