Monday, April 20, 2009

American Courtesy

President Obama is getting criticism and flack for the courtesy and politeness he extended to Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez at the three-day meeting in Trinidad of Western Hemisphere leaders.

Mr. Obama said that the United States, with its overwhelming military superiority and need to improve its global image, can afford to extend such diplomatic "courtesy."

It reminded me of a handshake in September of 2000 that the then President Bill Clinton did with Cuban Premier Castro. Criticism erupted.

The encounter took place at a U-N luncheon. It was the first time they had met.

Clinton said he'd been talking to a large group of people when he turned around and saw Castro. He says the Cuban dictator had "apparently come up and waited."

Cuban-American leaders were sharply critical, saying the greeting conferred legitimacy on Castro's dictatorship.

The questions asked then and even now with the Obama/Chavez exchange - is since when does courtesy confer legitimacy or support or friendship? Since when does being polite diminish the sanctity of democracy or even remotely condone the dictatorial or obstructionist actions of other leaders?

It should not be necessary to remind all ex patriots that America's grace comes not from effrontery or insulting actions, it comes from an open heart and an open hand, both of which encourage discussion that could lead to a positive change that violence may never accomplish.

President Obama's courtesy to Argentinean President Chavez drew criticism from Senator John Ensign, a Republican from Nevada. He said it was "irresponsible" for Obama to be seen "laughing and joking" with the Venezuelan president. That’s partisanship talking not common sense.

Let America welcome and talk to all the scoundrels of the world. Let them see that the evidence of democracy is not fear, not coup d’état, and not dictatorial. The call of freedom rings loudly by open example. It is not smothered in the abyss of mistrust and fear.

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