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. Matt Houston Texas

    Can anybody else see the squirming that Hillary is doing..what a joke...She knows full well what Obama meant when he said he would meet with the enemies of the USA. She is just starting to realize that he is more qualified and so its time to start the personal attacks.

    Can anybody honestly say that Obama would not be up to date before going into any meeting? Go look back at his record and tell me if he isnt generally the most knowledgable person in whatever room he is in. This is just Hillary starting to realize she isnt wanted.

    July 24, 2007 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  2. Trevor Vos, Fayetteville NY

    I would have to agree with the comments here that the difference between Clinton and Obama's answers are being exaggerated. Obama said that he would engage in diplomacy instead of ignoring the nations which are potentially a danger to us. Hillary then needed some way in which to say the same thing while still making Obama look bad, so she tries to depict him as careless and inexperienced. Obama didn't say that he wouldn't carefully consider the context in which his diplomatic meetings took place or that he wouldn't do careful research ahead of time–but he didn't say the he WOULD either, which left the door open for Hillary's answer.
    OF COURSE Obama would be careful about how his meetings with foreign leaders are perceived, of course he would have advisors helping him with this, or even have Hillary helping him with this if she is the VP.
    This exchange had no relevance to which candidate is better or more competent–it was just good to see all of them commit to not making diplomacy a bad word as it is now.

    July 24, 2007 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  3. Jason, Washington DC

    It is really amazing how much control the Clinton campaign has over mainstream media. CNN might as well be called the Clinton News Network.

    July 24, 2007 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  4. Wallace, Chicago, Illinois

    I'm glad the comments speak to the fact that people realize that this is petty issue.

    Come on CNN. Why perpetuate this nonsense. Obama said he would meet with heads of state. Clinton said she would meet with heads of state.

    Ofcourse you don't meet, just to meet. It is understood.

    Give me a break.

    July 24, 2007 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  5. Sam, Belleville MI

    To the poster above me; Obama didn't say "hey, I love these guys." He simply said that he feels the US should talk to them and resume diplomacy. If people choose not to vote for him simply because of that answer - well, that's simply ignorant voters.

    July 24, 2007 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  6. Ross, Lexington, Kentucky

    I think Obama handled the question perfectly. He is absolutely right that we should talk to anyone and everyone. It is the only solution to the diplomatic shortcomings of the U.S. We have spent too long practicing diplomacy from a safe distance, being sure to save face. Propaganda is an imaginary fear. With a strong leader like Obama, no effective propaganda will come out of the discussions. Hillary has only rehearsed answers. Obama is innovative and says what he means.

    July 24, 2007 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  7. Matt, Coral Gables, FL

    Obama didn't have the opportunity to respond to Clinton's remarks regarding whether he would personally meet with them or not. When he said that he would meet with them, it could be that he was saying we (personally him) would meet with them, or it could be that he was saying we (collectively his administration) would meet with them. Give it a rest, people.

    July 24, 2007 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  8. Kim M, Sacramento, CA

    I think that Obama is absoutely spot on to say that he would be willing to meet with those leaders. By saying that he is indicating that he doesn't believe himself better than them and that he values everyone not just select people that an Administration deems to be "worthy".

    It saddens me that communities, such as the Cubans in Florida, would drop their support of Obama for that answer. Don't alot of them still have families in Cuba? What is Obama's meeting with Castro could start things on their way to improving conditions in Cuba?

    Hillary's answer proves that it would just be politics as usual if she is elected. Obama's answer indicates change and progress. Things haven't been working too well for awhile – I think I'll try the change thing.

    July 24, 2007 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  9. Richmond, VA

    If you're stepping onto the world's stage as a solo act, you have to be willing to take a chance and take on the bad guys one on one. If you are afraid to because of the possibility of propaganda, you are not ready. Who creates propaganda anyway and why should an American president be afraid of it? Fight fire with fire I say! Take charge and control the message, or you're not ready to be president. Clinton is overly cautious and risk aversive to a fault. She's always hedging her bets whenever confronted with clear alternatives. If she's too afraid to confront these ugly little men on a level field then move aside and make way for somebody who will.

    July 24, 2007 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  10. Kellie Cleveland, OH

    Clinton has years and years of practice as a politician. And she answered this question just as I would expect a politician to answer. Aren't we tired of this same cookie-cutter rhetoric from the White House? Aren't we finally ready for a real CHANGE in approach to foreign policy? Obama is a breath of fresh air. I applaud his candor.

    July 24, 2007 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  11. Dave Meccariello

    You have to remember one important thing here.. Obama's answer was passionate, but Hillary has the benefit of 8 years of of "White House experience"...

    By this I mean, I do not think Obama committed any kind of serious gaffe. Hillary just knows how things work on the Presidential world stage.

    Personally I preferred Obama's answer of "Meet with them", but then again, I have never lived in the White House, and don't know the ramifications of that decision. Hillary is in a unique position of being very much like a former VP running for Pres. As a First Lady, she has instant "Job Experience".

    As for the Castro/South Florida vote??
    Sorry folks but the folks down here need to get over it. The current U.S./Cuban policy of the last 40-odd years is a complete and utter failure.

    I understand how much Castro is disliked, but so far he has sat in power while Presidents have come and gone for 4 decades. He is doing just fine being alienated...His people are the only ones suffering. He is looking like the winner on this one.

    I think it is time to open a dialog, and maybe in his last years either get him to "change position", "lighten up" or at least have gotten a foot in the door so that we don't have another 40 years of Castro Jr. I am not defending Castro... But the staus quo is a failure.

    By the same token, Chavez and others like him are gaining popularity among the dirt poor peoples of Latin America. If we don't start paying more attention to being more friendly and supportive to our southern neighbors,we are going to end up with more and more of them hating us... That is a large population of enemies that we don't need.

    July 24, 2007 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  12. Byron Tuggle, Montrose, CA

    Cutting to the issues simple it appears Clinton is playing political games on positioning and making something negative out of Obama's common sense response. We should be willing to talk to Anyone who can help save lives and enlighten us on internal politics. In college I once heard, "A truth is a truth regardless of the camp it came from as a source".

    July 24, 2007 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  13. shag, oakland, ca.

    obama got the answer right.

    it was clinton that blew it.

    July 24, 2007 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  14. Kerry J Apple Valley, MN

    Saying Obama "blew it" is pure political bs. This is the stance Hilary has been taking all along. She totally reversed her previous position. Obama is right. We need to talk to our "enemies" How else do you get to know them? Bush has created "Bogey men" of nation states because he refuses to communicate.

    July 24, 2007 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  15. Pen,Austin,TX

    Obama answered it fine. There was no gaffe, and besides, it was the right answer. It is just like he said last night: JFK and Reagan maintained a direct phone connection w/ the USSR head of state throughout their presidencies...

    July 24, 2007 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  16. Peter Hooper, Greensboro, NC

    Saying you would talk to your enemies is no gaffe. Discussing your problems through diplomacy should always be preferable to war or ignoring each other. That's not to say we should meet with every "bad person" or terrorist that has a beef with the US or that war isn't necessary. I'm just saying if the US at least put the effort into discussing our problems with Iran, Syria, and others; the Middle East might be a different place today.

    Let me leave you with this: when it comes to dealing with problems with other countries you have ONLY two choices: War or Diplomacy. You can ignore the problems sure, for days, years, even decades. But in the end you still come back to the two choices above. So what do you want our future president to do? Continue the war? Talk it out? Or leave for the 2012 debate?

    July 24, 2007 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  17. Jeremy, Erie PA

    This is why Hillary should never be president. It's nothing but a sly, petty, pitiful attempt to hurt Obama. There was no right answer to that question. Anyone that gives this "gaffe" any credibility is a moron.

    July 24, 2007 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  18. Bill, Des Moines, IA

    The difference between the answers is substantial. Obama made a passionate, sincere statement and sounded like it. Hillary demonstrated experience in recognizing that, like many of the issues about which the candidates were asked, the solution Is Not That Simple. I think she came across as less direct and persuasive, because treating things as if they Are That Simple makes for better sound bites. Nevertheless, Obama looked better to many for his unequivocal (albeit simplistic) stance. The Clinton camp is trying to teach us what actual experience looks like.

    Only problem is... Hillary has a unique ability to rally Republicans against her, and independants don't like her either. (And as a Democrat, I don't find her particularly inspiring.) I think she should be Obama's Cheney.

    July 24, 2007 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  19. Ron Martin Atlanta GA

    Hillary will say anyting to get elected. She's simply power-mad and untrustworthy. She and her husband both. How many years does one actually need in the white house?

    let it go and get some help FUHRC

    April 21, 2007

    July 24, 2007 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  20. Karen, pasadena, ca

    Clinton's comment made her look very political. Like a 'gotcha, you forgot to dot that i'.

    July 24, 2007 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  21. Linda, Chandler AZ

    "Direct negotiations are not a sign of weakness; they are a sign of leadershhip. The Bush Administrations refusal to talk to anyone on the evil side, as some have called idealistic, I call it dangerously unrealistic." – Hillary Clinton, October 31, 2006 at the Council of Foreign Relations

    So...is this statement "irresponsible and naive"? Or has she flip-flopped?

    July 24, 2007 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  22. Leo, Raleigh, NC

    this is the kind of dumb reaction that makes politics ridiculous. Obama's answer was just fine, so was Hillary's. But in the aftermath they try to make it sound like the answers were completely novice, and moreso that this type of mentality has no place in politics? -1 for the Clinton's.

    July 24, 2007 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  23. Brent, Toronto

    What a joke..as if Obama would allow himself to be used for propoganda. This just wreaks of fear that the Clinton campaign is feeling about their legitimacy as "frontrunner". Obviously Obama would have groundwork laid before a meeting would take place. Just cheap political tricks by someone afraid her message to the people isn't enough to get elected. Every time I hear her say the word "change" it makes me both laugh and cry at the same time. I hope your country's electorate shows some wisdom and see's through this.

    July 24, 2007 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |


    July 24, 2007 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  25. Ruben T

    I would have to agree with both. However, I would take a "cautiously optomistic approach" with hostile nations.

    You can't just write them off and say feck it....(We're better than they are; they're evil, "the bad guys", while we're "the good guys".)

    The Cheney administration...(note emphasis on Cheney; since he pulls the strings) has taken an all or nothing approach with all of our friends and enemies. In the end our friends decided to let the US go it alone while our enemies were only hardened.

    July 24, 2007 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
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