During Barack Obama’s victory speech in North Carolina last night, he offered an argument about his much-criticized assertion that he would hold talks with America’s enemies without preconditions. Obama claimed that he would only be following in the footsteps of FDR and Harry Truman with this kind of openness. For a history buff such as myself, this sounds more than a little puzzling:

The other side can label and name-call all they want, but I trust the American people to recognize that it is not surrender to end the war in Iraq so that we can rebuild our military and go after Al Qaida’s leaders.

I trust the American people to understand that it is not weakness, but wisdom to talk not just to our friends, but to our enemies, like Roosevelt did, and Kennedy did, and Truman did.

Putting aside the “labeling and name-calling”, leaving a war without winning it is, in fact, surrender. How else would anyone describe it? “Quitting” and “running away” come to mind, but both are synonymous with surrender. Leaving when the new strategy has made great progress in bolstering the elected government in Iraq is especially egregious, but in any case retreating while engaged with the enemy is surrender by any definition of the term.

I’m particularly bemused by the references to FDR and Truman. Both men ended up having to conduct massive wars that outlasted their presidencies, and in FDR’s case in no small measure because Western nations insisted on talk rather than action. While we maintained diplomatic contact with Germany and Japan until Pearl Harbor, FDR did not meet with Hitler and Tojo. And that diplomatic contact didn’t stop war from coming; indeed, it make it much worse than it otherwise would have been, at least in Europe, had the US, UK, and France had taken the appropriate steps to disarm Hitler when he started his Versailles Treaty violations.

Truman met with Joseph Stalin during and after World War II, but that didn’t stop the Soviets from blockading West Berlin or ringing down an iron curtain across eastern Europe, enslaving those nations for almost 50 years. If Potsdam and Yalta are Obama’s idea of successful foreign policy, then he obviously hasn’t studied 20th century history. Talking with implacable tyrants leads to appeasement, which leads to either war or more implacability of the tyranny in question.