February 28th, 2008
03:49 PM ET
15 years ago

Blitzer: Would U.S. be better off if it met with adversaries?

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2008/images/02/20/art.wolf2006.cnn.jpg caption="Is it a good idea for a president to meet directly with adversaries?"]WASHINGTON (CNN) - Barack Obama has been receiving some serious criticism on three fronts for his stated willingness to meet directly as president with the likes of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Hillary Clinton has been quite critical as has John McCain. And now President Bush has weighed in as well - insisting it’s a bad idea.

Their bottom line is that these kinds of high-level meetings require lots of advance work. They say in effect that a president should not give aid and comfort to a tyrant who is abusing his own people. Such a meeting with the president of the United States, they add, would be used by a tyrant for propaganda purposes to further oppress his people.

“The Bush Administration’s approach has been to say, unless they agree with everything we say ahead of time, we won’t meet,” Obama told me the last time we spoke. “That is a doomed policy. "The National Intelligence Estimate, our 16 top intelligence organizations, have themselves indicated that the Iranian leadership responds to both carrots and sticks and that we should be engaging in direct talks. That’s the kind of leadership I want to show as president of the United States.”

This is a serious area of disagreement. So who is right in this debate? Would the U.S. and the world be better off if an American president were to sit down publicly without preconditions with Ahmadinejad, Cuba’s Raul Castro, North Korea’s Kim Jung Il, or Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez?

Would that help make for a more stable and peaceful world or would it simply embolden U.S. adversaries? I would be interested to know what you think.

- Wolf Blitzer

Filed under: Wolf Blitzer
soundoff (394 Responses)
  1. Greg

    "I would be interested to know what you think." – Wolf Blitzer (this article)

    Really, why then have all of my comments today sat in limbo, and barely any comments are showing up at all.. I can't believe NOBODY is commenting in the blogs today, what is going on today?

    February 28, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  2. Lilia, from MD

    I believe in communication 100%. I think we could have saved ourselves money and lives as well as the Irqui people's lives by understanding exactly what was going on there. No the Bush Amdstr. had a scpecific agenda in mind and no body could get in the way. So 5 years later we are facing a recesion and no end to the war.

    For alll of these reasons we have to engage in talks, we can resolve more problems by talking and engaging than by going unilateral.

    February 28, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  3. Mike Bailey

    Let's look at history and the record on this subject.

    The doctrine toward Cuba that has been carried out for over 50 years has been a dismal failure. It has not led to changes in Cuba for the good but only to a deeper suffering for the Cuban people. Every 4 years the GOP trots out the old Cuba argument to shore up support in Florida. Then the issue goes back into the bottle till they need it again.

    This policy of ignoring and isolating has not worked with Iraq and it has failed miserably with Iran as well. The Bush admininstration has taken it to new levels of boiling rhetoric about axis of evils and the like. Is the world any better or safer? The answer cannot be yes by looking at current evidence.

    History shows that we met with leaders of the Soviet Union during the heydays of the Cold War. Were they less menacing than Iran or Iraq? The Soviets had the nuclear ability to obliterate the world. Iran and Iraq can hande Kuwait if the US does not get invloved.

    Diplomacy means talking and negoatiating with people from other countries whether we agree or disagree. It means having a dialogue that hopefully will allow nations to better understand each other and move toward common goals. Remember, we should be the standard bearer, leading the way in all areas of the globe. That means peace maker, diplomatic leader, letting actions speaker louder than words.

    We should always be vigilant and ready to stand and defend our country. But we must also take the leading role in diplomacy for the good of the world.


    February 28, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  4. nic

    I've always found that, whenever I have a problem with a neighbor, it's best to talk directly to them, rather than talking publicly about them, or refusing to talk to them at all.

    Aren't we supposed to occupy some type of moral high ground in the international community?

    Then why tout the supposed benefits of an autistic foreign policy?

    February 28, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  5. Julian

    George Bush must be living in some dark part of the world. Does he realize, though, that the American peoople seem tired of his fearmongering?
    Bush seems to be lacking in common sense, which is common to most! For him to somehow suggest that it would send a wrong message or rather confuse America's allies goes to show you unintelligent Bush is.....what is his rationale on how talking to adversaries would confuse US allies......
    As some people said that the presidency ages people three times the average person and i think it has dealt a bigger blow to Bush since he was as bright to begin with.....

    February 28, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  6. Roger

    By meeting with such leaders, unconditionally, places the stature of the U.S. presidency lower than what it should be in the international political arena. Obama needs to rethink this strategy, and own up that he may be misguided on this issue, otherwise he exposes his inexperience.

    February 28, 2008 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  7. June Middlebrooks

    It's not a good idea to run around the world meeting with despots under any conditions, any terms. Leaders of major countries don't do it. The Secretary General of the United Nations doesn't. There must be preparation: You need to know what they want, what are their intentions, will they call you names (Hugo Chavez), etc., etc. The President of the United States must maintain the respect the office deserves. Yes, it sounds benovelant, humble, etc., but it won't work in our best interests without preparation.. No, we should not be arrogant about meeting but we must be careful to protect our interests.

    February 28, 2008 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  8. NZ, NJ

    For many many decades, the US has been the top world power and every country has aspired to want to be like America. I have visited my husbands birth coutry of Pakistan several times and unlike what the media often protrays, EVERY SINGLE adult has only had praises for America and it is every child's dream to one day visit America (of course the praises do not equate to Bush). The bottomline is that, although certain policies and ways of thinking must always adjust to time and circumstance, the US has been a world power for certain fundamental principles and policies that shows why we are a democracy and powerful one at that. Sen. Obama's experience, or lack thereof, only shows why his candidacy has been and will continue to be under scrutiny. His desire to meet with such dictators without preconditions not only undermines the people of those countries, but also stains and weakens what we have been so proud to be a part of...a great democracy.

    February 28, 2008 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  9. LW

    Please, lets stick to the facts of what Senator Obama said. He said there would be careful preparation and consultations before he met with these individuals. I agree with him you cannot take the Bush approach when it comes to other nations, what makes an American President so high and mighty that he can not meet with his adversaries. If a Deomocratic Nations trully wants to promote peace both parties have to take the iniaitive.

    February 28, 2008 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  10. clarence berry

    President Bushs's policy on not meeting with dictators is very inconsistant. He meets with the Saudis and with the heads of Russia and China. All of these countires have human rights problem and are ruled by force not free elections. Not meeting with Castro did not help make things better so why not try the highest level of diplomacy possible?

    February 28, 2008 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  11. Aaron, Saint Paul MN


    Your question is misleading. There is a difference between meeting "without preconditions" (what Obama said he would do) and meeting "without preparation" (which is what Hillary twisted his words to mean).

    Preconditions could be endless and may result in never actually meeting (ie- what the Bush administration has done). Preparation means that the US has all of its bargaining chips (carrots and sticks) ready and stands firm on them when they meet.

    I DO believe we must talk and meet with our adversaries. JFK brilliantly used the same strategy during the Cuban missile crisis.

    February 28, 2008 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  12. jm

    No it is not good policy for the President to have direct talks publicly without having advanced teams of diplomats. This is very nieve to think the effects of these types of direct talks would not impact the US diplomatic policy in negative ways. there is a reason we have policies such as not to negotiate with terrorists. I think back to a movie or documentary about how tough the decision to recognize Israel as a state. Truman agonized over this meeting with other American experts to decide what to do.

    I think a direct talk policy would be very dangerous.

    February 28, 2008 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  13. Anonymous

    obama is right

    February 28, 2008 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  14. MickyD10

    Many countries around the world, friend and foe alike have some major problems with US policies, both on the political and economic fronts. I am not sure that talking with those countries with absolutely no preconditions what-so-ever is necessarily prudent, though. And I don't think that is ultimately going to be Obama's approach. What I do know is the present US policy is not working and hasn't been working for some time. Isolating and sanctioning, shutting people out and closing lines of commumication never works. It only breeds more contempt and hostility. I guess my questions is.......why must we always get everything that we want first anyway? Sometimes you get much more in return when you are the first to give a little something.
    We need someone who can think outside the box on these issues. The old mentality certainly isn't working.

    February 28, 2008 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  15. Justin

    We should all know enough to say that there is no magic bullet when it comes to foreign diplomacy and world peace. We will always have enemies and someone else will definitely consider that we are their's. However, I am relieved beyond description that a presidential hopeful is taking this stance toward foreign relations. I think it is sad to say that this is forward thinking in comparison to our past reactions to our "enemies." It's sad because in our day to day life, we don't consider it forward. We teach children to cooperate, and then forget everything we taught them when operating as adults. Why teach it to them in the first place. America has done poorly in cosideration to our demonization of enemy leaders. While there certainly are leaders who do us harm- we often forget that they represent an entire people-group who may or may not agree with what that leader thinks or says. Think of the American backlash toward all things French when they didn't support our going to war in Iraq. Rather juvenile in retrospect. (freedom fries? are we completely ridiculous?)
    It is quite refreshing that a hopeful doesn't consider our highest office to be so above and out of reach of the rest of the world.

    February 28, 2008 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  16. Mark Glover

    He is correct,with the damage that has been done by George Bush,we need to improve relations across the board,how much can we lose from just talking,it seems like we are saying that what we say goes and that everyone else's concerns ,religions and beliefs are wrong if they are not ours.Lets do the right thing as a country for once.

    February 28, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  17. Charley

    I think any rational person need only take a very sober look at the current world situation. The phrase "cowboy diplomacy" has almost become a truism, and it reflects very poorly on the people of the United States. Refusal to engage with those we disagree with often results in terrible outcomes, whether in regards to national politics, or international relations.

    I believe this is why Barack Obama is so appealing to voters. He is inclusive in his speech- making sure to build bridges with both domestic parties and countries whose leaders are at odds with some of our principles.

    It's ironic: President Bush (and others) talk about how these despots are so at odds with the real will of the people, and yet he cannot even face the music when it comes to American opinion on issues like Iraq, healthcare, and even talks with "rogue" nations. Bush, McCain, and Clinton certainly don't reflect my views when it comes to how a supposedly civilized nation should comport itself on the international stage. Enough war and hate-mongering.

    February 28, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  18. Chuck in Oregon

    Wolf, I agree that the sitting president should sit and talk with the leaders of all governments even if we do not agree with them. There would be a strong possibility that inroads could be made if that were to happen. And in the event that there was no agreement reached, it atleast allows room that the attempt was made with out conditions and that there would be the potential for inroads later in time. It is like you giving your spouse or your kids an ultimatum, do this we or....!
    Bad move to set pre conditions, talk with an agreed upon adgenda and see what inroads can be accomplished.

    February 28, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  19. esalgad

    Barack Obama should be talking about actions he would take with our friends and allies first and then discuss how to approach adversaries. Barack let's talk about the committee the you are leading and do something there.

    Change I can believe in?
    Give me a break!
    More like change we can talk about but never really do.

    Enrique, CA

    February 28, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  20. Gabe, Austin TX

    If we don't communicate with our "enemies" how can we ever expect to become friends? Wars start when the talking stops, and I think it is in our best interest to keep our friends close, and our enemies closer.

    February 28, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  21. Mischelle from Illinois

    The US has LONG held the policy that WE DONT DEAL WITH CRAZY PEOPLE! (Well, tyranical maniacs at least)
    What would the rest of the world think if we backed down from that LONG standing and HIGHLY effective policy? This is a crazy question.
    You don't reward bad behavior, even children learn that early. An it is a PRIVILAGE to have the (positive) attention of the GREAT UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!!

    February 28, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  22. Me, Cheyenne, WY

    No way. When Chavez called Bush what he did a while back, that doesnt earn him an audience with the POTUS. You cant run around calling world leaders names.

    How would it make the POTUS look if he bowed down to these tyrants without preconditions? It would make the US look weak.

    Weak is exactly what the US will look like if Obama or Clintion get elected when they turn tail and run from Iraq and Afghanistan thereby handing the country to Al Qaeda.

    February 28, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  23. Dan in MA

    The way this looks on the streets of Fall River, MA, is..."Will Obama go visit dictators before he visits my neighborhood?" We don't have many terrorists, but we have a lot of out-of-work people, with no health insurance. Obama seems condescending to us...He makes a joke out Hillary's parsing of his Farrakan denunciation, but then he splits hairs over "preparation." Obama clearly wants it both ways...In Fall River, we call that being hypocritical, not inspirational.

    February 28, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  24. voice of mine

    from above article: "This is a serious area of disagreement. So who is right in this debate? Would the U.S. and the world be better off if an American president were to sit down publicly without preconditions with Ahmadinejad, Cuba’s Raul Castro, North Korea’s Kim Jung Il, or Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez?"

    NO. There should be some moderated preconditions, otherwise the talks would be just vast of time and energy.

    They will not cooperate with him, and no one else. I lived under communists -and it was pure hell, no freedom, horrible economy, restrictions, persecutions, discriminations, fear everywhere......sad truth. They would persecute anyone who would even mention likeness of West. They did talk to US presidents, but we people suffered. It is not so simple and easy.

    February 28, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  25. clarity

    Wolf, lets be clear.
    There is a big difference between Hillary, and Obama and Bush.

    Bush's ideas of having no political engagement on any level, is (as shown) flat wrong. But on the other end of the scale, Obama's ideas of being open to all levels including unconditional presidential meets, is extremely misguided and dangerous, and shows how little he understands international diplomatic engagement. Very Naive!

    Hillary's ideas seem to take the common sense middle ground, offering some diplomatic interaction to encourage what may later lead to direct presidential involvement.

    February 28, 2008 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
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