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. Scott

    I can't believe this is even a question. The field of Psychology has plenty to say about this. Communication is key to resolving conflicts. "My way or the highway" negotiations engender resentment and encourage further conflict.

    February 28, 2008 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  2. Lucas Dahlin

    I understand the concerns of the Clintons/Bushes etc., however, their policy does not seem to be making any headway, and in fact, seems to be making the world a more dangerous place. Perhaps opening up dialogue without preconditions won't work, but perhaps it will, and I see the benefit of such a success far outweighing the potential negatives if it were to fail. The world is in a fragile state right now and perhaps taking a chance on change in the hope that it can begin to mend the relations of all peoples is worth it and should be where we are at now in our foreign relation policy.

    February 28, 2008 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  3. Moygirl

    Everyone likes Obama for wanting to bring the country together and for wanting to change politics as usual in Washington.
    But I will say that wanting to meet with every bad Tom,Dick or Harry is not necessarily a good idea. I think it does send the wrong message that any dictator can have a meeting with our President regardless of how they treat their own people and the world.
    I'm not saying its an 'honor', but it should come with some type of strings...We have always been a leader for good and human rights....to meet for the sake of meeting to make the world look at us differently might come back to bite us.

    February 28, 2008 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  4. David T., Toronto, Canada


    From an outsider's viewpoint, I can only say this is long overdue. As even George Bush keeps saying the 'world has changed'... except that he uses that phrase to scare up support from the ill-informed in the US.

    The outside world is far more well informed than one would ordinarily imagine, thanks to the Internet. Spin and fear-mongering may work domestically, but fail miserably on the global stage.

    Personally, the Foreign Policy I would like to see the US embrace is what I would call "walk softly and carry a big stick". So, meet with whomever, make your case known, but you don't have to rattle the sabres unnecessarily.

    Everyone knows what the US is capable of. Nobody, however, likes the high-handed approach so apparent in so many cases.

    As a footnote, the US can claim the 'moral high ground' – and might even be believed – when the likes of the Chagos Islands affair (Diego Garcia airbase) are but a distant memory, NEVER to be repeated.

    Keep up the good work, Wolf. It is much enjoyed and appreciated.

    February 28, 2008 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  5. Patrick, Indianapolis

    My question to Clinton, McCain, and Bush regarding the current policy would be "is it working?". Obviously the current policy isn't working so something new should be tried!

    February 28, 2008 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  6. Jérémie

    Of course it would make us stronger !

    Actually our allies see us as too ideologic ("the good and the evil") so they think that our vision of the world is too naïve to be followed

    If we accept to discuss with our ennemies, then in the case of a military response or diplomatic pressures, our allies will be 100% with us and not in the corner wandering if they have to

    February 28, 2008 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  7. e

    I think it's a great idea. If you want to change the world you have to engage it. Obviously military force doesn't work. Try a little diplomacy.

    February 28, 2008 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  8. Bill Tx

    The recent debate in Ohio with Ms. Clinton, leads me to believe that to an extent, Mr. Obama's approach to these issues is going to flourish with advice. A commander in chief is only as good as his advisers, listening to those advisers, and then making an informed decision. I like Obama because he seems to do that. Also, Obama states that he feels it is necessary to meet these leaders to show the world that the U.S. is willing to come to the table and talk. I don't know that Obama's position and Ms. Clinton's position are that different under specific circumstances–Obama has said he would come to the table and talk, provided that their was preparation. Ms. Clinton says that she would not, without certain preconditions. In the Texas debate, Obama expounded that this would mean, in the case of Castro, certain Human rights issues being met. Overall, in McCain you have a candidate that seems like he will be dogmatic about certain issues dealing with the war. You have Clinton, who is going to take a certain hard line approach–maybe more similar to Bush, although she disagrees with him on some issues. Obama's approach is one that he feels is necessary given the political climate over the last several years, but in the case of Castro, seemed to have similarities to Clinton's approach, except one believes there need to be "preparations", the other "preconditions".

    February 28, 2008 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  9. Christine

    Wolf Watching the debates is very interesting and informative. I am certain that the President of US should always be well prepared before meeting the enemies. To this, I must say Hillary is right in saying that she would first consider all the pros and cons and then decide to visit them right away.

    February 28, 2008 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  10. democracynow2008

    I feel that if Senator Obama becomes President yes we should meet with those that are a problem and sit down face to face and try to solve the problems .
    In the past solving the problems ment going to war with Iraq etc..

    We need a new approach and I truly feel as an American and a Democrat that this would be good International Policy to persue.

    February 28, 2008 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  11. john berry

    Why do you include hugo chavez in your list of advesaries? Besides the fact that we want thier oil, what threat are they to us? And yes I believe the President should speak to all "advesaries" because not speaking to them has not hisotrically made the world a more peaceful place.

    February 28, 2008 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  12. RSP

    This why half of the Democratic voters are cautious about Obama, who runs on charisma and rhetoric without much political experience. Many older voters prefer Hillary or McCain because they trust experience, and the wisdom gained from it.

    It is naive to say you will meet with the world leaders without consulting those in government who know more than you do.

    February 28, 2008 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  13. ryguy79

    I think what Obama is basically trying to do is deconstruct the status quo approach to foreign relations. So much emphasis is placed on the superior status the U.S. presidency maintains in diplomatic functions, that by the time all the rhetoric, pomp and circumstance is sifted through, we have a watered-down version of a dialogue with leaders who not only resent the treatment, but are given more and more time to act of their own accord in direct conflict to our agendas.
    Moreover, radically oppositional leaders have absolutely no reason to trust us. I don't even trust us at this point. So we're going to have to do SOMETHING different.

    February 28, 2008 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  14. Paul

    I would think it would be a good idea. We know the other way is not working. I think if they meet eye to eye they might listen to someone like Barack. When you talk through other people nothing gets done. When there is no middle man ( or women in some cases ) then things can get done, and more so if done in the public eye for all the world to see.

    February 28, 2008 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  15. chris

    I don't understand how talking with someone would embolden them. I can only see good things happening when we have a more open, respectful approach to the rest of the world.

    February 28, 2008 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |


    February 28, 2008 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  17. Dana

    I liked Bill Clinton as a president but didn't he try that same approach with Kim Jong II and N. Korea and they just took advantage of him and the U.S. and didn't bother even complying with U.S. regulations. Bill attempting to normalize diplomatic relations with N. Korea and even offered aide to N. Korea. Meanwhile Kim Jong II was producing weapons grade plutonium and secretly tryin gto enrich uranium. I think in foreign policy Obama is extremely naive to the reality of the world and obviously has not learned from Clinton's mistakes. However, I think Bill learned from his mistakes and realized it just doesn't work like that in the real world no matter how much you want to 'change' and negotatiate with adversaries.
    I believe Hillary also learned a lot from Bill's mistakes evidenced by her responses in debates that she would only met and negotiate with preconditions and some leaders are not worth meeting with given their history and the history of those particular countries. Obama is just naive about domestic and foreign policy and in particular how to deal with U.S. adversaries. To me that is a clear indication that he is not ready to be president and that Hillary and McCain (seriously) are more prepared to be president. But then you know Americans never seem to learn from their mistakes or past history. For some odd reason people believe Obama can wave a magic wand over the world and everyone will sing Kumbya and be happy. This reality is Obama is not running for president he is running to lead a movement almost like a cult built on this false reality of hope and change. Change only comes over time and only through experience which clearly Obama does not have. The responses that Obama gives at times in regards to his foreign poilcy are downright scary including comments he made in several debates that he has no problem bombing Pakistan without cause. The media really needs to start questioning him hard on comments like this that could possibly lead to world wars and or leave the U.S. utterly defenseless and at the mercy of our adversaries. The media has done a terrible job at this and the democratic primaries continue to be an American Idol contest and not about the serious issues we face in this country.

    February 28, 2008 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  18. A REAL American

    Let's get real, folks.... any agreements that could come from meeting with those dictators would hold no water because we would keep our end of the bargain, but our adversaries would continue their ways in secrecy.

    February 28, 2008 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  19. dia20

    rem we are the father of democracy so we are a roll model to the world cuz allmostthe whole world is practising democracy so we have to talk to those leaders and make them know what we are today is because we practice democracy. to me i think we meet with leaders like that talk to them instead of just ignoring them.cuz i believe with dat we can do better and the world can be better for all of us not just for americans.

    February 28, 2008 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  20. Stephen

    Didnt Obama flip flop on the issue of meeting with Raul Castro at the Texas debate. He originally said that we does not need preconditions , but then later admitted that he would. At least when John Kerry flip flopped it was not in a matter of 5 minutes.

    February 28, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  21. Matt

    Of course meeting with our adversaries is a good idea. How can Hillary and McCain expect others to change and compromises to be met without meeting with the leaders of other nations? It is policies like our current administration's that have crippled the American image around the world.

    February 28, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  22. James Nelson

    The idea that we're somehow emboldening our adversaries by talking to them is a concept that could only achieve credence during the administration of a President responsible for one of the worst foreign policy debacles in the history of this country.

    Talking is not surrendering and negotiating is not capitulating. To believe otherwise simply demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the art– and purpose– of diplomacy.

    February 28, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  23. Chris N

    Bush's approach as accepted by Hillary and McCain has not worked so far and has only atracted more hatred, more enemies for us and hardened their resolve and determination to fight and destroy us. And I do not think nor do I believe that what Mr Obama will do with these leaders in talking with them will be to feed them with milk and honey and an opportunity to used the american leadership as a propaganda stinct. When some one dialogues with and understands you, he or she is sure to understand and accept your chastisement. I guess that is whart Mr Obama will do and which will be good for america.

    February 28, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  24. Sylvester Lee

    I think our position in poilitics sometimes is so ridgid we can see the forrest from the trees. I know people can be influenced, but only if you are having open dialog, not spouting retoric and position.

    February 28, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  25. David, Gilbert Arizona

    The question itself is way too simplistic. There is nothing wrong with a President or Prime Minister or Leader of a Nation to meet with their adversary. The reality of the matter is that adversaries rarely meet face to face until a ton of ground work has been laid in place.

    Obama might be better off by qualifying his statement. He could easily say that his meaning is that he would be open to meeting with our adversaries after his Secretary of State and foreign policy advisers have laid the ground work.

    February 28, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
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