Should a U.S. President Meet with Hugo Chavez or Raul Castro?

Roger F. Noriega was asked to respond to the following question:

US presidential candidate Barack Obama's stated willingness to meet with leaders of hostile nations has generated quite a bit of controversy and debate. How effective would such a policy be in the Americas? Would meetings with leaders like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez or Cuba's Raul Castro help or hurt US interests?

Visiting Fellow Roger Noriega
Visiting Fellow Roger F. Noriega
My suspicion is that Senator Barack Obama's commitment to meet unconditionally with the United States' worst enemies was a gaffe that has morphed into a doctrine. Unfortunately, his gambit to present himself as fresh and bold may merely prove him to be naive and careless. In the case of Raul Castro, we're talking about a changeling dictator who is trying to consolidate himself in power against the rising expectations among the Cuban people for real change. At this sensitive time, even the promise of such an encounter is all Raul Castro would need to legitimize himself and demoralize his opponents. Even if "President Obama" were to give Raul a withering lecture, the mere chance to "give as good as he gets" with a US president would do more to consign 11 million Cubans to years more in tyranny than any other single factor. I don't think for a second that Senator Obama would want this result, but that would be the result of his not thinking for a second before repeating his careless pledge. To treat Chavez as a worthy interlocutor--at the same time that Obama is disrespecting a stalwart US ally, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, by dumping on a trade agreement he hasn't even read--is a very silly way for a new president to introduce himself to the region. There are literally dozens of responsible leaders in the Americas who deserve presidential attention--and they've received it from President Bush, who has met with more of his counterparts from the region than any president in US history.

Roger F. Noriega is a visiting fellow at AEI. His law and advocacy firm, Tew Cardenas, LLP, represents U.S. and foreign governments and companies.

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