Presidents have to deal with recalcitrant nations in diplomacy, including nations that are our adversaries.
The key is to promote agreements, with the ability to verify and hold nations accountable, under international agreement. It is not an issue of trust, as many nations see other nations as rivals, but rather the ability to come to agreements with the understanding that violations can lead to a confrontational situation if they are not kept.
Presidents have regularly taken bold steps in diplomacy with other nations, whereby they suffered from strong criticism as being naive and weak, but history tells us they actually demonstrated courage and principle, that international agreements could be upheld if both sides wish to avoid military confrontation.
So we have President Theodore Roosevelt negotiating agreements with a newly ambitious Japan after the Russo-Japanese War.
So we have President Franklin D. Roosevelt deciding to establish diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union after 16 years of non recognition.
So we have President Harry Truman deciding to recognize Israel, and in so doing, alienating Arab nations in the Middle East.
So we have President John F. Kennedy agreeing to the Nuclear Best Ban Treaty in 1963 with the Soviet Union, and it is still in effect today. This came after the Cuban Missile Crisis, which many believed the result would not be obeyed by the Soviet Union, but they did precisely what was required under the settlement.
So we have President Richard Nixon, who made arms limitation agreements (SALT I) with the Soviet Union, and opened the door to contacts with the People’s Republic of China, both moves that are now hailed, although criticized at the time.
SO we have President Jimmy Carter accomplishing something no one would have believed, an agreement between Israel and Egypt, and mutual recognition, in what became known as the Camp David Accords. Additionally, Carter decided to recognize the Communist government in China as being China, rather than Taiwan.
So we have President Ronald Reagan, after calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire”, negotiate arms agreements with Mikhail Gorbachev.
So we have President Bill Clinton bringing about peace between the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, an event that seemed impossible of achievement, known as the Good Friday Agreements of 1998. He also established diplomatic relations with Vietnam, a generation after the end of the divisive war in Vietnam was lost.
So now we have President Barack Obama negotiating an agreement to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons, with five other nations engaged in the process, and to prevent war, while guaranteeing the security of Israel and Arab nations. Like all the others, it is a gamble, as no one can be sure of Iran’s ultimate actions, but it has worked out in all of the other cases. He also has established diplomatic relations with the government of Fidel and Raul Castro in Cuba.
And yet, nothing is a panacea, as Russia and China still present a challenge, but progress was made to avoid war, and that is happening again now, with the understanding that if the agreement is broken, war is always an ultimate alternative!