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If Washington engages with Sudan it might be too much diplomacy for the left to handle.
If anyone doubted Obama's rhetoric about engaging rogues, those doubts have since been put to rest. Even those who disagree with the idea can't deny that the president is busy trying it out. The tentative, fragile "deal" agreed to transfer Iran's uranium abroad for processing will help validate this new tack if it works out — a big if, since Iran has a history of, shall we say, hiding the truth.
But the extent to which the Obama administration has ditched the State Department's old ways — policy by tantrum, I once called it — is breathtaking. Since taking office, the U.S. has moved to open conversations with Iran and Syria (including the return of America's ambassador to Damascus), has held face-to-face talks with North Korea and removed obstacles to Cuban membership in the Organizatioin of American States.
The administration also dropped plans for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe that the Russians hated, publicly admitted what many have known about human rights in China for years: that American leverage (thanks to our economic codependence) was very limited.
Washington's decision not to support the ouster of the Honduran president has put Hugo Chavez in a pickle — the smell of sulfur is harder to detect with Obama around, apparently. There's even been an effort to talk to the kleptocratic rulers of Myanmar.
The latest of these initiatives, however, may cross the left's Rubicon. Myanmar is a black hat par excellence, a regime with absolutely no redeeming qualities and (so far) no nuclear weapons program to make its engagement a worthy compromise. Aung San Suu Kyi, the martyred dissident of that miserable dictatorship, energized the left's human rights lobby as intensely in the 1990s as Darfur does today.
Now comes word that Sudan, perpetrator of the Darfur genocide, has also received an invitation to "shake."
Can Obama's allies on the left, already fuming over Wall Street bailouts and the absence of a public option from health reforms, bear this, too? Obama's enemies invariably will cry "appeasement" if a deal that produces no justice is cut. This is where handshake diplomacy gets very tricky.