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. bloomington, in

    Implicitly, they both said the same thing. It's a distinction without a difference to me. Of course, Obama would have lower level talks before sailing off on a blind mission and what Hillary said also made sense.

    July 24, 2007 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  2. Shardule, Boston, MA

    This is an interesting way of presenting the facts. CNN reported whether Obama, "committed a serious gaffe." However, it could easily be reported the other way around, i.e. if Hillary had 'committed a serious gaffe.'

    I agree with the previous comments that this is splitting hairs, but the details of the reporting are worth noting...

    July 24, 2007 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  3. James, Tucson, AZ

    Hillary gave a responsible answer to one of the most important questions of the evening. Certainly, when the occupant of the world's most powerful office meets with anyone, it lends a tremendous amount of credibility to that individual and his program.

    I'm not a fan of either candidate, but Obama's rhetoric and lack of substantive answers is catching up; he's out of his league. Hillary on the other hand has handled difficult questions quite well, as opposed to the simplicity we've received from the others.

    July 24, 2007 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  4. Jim, Little Rock, AR

    Apparently, viewers commenting on the diplomacy issue didn't pay close attention to Senator Obama's first four or five words... "Yes, I will send a signal..." Did anyone else hear that? What do you think he meant? I think his comments were exactly right.

    July 24, 2007 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  5. Frank, NY, New York

    It's all hypothetical. There's no right or wrong answer to that question. Just do the opposite of Bush and you're better off.

    July 24, 2007 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  6. Max, Southbury, Ct

    This is indeed a non-issue. Neither of them specifically stated that they wouldn't meet with a foreign leader who had recently authorised airstrikes against US cities, or who had personally tortured American hostages on prime-time TV. Does that mean that they would? Of course not. The question was basically a "yes/no" answer, not an invitation to outline every single instance in which either of them would/would not/might/might not meet with the leader of a non-allied country!

    July 24, 2007 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  7. Calvin APO, AA

    This is one of the reasons I like Hilary Clinton less and less. Her claims that somehow Obama's direct answer to the question implied there would be no preparation leading up to his discussions is dishonest and the kind of rhetoric that they have objected to from the Republicans. Actually Hilary's answer implies that she would waste her first year setting up direct discussions with Syria, Iran, Cuba and others. She should have been this deliberate when she made the disastrous decision to support this President she now vilifies. She also recently said that we are safer than we were before 9-11. Talk about a blunder!

    July 24, 2007 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  8. Louise Johnson, Norcross, GA

    Why of course the major media and the Clinton Campaign would say that Hillary's answer is the better answer, because, it was her attempt to be different from Barack and to try to show his inexperience.

    However, watch the voter meter when Barack gave his answer and how it rose vs how the meter did not go high in the hands of the VOTER. Now what does that say?

    The political pundits and the media are NOT in touch with the people. BTW Barack made his statement because he is talking about Diplomacy and it is relative. Hillary is doing her flip flop on what she previously has said about diplomacy. Barack won and has to stand his ground and be unafraid to speak truth to power. Hillary's answer is like her answer on why she voted for the war "if I had known then what I know now, I would have NOT voted for the war" She did NOT think then and she and her campaign are NOT thinking now. Use of diplomacy is what we need, that is what Barack is talking about and that is what Bush does NOT do.

    July 24, 2007 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  9. Ann, Owosso, MI

    Ignoring those countries will not make them go away. Bush's belief that sticking his fingers in his ears and pretending that it is somehow going to happen is ridiculous. Obama may have answered hastily, but at least he answered. I found Clinton's response to be a more political doubletalk. I didn't really mind it from her husband because he had a personality. She is just a cold fish.

    I still like Bill Richardson best – he doesn't have any use for political platitudes and neither do I.

    July 24, 2007 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  10. Phil, Enumclaw Washington

    Hilary's concern about "being used for propaganda purposes" is telling in that she is more concerned with how she looks than with getting results. That's the difference between being a politician and being a statesman.

    July 24, 2007 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  11. Debie, Nashville, TN

    Good for them both! Just entertaining the 'thought' of talking is refreshing. Clinton shows caution; Obama, not so much. She is a bit more seasoned, Obama optomistic. We know not talking isn't working so well. Right now just talking about talking sounds wonderful from whomever will entertain the idea.

    July 24, 2007 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  12. Edward Robertson, Austin, TEXAS

    Hillary is more george bushlike than I care to see. Her tendencies are like that of Dubya'–so the question is–do we want another politician in the White House? Or do we want someone who represents the people and can get things done on foreign policy? Senator Obama is just that candidate!

    July 24, 2007 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  13. Jayson Bray Boston, Massachusetts

    The only reason Obama is even in consideration is because he happens to be a black Senator who gave the keynote address at the Democratic Convention. He lacks the experience we need in the Oval Office today. I honestly believe he would be a more polarizing figure than the remaining Democrat candidates.

    We need a President who will command respect around the world. We need a President who recognizes the plight of the disenfranchised Americans who have been left behind by the imposter President George W. Bush. I predict a Clinton-Biden ticket next year and I predict that it will resoundingly defeat whatever Republican is offered as the sacrificial lamb. The party of Lincoln has been usurped by "do gooders" who have destroyed its' foundation in American politics.

    July 24, 2007 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  14. Steven, Brentwood CA

    Connie TN.

    You give too much credit to Iran President & Venezuela's President by calling those Nut-jobs Leaders.

    Maybe if Hitler were alive you would say to meet with Hitler...and call him a world leader.?

    You do NOT meet with those who want to do harm against the USA...that makes them significant as leaders....when they should not be taken seriously at all...unless they change their attitudes.

    You are wrong to think Obama is presidential in any way....Obama isn't even vice presidential material...maybe in another 8 years if still a senator...then maybe he can be thought of as a Vice President.

    Hilary is sooooo far above Obama.

    July 24, 2007 07:45 pm at 7:45 pm |
  15. JD, Chicago, IL

    "Serious gaffe"? Got to love these rhetorical games. "Senator Obama has committed to presidential-level meetings with some of the world’s worst dictators without precondition during his first year in office"... You think Obama's team would not do their homework before any high-level meeting? What a joke. The truth is that Hilary and Obama both answered the same way: They both agree that ignoring communication is not the most effective way to handle leaders of hostile countries. Makes me wonder how Hilary's condescending attitude (once again highlighted by this memo provided to the press by her campaign team) would fair in "high-level" international meetings?

    July 24, 2007 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  16. Thomas, Port St Lucie, Florida

    I do not think any country's leader should have to bow and scrape to talk to the leader of our country. This current administration has refused to talk with others with dire consequences. I think Obama was correct in saying that he would talk direct (to any and all leaders). Our leader must be open and if necessary be "used" by other leaders even though it may give the other leader a little stature. Clinton belongs to the old (and I mean old) school of thinking, just like Bush. Don't talk – make them listen first. Don't try to make other leaders feel inferior. In all cases it should be – ask your man to contact my man – lets talk. Hillary has been around too long - Bill made an ass of himself. Our country needs a change!!

    July 24, 2007 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |

    I'm sorry – this sounds petty. Yes, Clinton gave an excellent answer but that doesn't mean that Obama would be Castro's lap dog. Give me a break! He said he would meet with these guys; of course he isn't going to go running over there 1st chance he gets – there would be a lot of thought and discussion beforehand.

    July 24, 2007 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  18. MediaJunkie, Washington, DC

    Obama said he'd be willing to meet with them during his first term. He didn't make a blanket statement. He said he was willing. So did Sen. Clinton. Big deal. Obama handled the debate well and that's a challenge to Clinton. She's just trying to offset his momentum, which is what political candidates do.

    July 24, 2007 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  19. Anonymous

    Hillary is nitpicking again. More importantly, she is now bonding with women and has formed a women's pac, according to USA Today July 24 Edition.
    Will someone ever think to ask her, during one of these "debates" what she thinks men's issues are and how she would address those!

    July 24, 2007 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  20. cee bee, Ft. Lauderdale, FL

    amazing how people split hairs about what candidates say... that candidates cannot change their views or stands on issues without being subjected to name-calling merely indicates the small brainpower of those who are critical. It's been said that it takes more courage to change one's mind than to continue with the same obstructed vision. Too many voters simply don't understand that concept... and I'm not even a rocket scientist, but it seems extremely elementary!.

    July 24, 2007 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  21. J. Brandon Loberg

    Despite the excrement Clinton's campaign is spewing (which amounts to naught but the politics of grasping at straws), Obama was right on, and should be lauded for his stance. The petty refusal to meet with leaders hostile to the US and its policies is to forego a critical step in mitigating the ever-looming possibility of armed conflict. The Bush administration's superiority complex, laid bare by way of it's "we don't negotiate with terrorists" stance, amounts to a cowboy shoot-first-ask-questions-later policy concerning foreign relations. In the past it's been proven that a single meeting can go a long way toward keeping the military out of a given confrontation.

    July 24, 2007 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  22. JohnR, Iowa

    I think it is pretty obvious that Obama said he was willing to meet with them – not that he offered a an unconditional agreement to be at their beck and call.


    July 24, 2007 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  23. Kimberly, Portland OR

    I thought Obama's answer was perfect. What's wrong with talking with other sovereign states? If our president has to be afraid of being used for propaganda everytime they decide to meet with a rogue state, then America is in much worse shape than I thought. I agree with Obama. And I loved his answer in return... that Hillary was "naive and inexperienced" in the fact that she voted for the Iraq war. Go Obama!!!

    July 24, 2007 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  24. LJ, Dallas TX

    Give me a break. This was a complex question with 30 secs to 1 min for response. Sen. Clinton had that much extra time to select her words and Sen. Obama likely believed that the American people had the ability to assume certain things would occur pre-meeting. However, I can see how we would be skeptical after our experience with the current administration. He seemed to communicate that he would be open to diplomatic meetings. Sen. Clinton stated basically the same, but added that she would qualify it first. Their answers were not that dramatically different. Are there really people out that who think Sen. Obama meant that he would get up one day and hop a flight to Cuba or anywhere else and just show up for a chat? Come on people!

    July 24, 2007 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  25. Erik, New York

    Obama was right! He wasn't saying he would open the door to anyone at any time. The reality for all of the arrogant Americans out there is we exist on this planet with other countries that have different beliefs and point of views than ours. Isn’t this the reason why we live in such a great country in the first place? To respect others and come to some common ground for the greater good? Least we forget we have done our dirt too! A little reminder: The bible says those without sin cast the first stone! America do you remember: Indentures servitude, African slavery and Manifest Destiny that killed millions of Native American, Irish and Jewish Oppression, The Mexican War, The Civil War, Jim Crow, Japanese Confinement Camps, Macarthyism, Vietnam, The Cold War, oh and ahh...IRAQ!

    A real president/leader has to reach out to different countries around the world, which is sometimes ruled by a few difficult leaders. This has been true through out human existence. I’m sure many countries see us as difficult right about now. This doesn't mean that their or our policies won’t ever change. We are hoping for change aren’t we? Regan, Lincoln, Washington, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. all reached out. The fact of the matter is we are all connected and we ARE our brother’s keeper. America is a melting pot of cultures and families in different countries. Do we close the door of discussion with our neighbors, families and friends? Giving peace and understanding a chance is not a sign of weakness or in experience Mrs. Clinton and the Republican baby boomers. It’s a sign of wisdom and true character. May God bless America and Obama in 2008!

    July 24, 2007 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
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