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. Mimi in Pittsburgh

    It would make for a more stable and peaceful world. Bush's "stick-only" approach has failed so far. Nixon went to China with few, if any, preconditions and our relationship with China has worked out rather well. Tension between the U..S. and the old Soviet Union was decreased when our leaders started talking. It also helps understanding on all sides for ordinary citizens to meet each other on a regular basis. A Presidential visit can pave the way for that to happen.

    February 28, 2008 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  2. Kirk



    February 28, 2008 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  3. maynard


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

    American foreign policy clearly is not working, and perhaps it's time for the President to involve him or herself in some diplomacy for a change. I commend Barack Obama for his willingness to take an unpopular stand on an important issue and deviate from standard, ineffectual presidential practices.

    February 28, 2008 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  5. Andrew O'Connor

    First of all, let me say that I am a Canadian and am an observer to this process. In my opinion, Mr Obama's willingness to meet with the leaders of these states should not be rejected out of hand. Has completely isolating these leaders helped the people of these nations one iota? Is the world any safer? The last time I looked, the common people of Iran were still under the rule of hardline clerics, the people of Cuba are still under the same Communist regime they were under when ties were completely cut, just to name a couple. You have been able to difuse a nuclear stand-off on the Korean peninsula with dialogue and engagement in one hand and the threat of sanctions in the other.
    If Richard Nixon could normalize relations with China and Kennedy could meet with Khrushchev at the height of the Cold War I do not see why you cannot do likewise with equally distasteful regines today.

    Andrew O'Connor

    February 28, 2008 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  6. John

    simple and concise answer YES the usa would be better off

    February 28, 2008 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  7. erica

    It's a shame for the media to inflate Obama and treat him superiorly to other candidates??? instead of clarifying his strong root in Kenia, his name, muslimic origin. What American people would think when your president has the same name with the terrorists or even related? or he'll do favor for other countries (Kenya, muslim, etc.) ... or what else?

    February 28, 2008 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  8. Andy

    I don't think Obama suggests going in to these talks unprepared. Nor may these talks be ones of "lets sit down and make a deal" per say; they may be more "you need to sit down and listen to us and do this or that". The point that Obama is making is communicating with our allies and our enemies. Knowing one's enemy is the greatest way of defeating them. Lets face it, with the way American media is open up to the rest of the world with ease, it's an unfair advantage that some of these closed off countries have with us.

    February 28, 2008 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  9. MJ

    Obama reveals his naivete by making these absurd statements. You have to understand that just because Bush has a failed foreign policy, doesn't mean Obama's strategy is the right approach as well. You don't default to an agreement of one policy by rejecting another. I hate to say this, but Obama will be outgunned by these dictators, who are a lot savvier than he thinks he is.

    February 28, 2008 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  10. BobC

    Communication is the first step in conflict resolution. As long as the discussions are undertaken from a position of strength, then why not? Handled deftly, intransigent leaders could be placed into rather tight positions.

    February 28, 2008 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  11. Jim - Houston, TX

    It makes perfect sense to say that you will sit down with our adversaries without preconditions. The Bush policy has been shown to be a failure. What better way to show the world that we are willing to go to great lengths to promote stability, freedom, and democracy. At this point, I'm not sure how much more embolened they could be. The more light we can shine on them the more the world will see how rediculous (i.e. Chavez) these other leaders are. Hey ,here's a new idea...let's smother them with capitalism and democracy!

    February 28, 2008 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  12. Kelley

    Absolutely not. The U.S. needs to work on our relations with other countries. If we needed to go into war with another country at least we could go into the United Nations and say Look we tried talking to them and got nowhere. I think more countries would be willing to form coalition forces with us if we at least made an effort. The best thing that could come out of talking is the othe countries change their minds on the issues, the worst thing is that their ideas remain unchanged, but at least we tried.Our country needs to repair the damage caused by the Bush administration!!!!!

    February 28, 2008 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  13. Carolyn

    Both Pres. Bush and former Pres. Bush along with Vice President Cheney don't seem to have a problem being photographed with the Saudi family whose leader is rated as the 4th worst dictator.

    February 28, 2008 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  14. Think - FL


    Going against the common 'wisdom'... I feel it could only stand to help this country's position throughout the world if it came down off its high-horse. The perception of America around the world is overwhelmingly one of arrogance, greed and immorality and while something as simple as the President meeting with loathsome dictators isn't going to change all that... it can't hurt.

    These leaders have larger egos than they should and as a result they put themselves on a pedestal as well. By meeting with them, you can coerce them to come down off their pedestal and at least make some kind of agreements. You can't talk to these people on the phone and expect to get anything out of them. All that does is embolden them to thumb their noses at us in a battle of the egos and thus, no one gets anywhere.

    February 28, 2008 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  15. Monroe Eskew

    Dear Wolf,

    It never hurts to talk. The US president would not legitimize the policies of oppressive regimes by meeting with their leaders, unless of course being our friend was a precondition for having a meeting. Obama has made it clear that he would meet with our enemies, and scheduling a meeting with an enemy does not change their status as an enemy.

    So the question is, what are the potential costs and benefits of these meetings? There's not much to lose in having a meeting besides the time it takes to prepare and meet. It's not a great gift to an adversary. As for benefits, there might not be any, as there weren't when Kennedy met Khrushchev for the first time in 1961. But the potential for positive results is there. It could be a way to get adversaries to agree to things that are in the US interest, and diplomacy might be the only way to make that happen in some cases.

    I think Obama is right to point out that having a policy of diplomatic engagement could by itself improve the US image around the world. But the most important thing about these meetings will be what goes on in them. Several US presidents, including FDR, JFK, and Reagan, have reaped benefits from engaging adversaries diplomatically. The real question is, does Obama have the intelligence and skill to bring about agreements with other leaders that would benefit the US, or would he botch it up? I think he has thus far shown us that he could do a great job.

    Irvine, CA

    February 28, 2008 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  16. Martin (Bolivia)

    It all depends if the other side is also willing to talk about substantive matters. Diplomacy between former enemies is normally (correctly) initiated in secret well before any leaders appear on the scene, or though proxies who act as communicators. To refuse to maintain some sort of contact between warring nations/leaders solves nothing, costs nations lives, destroys their budgets, and only fills the pockets of the war-makers. History shows us the advance discreet or proxy diplomacy has cooled many of the supposedly intractable hotspots in, for example, Eastern Europe, Libya, much of Africa, China, Vietnam, and possibly even North Korea over the next few years

    February 28, 2008 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  17. LJ

    Well, considering Bush has so openly ridculed the idea, I think there must be some merit to it.

    I agree with Obama's statements from the debate in Texas where he pointed out that Bush has backed us so far into a corner in some places that we may need to be a bit more receptive to making the first move toward peace.

    Besides, if I were taking on a new job I would want to feel out the competition myself instead of relying on the word of Bush and Cheney as my starting point for Foreign Relations.

    February 28, 2008 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  18. Johnny

    Clinton, McCain and Bush are all saying "if it ain't broke don't fix it" but obviously advance work hasn't done anything to make the world a better place. How much more emboldened could these tyrants get? They already rule their country with an iron fist and say the most inflamatory statements on the world stage. These bullies will only respond to strength and the best way to show strength is to stand up to them. Refusing to meet face to face is a sign of weakness which is a greater help to any dictator. Obama has it right. The others are cowards.

    February 28, 2008 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  19. DiamondStarHalo, TN

    Really really bad idea. To meet with these heinous dictators and murderers (yes, murderers, I said) would only provide them more propaganda within their foul little fiefdoms. These subhumans–Ahmadinejad, Chavez, et al–aren't worthy to sit at the same table with anyone who values freedom and human life. Incidentally, Mr. Obama has no clue what he's talking about regarding foreign policy, in my humble opinion.

    February 28, 2008 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  20. Doody

    What propaganda? Obama said there will be preparations but no precondition.
    Bush's policy is of a cow boy and not befitting America. BTW he studied International relation at Columbia University and graduated in the top 1% from Harvard.
    Please spare us the propaganda; OBAMA's foreign policy will be many times better than that of Bush or McCain.

    February 28, 2008 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  21. trudy carter

    Failure to meet with foreign leaders and to show respect while being clear about which of their policies are problematic for the U.S. has led to a stalemate in foreign affairs and a dismal view of our government throughout the world. Obama offers us a return to diplomacy, an appreciation of a democratic view of the world.

    February 28, 2008 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  22. S. Wright

    Warren Christopher, as Secretary of State in the Clinton Administration, met with Syria twenty-one times during his tenure.

    How far with the Syrian government did he get, Wolf? Have they stopped messing in Lebanese affairs? Did they stop being a destabilizing force in the Middle East? Have they stopped impeding the moderate Middle Eastern states in working to establish more peaceful means of securing the area by replacing the kleptocratic regimes currently in charge?

    Reagan said it in 1964 with regard to accomodation and those leftists who continue to insist on its merit; Obama, and those who follow him, have proven that they haven't learned anything in the 43 years since regarding accomodation and appeasement.

    February 28, 2008 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  23. Bram

    As a canadian, this a fantastic example of american arrogance. The US has to suck up their pride and meet with these individuals. Otherwise, the anti-american sentiment will continue to grow. Haven't people realized, that the growth of terrorism is in part do this american ideology that consideres them morally superior.

    I think Obama's willingness to change this paradigm is the oppose if naive. He's the one person that is willing to say we are wrong and need a new direction.

    February 28, 2008 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |



    February 28, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  25. Anonymous

    We should sit down and talk with these people. I wonder when we are going to learn from history and realize that isolating leaders does not solve anything. Direct diplomatic relationships is the only possible way move these nations in a more democratic way.

    February 28, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
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