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. Tommie

    My previous comment should read that most Americans probably do NOT know that Haiti was the second independent country in this hemisphere.

    July 24, 2007 10:20 pm at 10:20 pm |
  2. Joe Marks, Cambridge, MA

    The analogy Obama used was completely unfitting for the situation the question referenced. He wants to sit down with Kim Jong-il and Chavez because Reagan sat down with Gorbachev? The man deserves to be laughed out of this race immediately, on account of his inexperience. I have some issues with Hilary's stances, but she's clearly the more knowledgeable candidate on foreign policy issues like this one.

    July 24, 2007 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  3. marco, larkspur, CA

    Engagement requires meeting world leaders in person. The US President needs to take personal ownership in restoring credibility abroad. Hence, mr. Obama's approach is the right one. We already know what the difference are. Don't send more envoys. Get on the plane yourself. He can meet and explain in person what our core values are, better understand theirs, and hopefully find some common ground with leaders of Iran, Venezuela. Go Obama.

    July 24, 2007 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
  4. Patty, Louisville KY

    Obama is right. Meeting with these countries is what we have to do to keep the peace and keep America safe. Otherwise, we risk going to war again and again. I am glad we finally have someone willing to put pride and personal prejudices aside to do what is best for our country.

    Why not meet with Chavez or anyone else? Do we really want enemies in South America too? Who cares what the Cubans think? Are we suppose to fight everyone now?

    Barak, stick to your gut. Hillary is trying to please everyone and really saying nothing.

    July 24, 2007 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  5. Mo Jones

    Could not even hear Obama's radio response today as broadcast on CNN. Static over the voice? Big Disappointment. CNN needs to do better. Subtitles might have worked.

    July 24, 2007 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  6. Debra,St. Louis, Missouri

    I don't feel he blew the answer, I believe he answered it according to what he feels he is capable of doing. Let's face it, he's the only candidate on that stage last night that could go to these countries for presidential-level meetings during his first year in office. Even if Hillary was a man she couldn't. That's what I don't get about all of this. Here we go again with the same people, doing the very same things expecting different results...it's called insanity.

    July 24, 2007 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  7. Bill, Albuquerque, NM

    These two are stumbling around trying to find points that excite individuals without care for what is best for the US interests. True professional politicians to the core, individuals that never held a job in their entire life, nor dealt with real life issues!

    July 24, 2007 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  8. David, Evergreen, CO

    Isn't it time we moved on from the policy of not talking to our 'enemies'? I'm sick and tired of politicians placating the South Florida vote by cowtowing to the anti-Castro crowd. It hasn't worked for almost 50 years, why do you think it will work now? The old man will die soon and we (the US) need to be in a position to assist there when he does. Obama is right on here and Clinton is emblematic of cold war-old school imperialist American thought. We need change not the same old song and dance.

    July 24, 2007 10:32 pm at 10:32 pm |
  9. Amy, Lanark IL

    It's interesting to see HRC add the phrase "without precondition" to her memo, which the AP – and most of the media – seem to be "quoting" or simply allowing to be erroneously reported. That wasn't part of the question. He was asked IF he would – not how he would arrange it. DUH. His answer was simply too concise and direct. The man who submitted the question was entirely satisfied, according to CNN's post-debate coverage.

    July 24, 2007 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  10. Patrick, Brooklyn NY

    Clinton is deliberately misrepresenting Obama's words here. He never "committed" to having these meetings; he merely indicated that he "would be" willing, to use his own language and that of the questioner. She's clearly slipping, looking for anything she can to drag down Sen. Obama ...

    July 24, 2007 10:44 pm at 10:44 pm |
  11. Kevin P, Providence Rhode Island

    -You know when I saw the above picture added to this article, I thought the same thing; "Is Hillary covering her microphone in that picture?"

    I guess she didn't want to make the same mistake twice. (Her chat with Edwards.)

    -I feel how Obama responded to the question was a good answer. And I don't disagree with him at all. How can any candidate simply say they will never talk with another nation? Even if it's one that has expressed hostile notions towards our country?

    Listen, when it comes down to it, having diplomatic meetings with hostile nations in the past has avoided disasters. Obama is right that possibly meeting with these "rouge nations" is not something that should simply be dismissed. There will likely be a time when there can be positive benefits with meeting with the top brass from these rouge nations.

    July 24, 2007 10:50 pm at 10:50 pm |
  12. Ted Shelby, Los Angeles Ca.

    Any smart adult should know that taking the position of not communicating with an enemy never solved anything. At least it's good to know that Obama's got guts to walk into a hostile evviornments and meet with other world leaders. Hil botched her answer that why she was first on the defensive attacking Obama's reply. Just like she bothced voting in support of the war. Bottom line Obama's got her number. If her last name were not Clinton she wouldn't have a chance.

    Los Angeles, Ca.

    July 24, 2007 10:57 pm at 10:57 pm |
  13. Matt, Albany, GA

    To Bob, Brooklyn, NY, could the question have just as easily read "Would you meet with terrorists that want to negotiate"? What would you say to someone that spurted out "Yes, yes I would meet with terrorists that want to negotiate."

    July 24, 2007 10:59 pm at 10:59 pm |
  14. Bryce, Montrose, CA

    Clinton must really think Obama is a serious threat to her candidacy. Otherwise, she wouldn't be attacking him directly and this early, not with the lead she has over him in the polls.

    July 24, 2007 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
  15. Peter Hachures, London, England

    I am an American but I have a good understanding of politics from all over the world. The aloofness that I see in what Hillary Clinton said is why America is in trouble today. What propaganda is she worried about. This is not the era of the cold war. Most powerful politicians out there (most of them dictators) send unimportant officials to such talks. Nothing is achieved. The era of sloganeering about not negotiating with terrorists and all that is long gone. We need leaders who can go above mere politics of being worried about what the press would say when you talk to some of these evil dictators. I would respect a leader who would have the courage to tell some of these leaders his/her piece of mind. That is what a leader of the future is like. Hill thinks its still 1994. Its 2007, and the new geration everywhere in the world classifies America as evil. What will happen if other people in the world also refuse to talk to the American President. America needs to restore the kind of respect it had a long time ago. Helping in keeping the peace, not starting wars and being arrogant. Not being American I guess my opinion does not matter much, but those Americans who know enough of whats happening elsewhere in the world know and understand my sentiments.

    July 24, 2007 11:16 pm at 11:16 pm |
  16. Roy, Oxnard CA

    What makes the next president stating that he would meet with our biggest national security concerns a non-intelligent thing to say? To make such a comment, first of all shows how apparent it is that America has a long way to go as far as perception of race and stereotypes. If the responses were reversed, I doubt that position would be described as such. Secondly, what better way to kick off the next presidency than by looking these guys squarely in the eyes and telling them where you stand and what you expect as the leader of the United States? The silent treatment is foolish...especially when we no longer have capable intelligence agencies working for us as in the days of the Cold War. I think Iran and North Korea appreciate greatly not having to "answer to" a U.S. president for the past 7 years, wouldn't you say so?

    July 24, 2007 11:18 pm at 11:18 pm |
  17. Tenn Gurl Memphis, TN

    October 31, 2006, Council of Foreign Affairs:

    "Direct negotiations (with Iran and Syria) are not a sign of weakness; they are a sign of leadership...The Bush Administration refuses to talk to anyone on the evil side, as some have call that idealistic, but I call it dangerously unrealistic."

    June 27, 2007, the Center for a New American Security:

    "The Bush administration has given Iran six years of the silent treatment...In this vacuum, Tehran continues its progress toward developing nuclear weapons and increasing its influence in the region...After initial talks with Iran and Syria on Iraq, the administration says it isn't sure that we need any more discussions with either of them. I think we should keep talking."

    –Hillary Clinton

    Both are comments by Hillary Clinton. She was once for talking to nations and now she is against it.I hope CNN will point out these comments Sen. Clinton made. She sounds like Mitt the Flip. This is trianglation at its best. Just Keeping them honest. Honestly the CNN debate rocked. The post debate coverage was awful.

    July 24, 2007 11:19 pm at 11:19 pm |
  18. Leon, San Jose, CA

    Finally a new refreshing view and brave new direction we can follow. Hillary can move to Punjab along with George Bush.

    July 24, 2007 11:20 pm at 11:20 pm |
  19. Tate

    Since Obama is so into meeting face to face with the dictators he should also just meet with Osama Bin Ladin while he’s at it and solve those problems as well. Then we won’t have any terrorists. He should say that at the next debate; I’ll send him the suggestion-since he apparently is so open to them!

    July 24, 2007 11:26 pm at 11:26 pm |
  20. Bryan, Holly Springs, NC

    The two answers were the same, except Hillary's was "coached" whereas Obama's was a direct answer to the question. Both reflect each candidate's approaches to their campaigns. Neither is a surprise. Hillary's answer seems to lean closer to Bush's approach, who seems dead-set against diplomacy with anyone he thinks is "evil". She seems more concerned with protecting the presidency's reputation than averting world war or terrorism – when in fact the president's reputation is staked on her ability to do just that.

    July 24, 2007 11:27 pm at 11:27 pm |
  21. Carrington Ward

    “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"

    Talk is cheap. Better to risk the president's prestige abroad than to risk our soldiers.

    I respect Obama's willingness to risk his his own prestige in the national service. Hillary's response was old politics.

    And no, we shouldn't be avoiding diplomacy and/or falling into war because a strategic constituency in Florida opposes it.

    July 24, 2007 11:45 pm at 11:45 pm |
  22. Donna LePard

    When I heard Hillary's answer, it gave me chills because it seemed so calculated and familiar - but her follow-up memo is even worse. It may be politically clever to serve up the same old macho stance to a county accustomed to thinking it can force its will on the world, but seriously people, haven't we learned anything from the Iraq debacle? Our control of things is an illusion and to pose like it is our divine right to pick and choose which leaders another country has is just foolhardy. Talk about PROPAGANDA - Hillary is now campaigning like Geroge Bush! Please wake up and see who she really is... Hillary and the democratic establishment don't want to change anything - they just want to win! And they will continue the same old foreign policy nonsense as long as it allows them to gain and keep power. Obama is the more honest candidate and for that sin they will do everything they can to keep him from being taken seriously. That is what this dishonest, self-serving, worthy of Karl Rove memo is all about. ICK

    July 24, 2007 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  23. George,Seattle,WA

    The Hillary camp is trying desperately to make noise to cover the fact that she lost the debate.

    Her answer was timid and political - she is afraid to talk to people who might be making nuclear bombs because she doesn't want to give them a propaganda advantage? Give me a break! It will take bold leadership to diffuse the crisis with Iran; such leadership cannot come about if you are afraid of what the Sunday talking heads will say.

    The right answer for her would have been "Hell yes, they need to be told that it is unacceptable to build nukes/deny the Holocaust/call Bush the Devil/survive US sanctions for 40 years - and I am the person to do it." Instead she showed herself to be as image-obsessed as Bush. "I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes" is the statement of a weak person and totally inappropriate for the CIC of what is still the strongest nation on Earth. In the end, who the hell cares what pathetic advantage the Iranians might get out of the meeting - sometimes face to face is the only way to get the message across clearly.

    Hillary is now in the position of both advocating meeting with the "bad guys" that she supposedly has so much experience with, and saying that it is "naive" to do so. This will hurt her, she does not have her husband's skills at playing both sides.

    July 25, 2007 12:05 am at 12:05 am |
  24. Mike, Fox River Grove, IL

    The "Cuban vote in South Florida" should go back to Cuba to fix their problems, we're talking about Americans, not Cubans, here. Now, if they are Americans living in South Florida and are concerned with AMERICA and what happens HERE then their opinion definitely matters.

    Obama answered correctly. The best way to defeat your enemy is know your enemy. You can't know your enemy through reports, "intelligence", etc. Only looking into someone's eyes and hearing their respones can you possibly understand them and why they are doing what they are doing. Clinton's answered would have been good...until they released their typical mud-slinging notation twisting what Obama said to their viewpoint.

    Hillary is an unwinnable candidate. There is no way this nation is ready for a woman President. Obama has more of a chance, but will his being Black override the racism that is still prevelent in the nation? At this point I don't know who I'd vote for (definitely NOT Republican...hasn't been a good one since Reagan) but so far Obama seems to at least want to try to get the Democrats back to a true national party instead of a puppet government of CEOs.

    July 25, 2007 12:05 am at 12:05 am |
  25. Mike Bennett Fairbanks Alaska 99708

    I would first like to say that I served16 consecutive months in Iraq as an Infantry Soldier. A StaunchRepublican!Imust say that Barack Obama is right. The lack of interest, lack of knowledge of the mddle eastern states of the American people is plain stupid. "Too know your enemies'" You have to sit down and talk to them as I have fortunatley done over a 16 month period in Iraq, as well as 6 months in Afghanistan. It shows the shallowness, greed and ignorance of our peoples, and the ignorance as Americans.As political lders want to do nothing but deal with situations in the world with guns and threats! Yeah I am heated about these current debates over the fact that the blowhard, 500# head "people" are so guarded and secure when they visit Iraq or Afghanistan that they really do not have a clue what is going on!! Or protected by Miitary Commanders. Wake up and get a clue. read your History books and understand the past History of Imperialism and Occupation. Understand the reason the siblings of these Countries feel the way they do of our prescence! But understand true diplomacy, understand that negotiations only occur under strict and concurrent dialougue. That strong arm tactics will not prevail and the situation will only worsen if the problem is not dealt with. This is not a political fight on who is right and whom is wrong. It is an ideal of who is the real World leaders. Leaders deal with one another. They have a complete understanding of what is going on in the community. The world is our Community. I expect much more out of a contender for the presidency of our Country than, "We will not talk with them unless they agree to our terms pror to the meeting!"
    Obama in my mind can fix alot of these problems with his less than arrogant attitude. Arrogance, greed, gluttony, Sloth. These Sins will not be accepted in the Muslim world. I promote the knowledge of world history in our schools so we can stop the ignorance.
    He is the Man that has had dealings and upbringings in an Islamic and Muslim Comunity. He is the one that can fix our current National interests. Primarily because the Muslim world will have if only a little, a little more faith and confidence in him. "It is our World we are the ones that choose how we co-habitat together!"

    Mike Bennnett
    1SG U.S. Army

    July 25, 2007 12:07 am at 12:07 am |
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