July 24th, 2007
05:49 PM ET
7 years ago

Clinton, Obama camps clash over diplomacy answer

The Clinton and Obama campaigns are clashing over the meaning of one of Obama’s answers.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - A day after appearing on the same stage during the CNN/YouTube Democratic debate in Charleston, South Carolina, the campaigns of Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are disputing whether the Illinois Democrat committed a serious gaffe when he said he would meet with leaders who are openly hostile to the United States.

Asked if the candidates would be willing to meet “with leaders of Syria, Iran, Venezuela" during their first year in office, Obama immediately said yes and added, “the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous.”

Meanwhile, Clinton answered the question differently, promising “a vigorous diplomatic effort” but adding “you don’t promise a meeting until you know the intentions. I don’t want to be used for propaganda purposes and don’t want to make a situation worse.”

While the differences in the two answers were not revisited during the remainder of the debate, Clinton’s campaign distributed a memo to members of the press Tuesday morning, asserting, “There is a clear difference between the two approaches these candidates are taking: Senator Obama has committed to presidential-level meetings with some of the world's worst dictators without precondition during his first year in office.”

“Senator Clinton is committed to vigorous diplomacy but understands that it is a mistake to commit the power and prestige of America’s presidency years ahead of time by making such a blanket commitment,” the memo added.

But a similar memo from Obama’s campaign, also distributed Tuesday morning, notes Obama performed well in Monday’s debate according to CNN and FOX focus groups, and “offered a dramatic change from the Bush administration's eight year refusal to protect our security interests by using every tool of American power available – including diplomacy.”

Obama’s camp also suggested Clinton’s answer constituted a departure from the New York Democrat’s previous stance, pointing out that she said in April, “I think it is a terrible mistake for our president to say he will not talk with bad people.”

TIME.com: Grading the candidates

- CNN Ticker Producer Alexander Mooney

soundoff (264 Responses)
  1. Christopher - Rockford, IL

    He was asked if he was WILLING to meet. Obama said nothing about promising to meet as Clinton's people spun it to be. I think that was the right answer. Saying he is not willing to consider it would be worse than simply saying no. Read the question and then his answer. Don't read what Clinton's people say what was implied. This is plain and simple: something being made out of nothing to try and help Clinton and harm Obama.

    July 25, 2007 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  2. Mark, Chantilly, VA

    There is a difference between agreeing in concept and committing to an actual meeting under any circumstances. Obama answered the question straightforwardly, indicating he was willing to talk. There was no actual difference in the answers of Obama, Clinton, and Edwards as any of the three would obviously do the background work before any meeting would occur.

    It's time for the US to work towards a sensible policy towards Cuba, rather than one driven by a small radical faction within the Cuban-American community.

    July 25, 2007 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  3. LeRoy Brown, Charlotte, NC

    I really believe that Senator Barack Obama answered the question very well. It is always a great idea to meet with the other side to see if both sides can come to an agreement. Whose to say that if the we would have tried to compromise with the other side that we probably would not be deep into the situation that we are in. "Oh how good and pleasent it is for us to dwell together in unity and harmony and love."

    July 25, 2007 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  4. Victor, Trumbull CT

    This is the part I hate the most about Political race, It is dirty for the most part.. the "He said, She said"!!.. This is where I separate the good from the bad. If you're bad enough to bad mouth and even lie about yourself and your counter parts, You are bad enough to be my president. I would much rather see a president who can portray and stand by us Americans with a clear, concious, humble yet firm stance for the sake of our peace and that of the world than someone who is already unwilling to commit from the get go. The world needs peace!! So far, Obama has my vote.

    July 25, 2007 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  5. Brenda Dicks Jacksonville Fl.

    Obama is completely correct. It is time for a real change in thinking. Hillary will be just more of the same policy. She has made that clear.
    Did anyone else notice that she had made a real attempt -maybe with Botox–to keep her brow completely without a wrinkle. Allas-Not a worry at all with any question!!!

    July 25, 2007 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  6. Adam, Denver, CO

    Obama is right on with his answer. If we just talked to people around the globe and listened to their concerns, we might be able to save face and regain our greatness in the world. Diplomacy is the only way to stop the growing hatred of the US of A.

    July 25, 2007 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  7. John, Austin Texas

    I Greatly agree with Obama, I think that we can solve most of the world's problems through a process of dialogue and respect.

    Hillary however is not standing for anything, she is too busy trying to please the minority view to be elected than to follow principles.

    Before she wanted the war, now she is against it. Before she criticized bush for not having an open dialogue with others now she is criticizing Obama for saying we should have a dialogue with others.

    In response to Cuban comment concerning Castro:

    To all the cuban hypocrites to whom America gives a green card to, what has America's policy towards Cuba has change for the suffering poor Cubans...absolutely nothing, other than poor cubans suffering from lack of economic opportunities.

    Really people we are better off with stability in the world than with Chaos...and Obama is proposing that, a chance for stability, prosperity, and peace at home and around the world.

    July 25, 2007 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  8. David, Moscow, ID

    Hillary's Camp stupidly decided to take a Bush-Rove style of politics. There was a high positive response by regular voters for Obama's statement during the debate, and Hillary looked the way she always does: calculating and non-committal. Her answer lost her points. So in true REPUBLICAN style... she argued her bad answer into a supposed strength and brought out her husband's lackeys to back her up, even though she had attacked the President on the course of action that she is now proposing. Why can't she just admit she made a mistake in that comment of the debate! Because she never admits to her political mistakes... who does that sound like?

    July 25, 2007 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  9. Anonymous

    I don't think there is any contradiction whatsoever between the stance Hillary took in the debate and the stance she allegedly took when she said that it's a mistake for the president to say he will not speak to bad people. Hillary in no way asserted any promise in either statement to demonstrate the type of overoptimistic diplomacy that Obama wishes to practice.

    July 25, 2007 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  10. Gian Paolo Gracia, Plainsboro, NJ

    Obama is far too arrogant. People like Iran's Ahmadinejad will only see that as a weakness – young pup only too eager to prove himself. A sly eagle hides its claws, surveys the situation and its prey before making the first move. Furthermore, Obama has no track record, no experience in situations even remotely similar to this one to predict how those Ahmadinejad will react.

    Clinton, on the other hand, knows what she's doing. She knows that the playing ground isn't leveled, and she'll only make her move once she's assessed the situation and all possible moves.

    Obama is much like the University of Chicago, where he taught. I know because I'm an alumnus. Much too eager to prove himself. Sir, much like all the other alumni, including myself, you may be intelligent, but you're far too green, and woe to any of us who puts your pride before our welfare.

    July 25, 2007 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  11. Michael, Bethlehem, PA

    The debate highlights my main concern about the democratic candidates. Barack Obama is highly inexperienced and it shows. He thinks that he will be able to build a JFK-like cult of personality and sweep his way into office. Sadly, he has no real legislative accomplishments to show. Hilary is a coldly calculating sociopath who has unfavorables that are through the roof. Edwards is a trail lawyer with $400 haircuts living in a mega-mansion paid for by the monetary damages he won in lawsuits. I am not impressed.

    July 25, 2007 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  12. Matt, Manchester, CT

    "Chavez was democratically elected and poses no threat."

    I cannot believe someone seriously posted that.

    July 25, 2007 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  13. Joe Shields, Pittsburgh PA

    JFK said, "let us never negotiate out of fear, BUT let us never fear to negotiate". I liked Obama's answer best. We've had enough "aloof diplopmacy" with Bush. During the Cuban Missle Crisis, JFK and RKF were talking to every Russian they could through every means possible, and war was averted. When you treat world leaders (good or bad) like crap, you get crap. When you approach them as an equal ala JFK's UN speech "... we all breathe the same air ... cherish our children's future... etc." you bring them away from their childish banter and get adult-like behavior.

    July 25, 2007 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  14. Wolfram Weinberg Redding CA

    It is naive to think that the strategically detailed question directed to Obama was not a setup and that Clinton had not rehearsed her answer. Obama is right that Clinton demonstrates politics as usual rather than change with this "nice fabricated controversy".

    July 25, 2007 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  15. Emily, Los Angeles, CA

    I completely agree with Marsha from Portland. Hillary did not say she would not talk to "bad people" back in April. She intelligently is saying that she would come up with a plan of action prior to meeting with other leaders. Obama clearly needs more political experience. This is proven by his response to immediately start meeting with leaders without a strategic plan.

    July 25, 2007 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  16. Scott, Dubuque IA

    There is a significance to this response... It shows the difference in the experience between the senators. It shows that Sen. Clinton is aware of the operations of Foreign Policy & dipolomacy, where Sen. Obama is still learning how these things truly work. I think the intentions are good, but the process is much more important.

    July 25, 2007 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  17. Odenton, MD

    I'm an immigrant living in the USA. OBAMA was right on the point. America is the pride of the world but this good reputation has been damaged by the BUSH administration. It is time for America to start engaging the world and show her beautiful face that she was once known for. The world is once more eagerly waiting for America to lead not intimidate. A new kind of diplomacy is the way to future.

    July 25, 2007 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  18. Derrick, Lompoc, CA

    Hillary needed to listen to the questing better. It didn't ask if they would commit to unconditionally meeting with those leaders, but if they would be WILLING to meet with them. IT goes without saying that the intentions for the meeting (as well as many other factors) would play into the decision. Also, the question doesn't say that those meetings have to be photo ops. They could be privately handled. Presidents have many discussions with other world leaders over phone and video conferences.

    As for loosing hispanic votes in Florida. Those people are wrong. You don't have to agree with the politics of Castro (or any of the others) to talk with them. In fact, it is essential that we talk to our enemies. Not talking leads to misunderstandings and war. Talking to the enemy does not mean you condone or lend credence to what they do or say.

    July 25, 2007 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  19. Mike, DFW, TX

    Amazing to read how many here were responding with the "business as usual" mindset. Clinton's response was more much more in the light of politically proper but not within the idea of changing attitudes not just in America but world wide. Envoys or other irrelevant meetings mean nothing and only give the excuse to withdraw. Why do you think it took so long for N. Korea and they are still able to use effective dodges to accuse America of planning war.If you want change, it's time that Americans stop thinking in terms of politics but rather the what will make impressions for real change. It's no longer the time to be scurrrred of change...

    July 25, 2007 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  20. Anonymous

    All these people are ready for "change" that they are willing to run towards anything that SEEMS new. Obama is that, but do we really want a freshman senator running the White House?

    We need someone with more experience that won't commit silly gaffes that can cost us dearly. Obama answered the question carelessly because he knows that is what the American people wanted to hear. He didn't answer the question thoughtfully as we should be expect him to do.

    July 25, 2007 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  21. Ryan, CT

    Hillary is the Queen-B of backhanded smear tactics. She's trying to brainwash the country into forgetting Obama. She's getting dangerously close to using Bush's tactics to void McCain from the race. Stories like this should not be voiced publicly...but privately between camps.

    Obama wants to try and smooth over relations and sooth global tensions. Sure, maybe Clinton worded her answer better, but Obama has some guts to say that he'd try to work with them.

    July 25, 2007 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  22. Kaseam, Philly, PA

    For those people that say Hillary is ready to be the next President are people that have been brainwashed by old politics. It's simple: If you want the same old "Presidential" type elected, then vote Hillary. Just look as Bush back in 2000. Most people thought he was "Presidential" and you see where that got us. America needs a new leader that will change old politics. People need to stop being scared of new ideas for leading this country. Obama is the man. Hillary is just mad that Obama would gain more acceptance and RESPECT from world leaders than she could ever dream of.

    July 25, 2007 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  23. bob

    Don't talk to dictators? Half our allies are dictators. You talk to everyone, especially those who disagree with you. Hillary, I was warming to you, but this response just reminded me why you arent the best choice.

    July 25, 2007 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  24. Dan, Texas

    Clinton and Obama gave the same answer. Clinton is trying to somehow make a political point, but it doesn't hold up. Maybe Clinton supporters will be comforted by it. As an independent voter, I didn't see a difference. Obama because he seems more open and straightforward and I can actually find out what his views are. I compared the Clinton and Obama issues pages on their campaign web sites. Obama's has more information about his views. Overall I think Clinton and Obama have the same policy goals on almost all issues. They would make an extraordinary ticket together. At the moment, I would prefer Obama to Clinton as the presidential candidate.

    July 25, 2007 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  25. Eugene Elliott, Orlando, FL

    I notice that an objective of both campaigns has been successful in this piddling little story. It sucked up the oxygen that other candidates are dying for. While I prefer Gravel of the pack, I cannot vote for any of them due to their immigrations positions. A note to remember, it is not a game to pick the eventual winner to support, but to pick the one that is best in line with your views. Any of them would be 100% better than poor worthless W, but then that applies to my cat too. And at this stage 100% is not enough. As for Castro, I see no difference trading with the Communist dictators in China from doing the same for Castro. Both are wrong.

    July 25, 2007 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
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