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. Fabian Blache III, Baton Rouge, LA


    Your piece makes a clear distinction between "advance work" and "preconditions."

    What I understand from what I am hearing on the trail, through both the stump speeches and the debates, is that Senator Obama fully recognizes that no meeting can take place without "preperation." The issue then becomes, not one of preparation but rather one of these unspecified "pre-conditions" we have heard talk about.

    On the one hand, meeting with them directly, at the highest level, could prove productive and empowering to the extent that leaders should speak with leaders. Not doing so can give the impression that we don't value the importance of the relationships we are trying to build.

    The downside is that doing so could be seen as pandering to these abhorrent leaders, which in turn could give the citizenship of their nations the impression that the United States is hedging on being tough about proposed demands and reforms. Conversely, seeing a U.S. President step up to the table to deliver the iron hand may be precisely what is needed to force substantive action on the part of people like Jung and Raul Castro.

    One thing is certain, if we don't try we will never know. I don't think Senator Obama is saying he is going to set "every second Tuesday of the month" meetings with one, and set aside Thursdays for another. But to initially go out into the wild, and put forth the demands and proposals, leader to dictator (I phrase it that way in lieu of saying one leader to another) could prove to be an unconventional move with meaningful outcomes.

    February 28, 2008 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  2. Gary

    I believe if it were me that I would have open discussions with these leaders. The policy has been as you stated to being "conditional" and I don't believe that policy works. Gary – Wisconsin

    February 28, 2008 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  3. Sarah L, Fayetteville, AR

    I think that Barack Obama is absolutely right. As a young American, I do not see the advantage of the current U.S. policies.

    What good has refusing to meet with these leaders done for the United States? Are we safer? Are there fewer terrorists? Have we caused these leaders to see the error of their ways? No. Ignoring those who do not agree with you does not help America and does not help the people who suffer under the rule of the supposed 'tyrants'.

    Additionally, I think that meeting with Castro and others would show that the United States is not threatened by their policies. It would also show a lot of good faith to the people of those countries who already feel isolated.

    February 28, 2008 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  4. Izzie

    I think that meeting face to face with our adversaries would be much better than talking through the media to them. I think that we could get better solutions by just sitting down and talking instead of just invading every chance we get.

    February 28, 2008 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  5. Christina

    I don't see what the big deal is to talk to people we don't like. Aren't we all cilvilize human being? A wise man once said "am I not destroying my enemies by befriend them?"

    February 28, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  6. Blessing Orage

    I see that everyone is wobbling here. Nixon went to China, Reagan to Russia after the ground work for further diplomacy had been agreed upon. So what's wrong with a new bold initiative to change our stance and still carry a big stick?
    Blessing Orage

    February 28, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  7. V in Ca

    Obama's remarks reflect his naivete when it comes to foreign policy. Foreign leaders are NOT going to embrace him and give him "credibility" just because his grandmother lives in poverty in Kenya, or because he grew up in a Muslim country (as he said to a cleveland dot com reporter just before Super Tuesday). They are watching his words and actions now in order to determine how credible he is.

    Obama stated in the TX debate that our attitude has been one of "superiority" to the five countries he wants to "talk with." In my opinion, we SHOULD demonstrate superiority to dictatorships, to countries in which human rights are being violated and citizens are being tortured. I see nothing wrong at all with maintaining a position of superiority in relationships to those countries. Isn't democracy superior to dictatorships?

    Presidential conversations should be reserved for countries which are making solid commitments to human rights, and are acting on those commitments.

    If I had a friend who was torturing her child, I certainly wouldn't go to her house and try to talk her out of it! I'd act to protect the child.

    February 28, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  8. Praetorian, Ft. Myers, FL

    By the way...Obama is wrong...Bush is not waiting for most to comply with ALL concessions...just most concessions. Any attempt to try to comply with at least some of the concessiona and create dialogue in a positive way–has been met with a positive response. Usually by the Department of State. The President, however, should not avail himself until ALL requirements as defined by U.S. policy/demand–have been met.

    February 28, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  9. glhf

    You meet with them obviously. How else can you expect progress?

    February 28, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  10. js

    Bush's isolationist, narcissistic, xenophobic policies have hurt us and our future generations....

    I respect and applaud Sen. Obama for having a distinct goal and way to achieve change in our global society, which is different from any other candidate that would immediately increase our standing and respect in the modern globalized world.....and he would meet with some preconditions, if you listened to the debates.....Hillary once again just supports Bush faulty logic....."how's that working for us???"

    Bush and the neocons operate from a Cold War mentality, since all of Bush appointees to his cabinet were initially appointed from Daddy's time, when USSR still existed....to them, there is no way but US when we were number one, now thanks to their failed policies, we are no longer number one in most areas....and falling further and further behind...to the point we now have to decide to save housing OR infrastructure OR have no state grants to have clean water...

    If you look at UN Millennium Goals for Developing Goals, WE FAIL most of these goals now...

    Just like Bush create benchmarks, fails them, then changes them.....our standard of living just keeps going down....

    Real change requires vision, judgment, long term outside the box thinking.....for ALL Americans.....not just "the chosen few" or "decider" or however the neocons would refer to themselves.....

    That is why I support Obama '08

    Si, Se Puede!!!!

    February 28, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  11. Patrick

    I strongly agree with Senator Clinton that we cannot just blindly meet with world leaders that are our adversaries. Presidential leadership is so complex and Senator Obama is naive to think this type of diplomacy will work.
    The US has to restore our faith in many countries around the world, but it will take lots of work to make that happen...and often times, that isn't calling up Iran and asking if they want to get together for cocktails.

    February 28, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  12. Mi

    Of course it will make a more stable world. This is part of the job. This is what we call LEADERSHIP.

    February 28, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  13. Patrick

    I believe that by putting diplomatic pressure on corrupt world governments we can effect change. That takes a President who is willing to use the power of the Presidency to do so. Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and George Bush are all living with a Cold War Us vs. Them, Good vs. Evil mentality. If we can use the power of the Presidency to diplomatically effect positive change in nations with corrupt governments, why shouldn't we? The idea that we are now on the brink of war with Iran simply because our President is a stubborn fool is ridiculous. We may not like the government of Iran, but we must have open channels of diplomacy with them. And that goes for all nations.

    February 28, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  14. Shawn DeWeese

    I feel one of the major downfalls of the Bush administration, many to choose from I know, is the reluctance to meet with our advisaries.

    Yes, there is prep work that must be done before the president can meet with a foreign leader but at least Obama has made it clear that friend or foe, he'd be willing to meet. "Keep your friends close but your enemies closer."

    A refreshing change!

    February 28, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  15. david

    Barack Hussein Obama is under the illusion that you can just run over and talk to someone. It's like he doesn't understand the necessary process of negotiations at all. Just scary .

    Why are Americans voting so STUPIDILY 3 times in a row? For the life of me I can't understand.

    HILLARY IS THE ONE TO FIX STUFF PEOPLE. We don't want 4 more years of "How does this work? Can you explain it to me please?


    February 28, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  16. Jeff

    Obviously, it is an understatement to say that US foreign policy has not made remarkable success during the last 7 years under the pre-emptive mentality of Bush. With the right set of conditions planned by the State Department, it wouldn't hurt for the American President to meet with leaders of nations who aren't necessarily our "friends."

    February 28, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  17. James T. Anderson

    We should absolutely be willing to meet with foreign leaders especially when we are in disagreement with them. George Bush's and John McCain's opinion just reminds me of why we are in this impossible situation in Iraq now.

    February 28, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  18. prakash chand for HILLARY

    NO wolf,

    your media darling is wron again and again.

    Thats what happens when Obama does not have experience especialy in Foreign policy.

    Wolf , vote for Hillary.

    February 28, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  19. Andy, New York, New York

    According to the following quote extracted from the news story above, here is what Bush, McCain and Clinton say: "Their bottom line is that these kinds of high-level meetings require lots of advance work. "

    Well, if those three believe Obama's promised meetings with America's enemeis would require lots of advance work, then why not let's wait and see if this would be Obama's approach and if it will work.

    If Obama tries it and it does work, then it will be an international coup that breaks the mould set and maintained by previous US Presidents to engage in rhetoric.

    When Obama said he was all about change in Washington, it wasn't just about the way in which Washington handles Americans' business, but also about how Washington handles its business with world leaders – friendly and unfriendly.

    Change, the only thing that is constant, is always met with resistance by people who are set in their ways.

    February 28, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  20. RightyTighty

    A tryant oppressing his own people is not a problem to Obama. A full frontal attack on the beaches of America is what it will take to get Obama to care about others freedoms..

    February 28, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  21. Chris S

    Since when has not talking to people made the world more stable and peaceful?

    If Obama doesn't plan on turning up on Iran or North Korea's doorstep without any kind of agenda (and that's something which i'm entirely certain he doesn't) then surely it helps to talk. Its certainly better than the alternative – turn up to what could be coined a photoshoot because they have to agree with you before you negotiate anything?

    That's never going to work.

    February 28, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  22. Damon

    Heck yeah. Why should meeting with the president of the US be held with onlypeople we like? No wonder the US has such a diminished view with the rest of the world.
    One thing is for sure, the other way has not worked.

    February 28, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  23. Eric

    We should never meet with these types of people head of state to head of state until and unless lower level meetings have taken place, that some effort has been made on the issues of human rights, and that we are not leading ourselves into what would be a photo op for these leaders. The problem for Hillary in particular is Obama has been able to spin this as her not being willing to meet with these countries at all (like Bush) and hence he is painting her as the same as the current administration. She needed to be clearer on what she meant.

    February 28, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  24. donnajp

    You do not directly meet with your adversaries until the agenda is worked out and policy is discussed - otherwise, they would use this as propaganda. Even an idiot knows that.

    February 28, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  25. Andrew

    Obviously, attacking our adversaries, or threatening them, or ignoring them has not worked. It would probably not hurt to change the way we go about negotiating with other countries.

    Plus, the best way to defeat an enemy is to make them your friend. If these countries that are doing things that we don't agree with don't like us, then there really isn't much hope in trying to convince them to change their ways.

    February 28, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
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