In a May 15 speech to Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, President George W. Bush likened politicians who wish to sit down and talk with “terrorists and radicals” to Nazi appeasers. Though not explicitly mentioned, the target of his comments was clearly Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, who has supported opening communication with both Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the leaders of Hamas.

Since when did dialogue with one’s political enemies acquire such a negative connotation? Is it not the responsibility of every sensible politician to seek peaceful resolutions to precarious political situations?

Republicans will say that such communication is a sign of weakness, and a threat to national security. Better to bomb them all and ask questions later to reduce everything to the blissful simplicity of “You’re either with us or against us.”

Some Republicans have already tried hard to portray Obama as less American by referencing his middle name, insinuating that he is secretly a Muslim.

Calling Obama’s stance on national security weak could not be less true; among the three presidential contenders, he has offered the most pragmatic approach to foreign policy. He isn’t willing to spend 100 years in Iraq or to “nuke” Iran, but he has also never suggested giving in to the ever-present terrorist threat or wanting to persuade Osama bin Laden to become a Gandhian either.

What he has done is encourage communication with leaders who, for better or worse, have a lot of leverage in certain parts of the Muslim world. This is absolutely critical since most of the world sees the United States as an unwelcome invader thanks to the Bush administration. Restoring the country’s reputation is crucial so that, should the need arise, U.S. military force can be seen as reasonable action rather than bullying.

It is important to have a dialogue, even with leaders like Ahmadinejad who have made irresponsible and blatantly anti-Semitic comments, such as expressing a desire to wipe Israel off the map and calling the Holocaust a myth. The proper way to handle these people is to challenge their comments the same way Columbia University President Lee Bollinger challenged Ahmadinejad last year. These challenges expose their stupidity to the rest of the world. Not listening to them or reporting their point of view just produces feelings of undeserved sympathy.

Unfortunately, the Democrats are too busy fighting among themselves to engage leaders like Ahmadinejad in reasonable debate. Hillary Clinton – who calls for nuking Iran in her quest to appear like a strong leader and claims to be ready to answer the phone at 3 a.m. – is certainly not helping.

Hawkish Republicans are getting away with cheap fear-mongering and unjustifiably characterizing Obama’s inexperience as an insurmountable handicap. In the coming months, Republicans will only step up these attacks. It is the Democrats’ misfortune that they are left watching this as they struggle among themselves, possibly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Anindya Bhadra is a Rackham student and a member of the Daily’s editorial board.

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