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. Adam

    You know, I don't know if meeting directly with these leaders will help any, but I do know that to NOT meet with them has been proven, without any doubt, to absolutely NOT work.

    I'm young enough, and thus perhaps naive enough, to think that Obama has the right idea and that the rest are just talking tough to pander to those who agree with them. His campaign is, and has been about change. Without it, by definition, things will just stay the same and we've all seen that that just really hasn't or isn't working.


    February 28, 2008 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  2. Donna

    TOOOOOOOOO Dangerous.
    Needs preparation. I disagree with Obama.

    February 28, 2008 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  3. Patrice E. Oakland, CA

    I think that meeting with other leaders of foreign countries is a smart process to approach. Since the Bush Administration started, we have become the most hated country around the world.

    We cannot go around bombing countries who are our supposed enemies, that is not the way to solve problems. Our currency is at an all time low, other countries refuse to trade with us because of this war and our wrecked foreign policy. I think that the Republicans and the Clinton camp playing the fear card against Obama, which is crazy. I think the American people are smart enough to know that fear tactics and propaganda is not working. We are no safer today, then we were in all of the 8 years of the Bush Administration. We need a president that willing bring our country back on top and liked and admired by the rest of the world.

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

    Pre Bush and the Iraqi war I would have said NO. However, America is in a much different place than it was then. I think it will go a long way in showing the world that America is still in the diplomacy business not the...go it alone...my way...or no way philosophy of the of the Bush Administration.

    February 28, 2008 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  5. Jake Hussein

    McCain said himself that Abu Ghraib was fueling the insurgency. It sheds light on a larger truth about the war on terror. This administration's disrespectful approach to relations and the war in iraq is fueling everything. We must meet.

    February 28, 2008 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  6. Greg Chapman

    Meet the enemy? Why not? I don't equate meeting hostile leaders as giving them aid and comfort. I doubt further that such a meeting would add or subtract to the level of oppression in a leader's country. Propaganda is cheap and these leaders don't need US presidential visits to justify themselves. US policy may of course play a role in the level of oppression-whether we sell arms or not, trade embargoes, intensity of our isolation efforts, level of aid, and on and on...Also, the idea that getting a US presential visit is some sort of special prize is self-pandering and is in-a-house-of-mirrors ego-driven logic. The US itself isn't perfect, often pursues its interests in unethical ways, and shouldn't be surprised that other people see the world differently. So let's talk to our enemies. That doesn't mean we have to agree with them...doesn't mean we have to capitulate anything...doesn't mean all problems will be solved...but where does not talking at all get us? A much more dangerous world to be sure.

    February 28, 2008 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  7. Grant in Scranton

    Mr Blitzer,
    Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
    Why would anyone not advocate opening lines of communication with our adversaries?
    Maybe if we had talked a little more with Saddam Hussein we wouldn't be looking at 4000 dead GI's, up to a million dead Iraqi citizens, substantial increases in recruitment of Al Qaeda and an estimated 4 Trillion dollar bill for the whole mess.
    Never negotiate out of fear, never fear to negotiate.

    February 28, 2008 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  8. Gavin



    Some of these scandalous dictators will try to TAKE ADVANTAGE of a new administration....


    Hillary Rodham Clinton wins this arguement... She's to the skill and judgement to do what's right and meet when it's right with leaders.

    That's why I'm voting & caucusing for CLINTON 08 !

    February 28, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  9. david

    I think the human civilization at this point of time is entering a new stage, the stage of humane civilization whic h demands for harmonious world. The gap among race, religion and geography is gradually shrinking. When the world is inter related and inter connected, it is very hard take unilateral initiative for the global leadership.So, there is a possibility that America can be better off without make someone worse off.When we hate others in an interconnected world, it is hard to expect a respect from others. But, I understand the intention why this column appeared at this time here.It is understandable and the impicit meaning here is Obama's foreign policy is not good for America which is not fair. What happened when we invaded Iraq? we made more enemies and it flamed anti American sentiment around the world.So, there is a possibility of a win win situation for everyone in this world, there is no point that we should always hate others.

    February 28, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  10. Priscilla

    The Bush Administration is a failure as well as his ratings. Barak Obama has already stated that it would take a lot of preparation. The only thing President Bush is doing is campaigning for McCain because he wants to build up the Republican party. As far as I can see, President Bush is the last person America will listen to.

    February 28, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  11. Texas for Hillary

    I stand by what Senator Clinton states as the best format. She knows how we should proceed and she will prepare herself and the government before we talk with these presidents.

    Senator Obama has shown us his inexperience, by stating we should just go straight into talks.

    We need to be prepared in order to speak to these people and Senator Clinton has stated from the very beginning that you need to be prepared before doing so.

    February 28, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  12. Dan

    I think Obama should be commended for his courageous stance on this topic. If this is his "inexperience" then, please, let's have some of that inexperience!

    It is difficult to see the 'downside' of simply meeting with those with whom we disagree. What is the worst case scenario? That nothing is accomplished or agreed upon? Well, that is no worse then our record of abject failure where we refuse to meet with leaders with whom we disagree. What has been accomplished by 8 years of noncommunication with Iran or Venezuela? What has been accomplished by our 50 years of noncommunication with Cuba? Has this policy been effective? And frankly, why would be interested in foreign policy advice from those who have a long track record of failure.

    February 28, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  13. eric

    What were doing right now isn't working so why not meet with them and at least agree on some things is better than nothing. Time for change. World needs to see us as willing to listen and not see us as a cowboy with guns drawn. The world is a different place and our government needs to change to keep up.

    February 28, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  14. Boogie

    why sit down with someone if you don't have an agenda to negotiate?
    If both sides are not ready to budge it is a stupid waste of time and has historically been used for propaganda.

    Now then, if there is something that both sides want in common...that's when you sit down and work it out.

    February 28, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  15. John in Fort Collins

    Yes Wolf, I'm sure if we just sat down with one of these monsters, who find nothing wrong with causing untold adversity for millions of their countrymen, who think nothing of taking the lives of thousands of innocent victims, we could just talk them into repenting of their ways. This fairy tale mentality, along with CNN's and MSNBC's clever little campaign for Obama, is exactly why he is ahead in the race. I'm sure when Obama's in the white house he can just out rhetoric them into complete submission.

    February 28, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  16. Keith Cornelius

    Wolf, you ask for comment but unless it is going to support Obama you talk about it so who are you kidding. But for giggles I'll give it a shot....Obama said he would not have pre-condtions but then in one of the last 2 debates he use the word preparations, hmmm sounds like back tracking and then his preparations are the pre-conditions that Hillary has stated......things that make you go hmmmmmm
    But with regards to your question, no it would no be a godd idea without the enemies of this country meet the pre-conditions, becasue they will do eaxclty that and use the visit for propaganda purposes which they are know to do......so no we should not meet with them until they met the conditions for such a meeting !

    February 28, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  17. Jane, Maryland

    When you have a failed strategy, do you not change it?
    The question should be, what has come of not meeting with them in the last years? And the answer is NOTHING.
    We need to get off our high horse before we become yet another lost empire. We are borrowing from China to pay the Saudis. We had better start improving our image by behaving admirably. It is only then that be can be a great world leader – IN ALL AREAS..

    February 28, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  18. Linda

    Is the "with us or against us" approach working? We're bogged down in two wars with no end in sight. We're hated throughout the world (I've spoken with Americans who have experienced this first-hand when traveling overseas). We live in constant fear of another attack.

    How can conversation and communication be bad? How can that be any worse than what we have now?

    February 28, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  19. Eris Discordia


    February 28, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  20. Tom 22

    I believe Barack's position is correct. If we intend to help the opressed people of a country, how can we expect to have any impact if we do nothing to build ties. This is a huge reason i'm voting for Obama. I believe McCain, Bush, Clinton, etc are history. I believe we'll look back on this and be so grateful that we had a president that worked to bring us together globally.

    February 28, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  21. Neutronstar

    Dear Mr. Blitzer,

    It is definitely worth a try. America has followed a policy of not meeting with leaders of countries like Iran for decades. But nothing really changed. Did it? The people of Iran are not really any less oppressed just because America has chosen not to talk to its leaders. And it is not as if America doesn't talk to tyrants. What about the American allies like Saudi Arabia or Musharraf of Pakistan? I think it is high time to try a different strategy with the leaders of countries like Iran because the current policy of "not talking" simply did not work. I therefore support Obama's approach. What do YOU think?

    February 28, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  22. Andrew in FL

    In requiring that certain preconditions must be met before a country’s leader is allowed to even talk to the U.S. President we are telling that country that your leader has not earned the privilege of talking to our leader. That our leader is more important than your leader. That is blatantly disrespectful. Part of the reason why so many around the world have such strong hatred against the U.S. is because they think that we don’t respect them or their country. Having the President talk with the leaders of adverse countries goes a long way in changing this anti-American sentiment.

    February 28, 2008 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  23. Vince Los Angeles, CA

    I don't know how Clinton, McCain and Bush can be so dogmatic in saying that such a policy would not work. It hasn't been tried for them to judge. This is why I support Barack Obama. He thinks outside the box.

    February 28, 2008 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  24. concerned citizen

    I believe its time that the President should meet with these leaders to find solutions and peace. It's been too long that the American President has not been able to demonsatrate leadership in foreign affairs. When abroad, Americans or the US is looked as the horrible country that led on this war. The US needs to build new relations and strengthen old ones in foreign affairs.

    February 28, 2008 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  25. Joseph

    There are 2 cases when dealing with these "adversaries":
    1. They are willing to change.
    2. They are not willing to change.

    For case 1:
    If you never communicate with your adversaries, they will never be anything but.
    For case 2:
    As Sun-tzu wrote, "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer."

    February 28, 2008 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
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