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. Merchon, Manchester, IA

    Senator Obama once again took a question head on and once again Hillary tries to act like she's the know all on foreign affairs. Out of sight, out of mind seems to be the running theme for our "seasoned" senators. Hillary once again proves it. She can't take a stand and stick to it. She is just another puppet. She get the nod for president... I am leading the wagon train to Canada.

    July 24, 2007 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  2. Zach,RI

    Mrs. Clinton seems to have overlooked the wording of the question. Obama saying he would be "willing" to meet with these people doesn't sound like much of a commitment to me; rather, he wouldn't rule such methods out. Clinton, on the other hand, sounds like she would be unwilling to shake things up by doing things radically different than our current president. I know, and I think Obama knows, that being willing to talk to dictators and being able to make progress by holding such meetings are worlds apart, but these answers just make me more clear about Obama's stance and more confused about Clinton's.

    July 24, 2007 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  3. Mark M

    Just what we need another shoot from your hip cowboy, or in this case, cowgirl your with us or against us mentality. President Clinton endorsed the idea himself when he said that he did not think speaking to these leaders was tanamount to weakness. Yet, another example of Hillary trying to prove how tough she can be. Hey, I have an idea, why rejoin the rest of the world and attempt to spread our influence through diplomacy and alliances.

    July 24, 2007 08:21 pm at 8:21 pm |
  4. Lakisha St.Louis, Mo

    Hillary is a fraud. She tries to have it both ways. Jut inn April she said the samewhat Obama said.
    I Hate Her and will not vote for her

    July 24, 2007 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  5. Virginia, Alameda, CA

    Hillary flip-flopped; she said exactly what Obama said, back in April. http://wcbstv.com/us/local_story_112220939.html

    We have a real choice: someone who will stick to the status quo and use diplomacy to play politics and win points (Hillary), or a real leader (Obama) who sits our adversaries down and takes their measure right away. I choose Obama; I think he's just smarter and more concerned about the country than his political career.

    July 24, 2007 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  6. Payam, Boulder CO

    Obama should be commended for repudiating the Bush administration's failed isolationist foreign policy by promising to speak with the leaders of what the Bush administration considers to be 'bad'. There is no other world that we live in, and the only way there will be progress of any kind – if it is war, so be it – but for progress to occur, and to have the best chance for success, we must speak to these leaders. They are in fact the leaders of their respective countries. People cannot come to our country and speak to Al Gore, as though he was the president. It's Bush, anyway you like it – somehow he's president.

    Hillary Clinton is now on the record as saying we will have more of the same – supporting the Bush administrations arrogant, one-dimensional, and frighteningly suicidal foreign policy.

    Thank you Barak Obama, I know that while the media is purely tuned into what the Republicans see as an opportunity to knock out the candidate they fear most – you will prevail.

    July 24, 2007 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  7. Scott Thompson, Rossmoor CA

    I'm glad to see that Hillary Clinton, like many other ignorant politicians before her, continues to believe that ignoring anti american politicians abroad is sound diplomacy. Anyone who knows anything about the history of U.S. 20th century diplomacy knows that the U.S. goverment will continue diplomatic relations with any foriegn government, dictator, murderer,or criminal,as long as they go along with U.S. political and economic ideology. During the last 50 years including 8 years under her husband Bill Clinton, the U.S. government including it's Presidency have been willing to continue friendly relations, sometimes entirely proping up terrible dictators, so that we can attain political and economic goals. These practice which have occured in Iran in the 60's and 70's, in Iraq in the 80's, and in Pakistan, Morocco,Egypt and Saudia Arabia today have all fueled the fire which is anti americanism in the Muslim world. In the rare situation where U.S. politicians have had the guts to reach out to a "dangerous leader" and attempt diplomacy, not just a policy of "unless you bow down we don't believe you exist" great things have happened. The fall of the Soviet Union is just one minor example. If Hilary thinks it is the appropriate course of action following the last 50 years of screw ups to continue to ignore anti American regimes, who have a right to be anti american, (typically it was our economic imperialism which screwed them up in the first place) then she has no right to be running on any progressive ticket. Americans have been blind for too long, standing around while politicians tell us what countries are good and bad and who we should trust. One last tid bid to make my point....although no one on this side of the border will probably care. For over 70 years the U.S. and its leaders let the PRI party in Mexico run one of the worlds most perfect dictatorships, in the process letting one of the most promising countries in all of Latin America deteriorate into desperate poverty, and corruption. This all during a time period when the U.S. was suposedly on a world wide mission to safe guard democracy. Barack Obama might have his response to a question regarding high level diplomatic interaction (with countries like Syria, North Korea, Iran) spun to sound like he is inexperienced by Hillary and the rest of the news media, but anyone with a speck of reason who can think on their own and not listen to the lies fed to them by our government, will realize that we must as Barack quickly pointed out, reach out to our enemies and give them the respect that will ensure American safety not promote more hatred. We must also reach out to the citizens of the many countries whos dictatoral leaders we hold relations with, and let them know that we will stop supporting their oppressive regimes unless real change is made. And we must have a President who will actually stand for freedom, democracy, and prosperity through UNITY, not just sell it as a weightless slogan.

    July 24, 2007 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  8. Kathie, Spring, TX

    Obama answered the question correctly. The new president, whoever he/she might be needs to be meeting with EVERY leader of EVERY country – its just a matter of respect & common courtesy. It doesn't mean that we are promising them anything. Hillary's has it all wrong..

    July 24, 2007 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  9. M. Infantino, Westminster Ma

    During this day and age I would suggest that the solutions to our problems may be found outside of the box. From what I understand, the goal of any presidential candidate is to improve the overall well being of the Country and the world. Perhaps we should take a moment to not just think about this upcoming election, but to think beyond that and take opportunities to set aside pride and prepare for future in untraditional ways now. Tell me why it is not possible for both Obama and Clinton to enter the Whitehouse as a team. Both are capable of leading our country to a greater good. Why not enter the Whitehouse with Clinton taking the presidency as she has significant experience, Obama gets his feet wet in the Whitehouse as VP. If enough intelligent people ponder that long enough we can see how much that might be beneficial. There could be unprecidented progress and understanding of what leadership in a free country really is. Many in this country already know that both will die trying to fullfill their promise to the country before letting us down. Neither the first Black president or the first woman president are about the enter the Whitehouse without realizing they set the standard for those who follow. Thats exactly the kind of hard core motivation we need to fix the planets hard core problems.

    July 24, 2007 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  10. Bobby Woods, Boston MA

    This is another example of the media’s manipulation of the context of Obama’s response. Just because he did not add a cavet to his response does not mean he will haphazardly meet with these leaders without caution. He was given a very direct question and he gave a very direct answer with the time he was given. The media is making this an issue to show Obama in a bad light. Both Clinton and Obama gave the same bottom line answer: Yes. The media needs to leave it at that.

    July 24, 2007 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  11. Marc, Marietta, GA

    Obama gave a common sense answer, and that registers with me. Maybe he's not a political droid conditioned to follow the same incorrect approaches that we've become accustomed to. The American diplomatic arrogance is part of the reason these states deify us and why Iraq has progressed so poorly. Even if the meeting results in nothing, at least it gets rid of the myth that America hates the people in their country and not just their policies. World leaders should be smart enough to have dialog even if they don't agree.

    I'm sure he wouldn't meet until he knew the conditions of a meeting. That's just common sense, and I'm sure he understands basic diplomacy.

    July 24, 2007 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  12. Jack, Madison, WI


    Hillary is so obviously a tool, and like McCain will say anything to get elected. She changes stance left and right, manipulates, and in this case, says some ridiculous stuff to try anything to unseat the guy that everyone but CNN sees is the better opponent.

    Speaking of, when is CNN gonna stop pandering to such obvious corporate tools as Hillary? Does anyone really believe she's not already in bed with the same folks that brought us 8 years of Bush? Everywhere i looked today, Obama took that debate, except CNN. WHY?

    July 24, 2007 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  13. Ryan Provo, UT

    First off, it seems pretty silly to assume that because he didn't mention it, Barack wouldn't have his people prepare the way for any major presidential visits. That just goes without saying.

    Hillary's qualifying statements, and her overconcern with perceptions and powerplays seemed to me like more of the same in the foreign policy department. Barack's comment represented a fundamental shift in the way foreign policy is run. Like a breath of fresh air.

    The fact that Hillary then tried to score political points off the exchange the very next day just seals the deal to me. She's a cold, calculated, opportunist and I would rather have Barack's genuineness, openness, and real concern for the American people any day.

    July 24, 2007 09:07 pm at 9:07 pm |
  14. Jon, New York

    The question was about whether BO was willing, as president, to meet with Iran, Syria, etc. The question was not about what his preconditions were, and I hope that trying to widen that into a gaffe will show that HC is just making shrill noise.

    July 24, 2007 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  15. Fran Martini Luzerne Co Pennsylvania

    I believe Hillary and Obama both did well in the debates. Each answer as it relates to meeting with foreign powers was good in its own right. Any answer is better than the present situation with the Bush Administration who has alienated everyone in the world. Dialogue is not a bad thing and certainly not to be used for propaganda purposes. Surely each candidate would abide by those rules with foreign leaders when president. They just didn't get to explain it all in a 30 second soundbite. Both answers by each candidate were good. I don't think Hillary and Obama need to be at odds over their respective answers. I think this is being blown out of proportion by the media. The debate by the way was excellent with all candidates and YouTube and Anderson Cooper! Great job to CNN.. The democrats were the pioneers in this format – remember that.. The Repubs are home practicing now for their turn.. Certain most questions for the right will be about God and patriotism but hopefully questions to them will be more challenging – like stem cell research, Universal Health Care, getting us out of Iraq (yesterday) and why not!

    July 24, 2007 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  16. CMS, California

    Do the Democrats realize they arent running against Bush? Every answer involves a swipe at Bush. Not a Bush fan here, but this is not a good way to win Republican votes in the end.

    Time for a valid 3rd party to unite the moderate middle!

    July 24, 2007 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  17. Lovely, Los Angeles, California

    Honestly, I agree with Obama. By having these separatists attitudes, nothing will ever change.

    We are constantly judging other dictators whose methods are more openly insane, however, our own government is also insane and is more covert about it. Humans are humans and we can not expect to create a oneness amongst all unless we reach out and recognize that fact, without judgement.

    Politicians are more concerned about the SPIN then getting in there and just doing it. Maybe if someone with a loving, open, unjudging heart was to approach one of these dictators, there could be a mending of sorts. I'm sure for every insane deed done by one of those leaders in another country, there is a covert version going on somewhere committed by someone in our government.

    Americans love to point the finger of righteousness, but most do not see the big picture, nor do they care to.


    July 24, 2007 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  18. Olan Price Charleston,West virginia

    Senator Obama may be naive but Senator Clinton is dillusional. She could vist 8500 countries as someone's wife and that wouldn't count for one day's experience in foreign affairs. she met with the spouses(male or female). The leaders met with the leaders. Come on!!
    She has no more experience than any of the other candiates

    July 24, 2007 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
  19. Melissa, Phoenix, AZ

    Obama's answer was honest; Clinton's answer was, well, a typically political, no-committment, nonanswer.

    July 24, 2007 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  20. Wesley, Iowa

    Who is the real Hillary Clinton?
    (1) she votes for the Iraq war.
    (2) in 2006 she impedes the democrats attempt to have a timetable for withdrawal.
    (3) in an earlier CNN debate she says that the USA is safer since 9/11, but last week the CIA says the opposite

    Now she wants to end the war and have a timetable.

    Money can't buy this kind of experience, but it sure can prevent the news media from showing her inconsistency

    Can you tell that I think Obama won?


    July 24, 2007 09:43 pm at 9:43 pm |
  21. Nathan, Salt Lake City, Utah

    The question was, "Would you be willing to meet separately during the first year of your administration with leaders of Syria, Iran, Venezuela and others to bridge the gap between our countries?”But the Clinton campaign decided to interpret the word "willing" as "committed." Wonderful that they've interpreted intent as commitment for all of us that can't understand the former.

    We may not need "presidential-level" meetings, but we need more constructive diplomacy besides not talking to them and hoping they'll go away.

    Clinton gave the safe, weak answer ("a vigorous diplomatic effort.") that we've all heard before. Obama gave an original answer that promises change.

    What we're doing now isn't working, and the leaders of these foreign countries aren't going away. Clinton seems to promise more of what we're already doing. Obama seems to want change, and that's what we need now more than ever.

    July 24, 2007 09:54 pm at 9:54 pm |
  22. erika morgan black dimond wa

    I'm basically a Hill supporter, but her answer here plays directly into the hands of the proponents of the Repulicrats. It is probably the "right" answer however Obama's answer is what we want to hear after the intractable sulker passing out the silent treatment. I am getting really tired of the holders of the President Office calling themselves the "Leader of the World" the "Most Powerful Person in the World"; a little humility would be very refreshing, an understanding that even if you hold an office "You the Person" are just a normal human who puts on his pants one leg at a time. Obama is refreshing.

    July 24, 2007 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |
  23. Tommie

    Actually all of the right wing exiles are so closely aligned with the republican party that they are no longer honest brokers in the sense of being able to discern a national interest. We haven't talked to the Cuban government for over 30 years and were actively engaged in trying to overthrow their government and assassinate their leaders. Is this the proper way to engage?
    Actually this policy of not talking to governments has a VERY long history. It was first implemented with respect to Haiti, which was the second country in this hemisphere to win its independence. Most Americans probably know this!
    Of course the slaveowners who controlled the US government in the early 1800s couldn't give diplomatic recognition to a country that freed itself via a slave rebellion! Of course that policy undercut the possibility that Haiti could organically grown into maturity. Of course the slaveowners could care less, but the policy was a disaster for the people of Haiti.
    Welcome to the Clinton campaign – repeating some cardinal mistakes from the past several hundred years with respect to our Americas.

    July 24, 2007 10:09 pm at 10:09 pm |
  24. Bill Wilson Dallas, Texas

    I consider the debates via YouTube are revolutionary! Wher an individual can ask a politician a question directly is amaazing! Thanks to CNN & You Tube.

    July 24, 2007 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  25. Brian, shawnee, Kansas

    I think the more people hear Hillary speak, the more they realize she is person who makes her decisions based on her ego/image rather than what's good for the American people.

    Some people are genuine and some people play the political game so much they lose who they are. Hillary is becomming more and more of the latter.

    July 24, 2007 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
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