July 24th, 2007
05:49 PM ET
4 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. Mark, Coarsegold Calif.

    Both these candidates are far from Presidential material. To even consider speaking to these dictators is a joke. Diplomacy worked very well with Hitler........

    July 25, 2007 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  2. Bob Tewell Salem, Oregon

    Senator Obama's answer was definetly more presidential. He was and is willing to talk with these other world leaders at any time. Clinton was not. Why would Clinton set a first term moratorium on peace talks with your enemies? Does it make sense to put off talks until your 2nd or 3rd term as president when earlier sessions may solve important issues? Of course not! A president should be willing to talk peace anytime. We need more talks, less war! Obama won!!

    July 25, 2007 12:18 am at 12:18 am |
  3. Oday Juarez, Boise Idaho

    What an important distinction for Mrs. Clinton to be making such a priotity to highlight. She must be "working hard." I bet "it's hard work!"

    Maybe she wants us to think to ourselves:
    "Geeze, I wouldn't even have caught the distinction. That's something a leader would worry about! She sounds like a good leader!"

    Nice job extending Obama's words beyond their intention Hilary. I'm sure he's a man of his word before a man of reason and would share a cup of tea with Hitler if given the oppurtunity following his election. NOT.

    Not that I think hearing someone out can ever be a bad thing provided you have the time and they haven't abused the oppurtunity in the past. "Refusal to dignify" is camp posturing and never helps anything. It's throwing away an oppurtunity to be a good leader and present mutual commonground and build from it towards a win win solution.

    I think this highlights Hilary's personality more than anything. She "refused to take anything off the table" and then jumped on someone for being willing to commit to something.

    Doesn't matter. They both would both make a lousy president. Hillary in general and Obama only for his misguided views on the role of government. I'd vote for Obama if I believed in socialism. I'm not worried about helping Ron Paul's strongest competition with a vote of confidence because he woud win against ANY of the democratic candidates.

    This country needs Ron Paul.

    July 25, 2007 12:19 am at 12:19 am |
  4. Wendy Clark Texarkana,Tx

    My main concern with all of the candidates is their need to give exact dates for a pullout from Iraq. I wouldn't send a memo telling the neighborhood crackhead the dates I will be on vacation,doesnt it seem a little reckless to give our enemies anymore amunition against us? Another concern is how often they say "I" in all the responses. I wonder if they have even considered the feelings and thoughts of the servicemen and women that are fighting for us.With all the mudslinging and ill will these candidates are spewing about this war and the current administration, I believe it only serves to disrespect our military and poison the morale.While the war in Iraq is a huge topic,there are other topics on which they could better use their energy.

    July 25, 2007 12:23 am at 12:23 am |
  5. Ernest Dickinson, North Truro, MA

    Clinton,as she did on the Iraq war, has flip-flopped again. She had berated Bush for failing to engage in direct talks with the "bad guys." It is time, at last, for some bold new initiatives. Obama will have the wisdom,judgment and skilled advisers to take these initiatives prudently. As Senator Obama says, he is not just going to invite these guys over for coffee.

    July 25, 2007 12:33 am at 12:33 am |
  6. Bill Kilpatrick, Lakeland, Florida

    I thought Hillary's answer was more politically savvy than Barack's but her day-after claim that his response was a reckless, naive, gaffe is a nasty reminder that politics is a blood sport.

    In Washington, they say, if you want a friend, get a dog. I'd like to see Barack shove back with equal spin. I'd defend the point by saying Hillary's response was too Bush-like. The American people have already had six years of a White House that thinks its best option is to stop talking to countries it doesn't like.

    July 25, 2007 12:43 am at 12:43 am |
  7. Patrick, London, England

    Obama represents the so called New World Order that does away with politics of division. The reason why people can't stand America is because of its divisive attitude in the world. The Bush mantra of you are either with us or against has done more harm than good to world peace. America needs a president who is ready to bring down this fences that have been there for ages. I am a young man and I feel it is about time world leaders sat down and sorted out the mess we are in. Clinton's attitude of envoy is a continuation of what Bush does. We are looking for an American president who is more open minded and ready to try new things, furthermore Ronald Reegan did sit down with the leader of the then Soviet Union and see what that achieved. The world today is yearning for an American President with a different approach and Obama offers the world HOPE.

    July 25, 2007 12:47 am at 12:47 am |
  8. Maxwell

    I can't believe how silly (and even stupid) the Clinton campaign could be on this issue. It doesn't take more than average intelligence to know that Obama wouldn't meet these so-called dictators without initial ministerial level meetings. This was a classic Clintonian strategy to dampen the momentum gained by Obama after winning the Yutube/CNN debate.

    July 25, 2007 12:51 am at 12:51 am |
  9. eggbone, Montgomery, Alabama

    proves that clinton is just another reactionary;

    viva chavez libertad o muerte

    July 25, 2007 01:16 am at 1:16 am |
  10. William Henry Childers, Palm Springs, CA

    If Clinton is trying to make political hay of this difference, BTW, her answer was typically guarded & equivocal compared to Obama's direct reply, then her campaign is weaker that she is willing to admit. And, I wonder how she rationalises that it is "not presidential" to give the likes of rogues in Syria, et al. an opportunity to make propaganda use of a pre-emptive summit, yet she finds it perfectly acceptable to give al Quaeda in Iraq a pre-emptive surrender plan by demanding that the American(and coalition) armed forces publish a withdrawal plan while they(we) are engaged in a strategic combat effort, that, BTW, seems to be working!

    July 25, 2007 01:26 am at 1:26 am |
  11. Johnnie, Tallahassee Florida

    The question was simply: would you be "willing" to meet? The answer from Obama was "yes", as in yes I would be willing. He did not answer "yes and I guarantee it", he did not answer "yes and without careful forethought and consideration". Clinton's follow was better because it added context, however, I see no big contrast with her answer and Obama's answer, only opportunistic spin by the Clinton camp.

    July 25, 2007 01:32 am at 1:32 am |
  12. Gary, Boston MA

    Part of the question was also "without precondition." How could Barack Obama say "yes," that he would meet with these leaders without precondition? This is absolutely ridiculous. His answer highlighted Obama's political inexperience, and Hillary Clinton's vast knowledge regarding world issues.

    July 25, 2007 02:03 am at 2:03 am |
  13. Mark, Wadsworth, Ohio

    Obama answered like an open minded intellectual. Clinton started out with the standard politician approach (in plain English: “let’s continue to accomplish nothing”), and then changed it to a warmonger stance by specifically calling them all “bad”. Those answers boiled down to one open door, and one door locked with an insulting note on it for good measure. Bad or not, they are national leaders and unless we intend to bomb their civilian populations into oblivion, we would do well to keep our communications with them VERY active, and preferably somewhat friendly whenever remotely possible.

    July 25, 2007 02:45 am at 2:45 am |
  14. Evan Esteves, Boca Raton, Florida

    In response to Rada from Miami. The Cuban vote in South Florida has been MANIPULATED by the Republican party so well that it's unlikely that Clinton or Obama would get their votes anyway.

    On the other hand, I think the Clinton camp is being petty and I believe this is exactly the type of politics that Democratic primary voters DO NOT want to hear from her or any of the candidates. Her stooping this low reminds me of something a Republican would do...somebody like Mitt Romney.

    July 25, 2007 03:11 am at 3:11 am |
  15. Paul Phx AZ

    This is a conservative attack tactic which will backfire on Hillary Clinton.

    July 25, 2007 03:19 am at 3:19 am |
  16. Rick, Chicago Illinois

    Marsha, Portland, OR ... Why should you wait a year when time is of the essence here – our soldiers are dying in Iraq, development of nukes are at stake, etc?

    GREAT answer Obama.

    It's Hillary who blew it. If she didn't spend her time supporting B.S. Right wing wedge issues like flag-burning amendments she might have understood that.

    July 25, 2007 03:21 am at 3:21 am |
  17. Robert M. Reidy, Tillson, N.Y.

    I see what Obama was driving at – Always keep channels of communication open even during times of disagreement or conflict.
    For decades we kept lines of communication open with the Soviet Union which lead eventually to many important treaties that finally lead to Detante.
    Barak Obama is a world class thinker
    and the only propaganda that would be generated is that the United States
    is a force for peace in the world and to snub U.S. diplomacy would show up the 'Bad Guys' to there own people – a reverse propaganda coup for U.S. prestige in the world. I am
    refreshed by Obamas clear thinking and
    ability to think out of the box. Take a look at the state of affairs in the world – if you want more of the same keep doing the same old thing. I for one relish creative diplomacy – it befuddles your opponent.

    July 25, 2007 03:29 am at 3:29 am |
  18. Joe, London, Great Britain

    Hi, I'm a Brit who read the transcript of the debate on the CNN website yesterday and was utterly shocked at what Barack Obama said. The Clinton camp is correct – Senator Obama DID commit to "presidential-level meetings with some of the world's worst dictators without precondition during his first year in office."
    The response from the Obama camp was transparently substance-less, and merely demonstrated a sense of panic, however minor, in the Obama camp over what is rightfully perceived as an enormous foreign policy gaffe.
    On this particular issue, Clinton exuded experience and wisdom, while to be frank Obama just oozed naivety, inexperience and a determination to play up to a populist backlash against the foreign policy approach of President Bush.
    As a Brit, I would much rather see America's next President continue to play tough with the world's worst dictators, and as I hope my new Prime Minister will do. The thought of the US President just jumping onto the sofa for chats with Kim Jong Il, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez (perhaps at Camp David by the fire?) fills me and countless Brits and probably continental Europeans as well with utter horror. It caused enough controversy over here in the UK when the Mayor of London cosied up to Hugo Chavez, so God only knows what would happen if the Prime Minister were to do it.

    Although I'm undecided as to who I would rather see as Democratic Presidential Candidate (let alone US President), I would urge Americans to watch the younger faces like Barack Obama very carefully.
    As someone who lives in a country where the Opposition plumped for the younger, fresher candidate who is now approaching being a liability for his Party, I can only urge Democrats to be extremely careful. Sometimes, if not usually, a bit of political baggage when combined with experience is better than just "a new face."

    I'm not biased. I'm not prejudiced. But, as someone who takes his politics very seriously, I don't think the World's most powerful person should have got to where he OR she has got through populist rhetoric, empty gestures, spin and inexperience.

    Here's to a fascinating and satisfying Presidential Election next year...

    Best of Luck, America.

    July 25, 2007 03:49 am at 3:49 am |
  19. Cheri, Sugar Grove, PA

    The fact that Obama is willing and wants to try to make headway with these countries is a step in the right direction. Everyone knows that once someone takes office they are limited to what they can do but at least he has an open mind and is willing to try.

    July 25, 2007 03:58 am at 3:58 am |
  20. F.R., Tallahassee, FL

    Do you really think a Democrat has a shot at capturing the Cuban vote in South Florida anyway? Are you aware of that voting bloc's record in the last several cycles? Solidly Republican. I wouldn't look for the trend to change in '08.

    July 25, 2007 05:30 am at 5:30 am |
  21. Kris Astaphan, Kansas City, Missouri

    Senator Obama is absolutely right, and Senator Clinton is being ridiculous. The best way to size up anyone, world leader or not, is in a face-to-face meeting, and the best way to relieve tension between parties is to meet and chat. These are fundamental human facts. Obama's position shows strenght and confidence in himslef and America, while Clinton signals weakness and arrogance – he is unafraid to meet with even the most hostile of individuals. The critical point is the signal that would be sent by those leaders (say Chavez) to their supporters when they agree to meet with Obama – "how can America be out enemy if you meet with their President to talk about issues?"

    This statement and action by Clinton is a clear indication thaty she will perpetuate America's problems and that she is out-of-tocuh with the real world.

    July 25, 2007 05:44 am at 5:44 am |
  22. Adam, Lawrence, KS

    It seems as though Hillary is finally showing that she possesses the wisdom and experience needed for this position. She is offering realistic, well-planned solutions for abstract/hypothetical scenarios instead of appeasing a viewing audience with lip service. As someone who formerly disliked her, she is slowly proving herself and winning me over. I was very impressed.

    July 25, 2007 05:49 am at 5:49 am |
  23. Bill, Toledo, OH

    I love CNN, and I'm a democrat, but if this was a republican candidate it would be off the main page already.

    July 25, 2007 06:12 am at 6:12 am |
  24. Ward, Los Angeles, CA

    We need a change from the same old politic's that get us nowhere. And Clinton answer is 40 years old, which has not move us forward at all. Clinton blew the answer!

    July 25, 2007 06:18 am at 6:18 am |
  25. Txrenewal,Mesquite TX

    Hillary is trying to borrow from Carl Rove's diplomacy in her desperate effort to repossess the whitehouse.Clinton is using his poor wife to cling to power and kill democracy!!.America must protect its democracy from these traitors.They can go and succeed Fidel Castro,they don't mind life-time presidents there in Cuba.But here,8 years was more than these liers deserved!!

    July 25, 2007 06:49 am at 6:49 am |
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