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. NittanyLion4Bama

    Lets face it, the world's opinion of us is at a all time low and is a result of our current foreign policy stance which is basically "We're too good to talk to you." Rather than our foreign policy imititating the "cool kids" like in highschool we now have a candidate that is willing to go against the norm and be a true valedictorian of our country. I find it impressing and one of the key reasons why I support Barack. He isn't saying he will get all comfy cozy with Iran, Cuba, or Russia. He is willing to engage discussions to hopefully start negotiations.

    February 28, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  2. KJ

    well, i think that should be a good idea cos it enhances the fairness. US is not something only for US, for all the world. therefore if that happens i think thats gonna help the world at least to realise whats happening.

    by the i am not from US but paris

    February 28, 2008 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  3. cliff

    Of Course meeting with our "adversaries"...code for leaders of countries that don't agree with everything we say...is a better strategy. The way things are done now makes it seem as if we are looking down upon every other nation as if we are superior to everyone. It's not enough to just say that a particular group of people hate us...why not sit down with them and find out why?

    February 28, 2008 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  4. Michael - Columbia, SC

    I think it is a good idea to meet with international leaders without preconditions. I see this approach as no different than Teddy Roosevelt's 'speak softly but carry a big stick' philosophy.'

    Diplomacy is always a good first move and I think America should be viewed as a nation that is willing to try diplomacy first before using force. If anything, I think such a gesture would encourage leaders to have better relations with the US which would promote peace and prosperity for all.

    February 28, 2008 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  5. rob

    Talking with our adversaries will only cost us at most the time which is taken to speak with them. Using the silent treatment is the diplomatic equivalent to sticking our fingers in our ears and blowing raspberries. The rest of the world already thinks of the U.S. as a group of pretentious 'our way or the highway' war mongering narcissists, and refusing to meet with leaders we don't like only enforces this image.

    There's no way we can possibly make any kind of advance towards improving relations or conditions with other countries if we don't even try to be diplomatic. It's bad enough to have one Cuba, we don't need to create more.

    February 28, 2008 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  6. Jeanna Salamone

    Just another major display of Mr. Obama's global inexperience. I am amazed by the voters of America who are so mezmerized by Mr. Obama that they simply cannot see these very blatant and serious concerns.

    February 28, 2008 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  7. OA


    I do not think America realise that they cannot continue to treat the rest of the world with contempt. I just believe that for you to come to the table with your adversary to resolve issues asking for conditions that already has handed the issue to you is quite arrogant. In order for America to continue to retain its status in the world as a leader, it must be ready to disscuss issues with nations they do not agree with in order to reach a solution.

    February 28, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  8. Dave

    Interesting that the leaders of the U.S. have always been willing to sit down with dictators when it is financially beneficial to them. Why is it okay for the Saudis to visit the White House and vise versa? Aren't they considered to be one of the more violent and oppressive regimes in the World? What about the Chinese? Both of these countries are less democratic that either Iran or Cuba according to the Economist Democracy Index. Yet we have formal diplomatic relations with them, and even invite them over for dinner!

    February 28, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  9. Adam

    It can't hurt. It never hurts to listen to what your adversary has to say. Even if you reject AND renounce (or denounce, I can't remember which) every word of it, I guarantee you will learn something by listening, and that the adversary will learn something by listening to you. That's the worst case scenario. In the best case scenario, you might find out that there is one point on which you actually agree, and something positive can come out of it.

    Of course, the reason Bush, McCain and Co. disagree is because they don't want to learn something. They are not interested in anything that conflicts with their predetermined world views.

    February 28, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  10. Brian M. From Fort Mill, S.C.

    This is one area in foreign policy where I belive Obama is right, and everyone else is wrong.

    Bush refused to meet with leaders of rogue nations unless they changed their ways first. This suggests that communication is some kind of reward. It's not.

    Obama's idea works for several reasons: If we talk (mind you, I don't mean "negotiate", just talk), then we know what's on their minds, and they know what's on ours. The one driving force that causes anybody, whether it's a political leader or child, to misbehave, is human nature, usually in the form of greed and selfishness.

    If you want your kid to behave, you don't break lines of communications until he changes, you start by talking to him and explaining your reasoning, expectations, etc. You then listen to their concerns. Maybe there was a misunderstanding.

    Maybe, if we talked to Saddam Hussein, we could have figured out that he was bluffing about WMD, and we could have saved a trillion dollars. Maybe, if we talked to Kim Jong Mentally-Ill, we could have gotten him to shut down his nukes five years ago.

    Bush would always say that the military option is the last resort. If he's not talking, then there is no first resort – just war!

    February 28, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  11. Ito, Yokosuka Japan


    Of course we would be better off talking directly to our "adversaries". Meeting with someone who does not agree with you until they agree is not a sign a weakness, but one core reason we get ourselves into the messes we do.

    I would love to see a President meet with the Leader of Iran and tell him both personally and frankly that he needs to tone down his rhetoric and attitude.

    The problem comes if Obama meets with the Iranian President, shakes his hand, smiles, kisses him, and talks to the press like there is nothing wrong.

    You can meet with other world leaders and respectfully and strongly disagree with them without getting all cute and polite in front of the Camera's.

    This is the problem with people like HRC and W. They turn everything into politics.

    February 28, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  12. Anon

    Obama’s position on this issue is precisely what led me to leave the “undecided” category and become a firm supporter of his. His is a refreshing position compared with that of the current administration and is grounded in pure common sense. A world in which major powers with nuclear weapons, or the future potential for nuclear weapons, refuse to speak with each other is dangerous and stagnant. Only through discourse can we hope to induce cooperation from those countries whose policies we oppose and ultimately bring about change in those policies. The foot-down, line-in-the-sand, do-what-we-say-or-else approach has not worked, cannot work and is one of many reasons why Americans are so disliked throughout the world. It is vital to our safety as a participant in the global community that we open the lines of communication and try to bring about change and cooperation by sharing our ideals, our way of thinking and the benefits of our policies with foreign leaders through discourse and true diplomacy.

    February 28, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  13. wycliffe

    Wolf a change of tactic is neccessary. It is only when we started talking to north korea that they started to disarm there nuclear ambitions.

    February 28, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  14. Tony, CT

    Yes, the President should meet with the likes of Castro, Chavez and Ahmadinejad. It will prove that the U.S. is not just a bully dispensing diplomacy at the end of a rifle.

    February 28, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  15. Adam - TX

    Not without preconditions. To meet without preconditions or notice of change, would be foolish. Once again, it emphasizes Obama's inexperience with foreign affairs and overall aloofness.

    He needs a few more years with his training wheels on. We don't need him crashing the country because of poor choices because he didn't know any better.

    February 28, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  16. Manuel TX

    Perhaps we should ask Neville Chamberlain.

    February 28, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  17. Malik

    i strongly believe a middle ground must be reached. It is not appropriate for the President of the United States to engage in direct talks without preconditions but it is also not advantageous for us to ignore foreign leaders when they are less than 100% compliant. That just isn't the way compromise works. I feel that Senator Obama has made that argument clear.

    February 28, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  18. tom szymanski

    We can choose to take part in an open dialogue with the world, or the rest of the world will move on without us?

    February 28, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  19. Kevin

    Of course we should meet. Bush's "I don't want to hear what you have to say unless you agree with me" policy has only turned back the hands of time. We need to move away from a policy of arrogance toward one of progress, and shutting others out – even our 'enemies' – is not progressive.

    February 28, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  20. dave

    There can be a presumption that one would go into a meeting with a foreign leader without any advance preparation. By the very nature of the numerous possibilities of topics both singularly and dually beneficial to the countries at hand, this meeting would have been carefully crafted. Mr Obama seems to indicate a preference for seeking solutions to long held anti-American policies/positions by what......saying 'let us sit and talk'! Is this a novel approach, or have we as a country 'advanced' to the point where we talk with our fists? We can not knock the other country's proverbial 'teeth out' until they submit. Oration requires thought first. T-H-O-U-G-H-T! Both China and Russia was once the spoken of as being the 'axis of evil' Now examine the economies and exports of these former 'enemies'. By the way, who decided it's cool to play in the sandbox with them now? Grow up little spoiled children. It is a new century. You've lost your job, you can't afford heating oil so you're burning newspapers to warm your house ,( which by the way is in foreclosure and being advertised ifor sale in the Beiljing Chronacle!) Talk? Yes, absolutely! Mr Obama, talk well with no fear! Open our collective, united mouth and use it for all it is worth. If you don't, as have been recent policy we'll hold our breath's til we all turn blue . So there! Nah...nah......nah...nah..nah!

    February 28, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  21. Marty

    Hillary can stop him. That's what she is trying to do. The people of Texas, Ohio, and the remaining primary states need to wake up and vote for Hillary. She can deal very effectively with our adveresaries, given the chance. It's just the media and members of her own party that seem to be the problem. She appears to be as baffled by Obama's appeal as I am. The way to keep them from sticking it to our girl is to support her and make sure she is the Democratic nominee. She can beat John McCain. I know he was a POW for 5 years, but Hillary has been tortured by the Republicans a lot longer than that. That's got to make you tough.

    February 28, 2008 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  22. jennifer

    This is exactly the problem with America ,not enough of you rednecks have lived or even been abroad to understand that the world does not in fact revolve around our cowboys and their cows .What's with that inflated mentality of not talking to our enemies ??If we are confident our point of view is the correct one,what's wrong with trying to let them embrace it around a table instead of calling them names and seeking comfort in our own values .What about the oppressed people of those countries,do you even care about them ?Do you think their situation will get any better without their leaders agreeing to it ?What,you're waiting for a revolution to happen ?well here's the news,they are too hungry and scared to even think about it .Well,they tried once ,in Irak,in 1992,and Bush senior let them die so that some fat saudi so-called king could snore peacefully at night .Do you remember the Oil for food program in Irak ?While US and Europe was refusing to meet with Saddam ,and sticking to their embargo,infants were dying in the hospitals because there was not enough IV tubes or even penicillin to help them .In the meantime ,Saddam's sons were living large on caviar and having fun with their infamous nightly rapes adventures.So now,do you think it help Saddam that we pouted and ignored him ?
    A great president is not someone who calls himself "War president" and bullies those who disagree with them ,but someone who can get his butt off his confy oval office chair and be willing to meet with people he despises .That's how the cuban crisis was avoided in the 60's,how communism died ,and how north korea is gradually disposing off their nuclear arsenal .

    February 28, 2008 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  23. richard, tx

    I believe our foreign policy is due for some changes and applaude Obama for being willing to meet with foreign leaders that others have chosen not to. Our current policies were fine for the Cold War, but times are different now. The world has changed...and with the internet and constant advances in technology and communication, the world has become a much smaller place.
    If we truely want to be a leader in the international community, than we need to start acting like one. And considering our current standing among the international community, it couldn't hurt us to exercise a bit more humilitty, and a little less arrogance.

    February 28, 2008 06:39 pm at 6:39 pm |
  24. David

    Kennedy met with Kruschev. Reagan met with Gorbachev. The United States has always engaged friend and foe alike simply because it's the only way to get results. President Bush has been a miserable failure on foreign policy, making us far less safe than we were when he came into office and squandering the good will of the world after 9/11 in part because of a lack of communication with the rest of the world. Senator Obama is right, and apparently the only person running who makes any sense.

    February 28, 2008 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  25. Vince

    Absolutely we should meet with adversaries. I am not saying it is going to work out every time but I have learned through my life that the root of nearly all conflict is lack of communication. Think about this one thing. We have never had more countries, groups, or people hating us than we do now. I would say the attitude of our national leadership the past 8 years has a great deal to do with that. Basically our adversaries are afraid of us, they dont have a clue what we are about, they think we feel superior to them, and that we think we can do whatever we want when we want to do it. I feel a little communication will go a long way in many of the problem countries around the world. In those run by whackos we will probably not be any worse off than we are now. Time for a change OBAMA 08

    February 28, 2008 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
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