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. xtina

    we shouldn't negotiate with terrorists – we should just kill them. Which person running for President will bow down to terrorists, which will stand up to them?

    February 28, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  2. Jose'

    If they were to sit down with no preconditions, what would be the point? Just to 'talk it out'?? Diplomacy is another word for $$$. If we are not going to give in and make some economic provision to Iran, what is their 'carrot'?

    This is more evidence of a candidate with close to zero experience being pumped up in the media to take on a job that holds too many dangers for the American people.

    February 28, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  3. Matt Stepanic

    This change in policy is one that is genuinely needed...more so since we have had a tremendous loss of respect in the world community because of George W Buss.

    Obama can be the one person that could truly lead a dramatic change in the the dynamics of global relationships.

    So far, I trust his judgement more than Clinton, McCain, and certainly Bush. Besides, Obama's approach to this issue is much more nuanced than others are making it out to be.

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

    Nixon went to China. Ronald Reagan met with Gorbachev on numerous occasions. Why be stubborn about meeting with other leaders?

    February 28, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  5. Sue Marie, MI

    Oh God, here we go again. Another article campaigning for Obama. Gag. You are not really interested in what anyone thinks. You just want to give legitimacy to Obama's naive ideas.

    February 28, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  6. Michael Greenberg

    Of course it would embolden them. Dictators and tyrants like the men you mentioned can only reconcile themselves with America if we take one course of action...appeasement.
    When I hear Barack Obama speak about foreign policy, three words come to mind: appeasement, Jimmy and Carter.

    February 28, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  7. Sabi Kanani, Dallas TX

    Yes, our leader should meet with them!

    Obama is absolutely right. This notion that not talking to your enemies as a form of punishment is deeply flawed, and the reason why we are in the position we are currently in internationally.

    February 28, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  8. Ruslyn Schultz

    Even Ronald Reagan stood infront of the nation and called the Soviet Union an evil empire, and then was willing to sit down at the table with them and ended the cold war. Disagreement isn't necessarily a reason not to negotiate.

    Could discussion be used as propoganda against us? Sure. Inaction could be used as well, and it is. It gives Hugo Chavez the chance to stand infront of the UN and comment about the scent of sulfer because he can get away with it without any communication between the nations. Nations we don't, at least try, to communicate with, have nothing to lose by breaking our rules.

    It doesn't always work, but is there any time in history where simply talking to other leaders has really hurt us? When was the last time talking weakened our military, economy or relations with other nations?

    We are leaders of the free world. We like to say that phrase, but do we ever really give much thought to what it means? We really do set the standard for how all other nations "should" act, and we can't set that standard through just words, we have to lead by example. We can't sit on the sidelines and urge Isreal and Palestine to work together, and then refuse to work out our own differences with a nation 90 miles away from our own border.

    To me, that sends the wrong message to other nations more than our current policy. If we're unwilling to work out our own differences with nations, why should other countries resolve their disputes?

    February 28, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  9. MG

    Absolutely....it is always good to meet face to face as it starts bringing down the walls even if the ultimate goal is not acheived. slowly but shurly they will fall and common ground will be acheived. Also Obama said he would ensure that there was advance work done before he meets which you did not state in you atricle. Thanks

    February 28, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  10. Lance

    The skillful leader subdues the enemy's troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field. With his forces intact he disputes the mastery of the empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph is complete. - Art Of War

    February 28, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  11. Samuel Onipede

    The fact that the old policy of not directly engaging in talks with leaders of other countries, which for either their perceived or real negative records on human rights; so far has been a failure. The policy if at all has achieved anything, it's emboldened such leaders and thus creating more enemies for the United States. Barack Obama's proposal of meeting without preconditions, should be given a chance. It would give the US more leverage to persuade errant leaders to tow the right path and do what is just.

    I am sure Sen. Obama is right on this and should be supported.

    February 28, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |

    Obviously the Leaders of these other Nations will always hate on the United States of America.
    There is nothing that an American President can do for these Hacks.
    If we send anyone to talk to these fools, we send the Marines and they do all the talking.

    Thanks Wolf, have a nice day.

    February 28, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  13. Jim

    I think that it is the best way to peace, talk to everyone and see if common ground can be determined. We should not try to make the world as we are. Live and let live !

    February 28, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  14. Cynthia G. Hollin

    Obviously war and no talks have not worked. Diplomatic talks rather than telling a leader what to do might help as well. Bully tactics just don't work. Civil conversation just might.

    February 28, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  15. Anonymous

    i think the would need a change ! that a great idee beacuse the world would be a better place to live for the next generation ! thank barak ! world hope !

    February 28, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  16. ben

    the bush-mccain-clinton theory has never worked in improving relationship with these countries..so obama's theory sounds a better diplomatic approach.that would also ultimately change the i"arrogance " image of the unitedstates.

    February 28, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  17. Kevin (Jonesboro, GA)

    I find it to be extremely close-minded to not have this as an option available to a President. I fully concede that meeting with our enemies bestows some sense of legitimicay to them. However, this "loss" is greatly exceeded by the gains that could be made by face-to-face diplomacy. We are the United States of America and we should never be afraid or unwilling to exercise our position of power to sit and meet with anyone!

    February 28, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  18. Tom

    It depends on the leader, of course; there's no way to safely lump Raul Castro, Kim Jung Il, Chavez and Ahmanidejad in the same category. In general, though, it seems like Obama's idea is a good one, and indicative of one of the reasons people want to vote for him. Obama understands that eveyone else in the world understands that America is in a position of power; we don't need a perfect script, or perfect preconditions, to sit down and meet with these leaders, and to insist on them turns the talks into either an opportunity for the US to look like a bully or a prima donna.

    Kim Jung Il and Ahmadinejad both clearly have a desire and a use for talks as propaganda moments; especially Ahmadinejad, who is much more a face than the actual power which writes Iranian policy. Smart of Obama to say 'Iranian leadership,' rather than the president's name.

    But it will be both possible and useful to sit down and have real, engaging conversations in which propositions and ideas flow both ways with Castro and Chavez, who are much more 'in our backyard' than the other two leaders mentioned. Any chance at repairing relationships with Venezuala will involve meetings in which Chavez doesn't feel herded, and gets the sense that he isn't meeting with someone following Bush's line - in many ways, Chavez's beef with the US is a personal beef with Bush and the Bush administrations imperialistic tone.

    And in Cuba, the next president would be foolish not to recognize that pushing cuba hard, all stick and no carrot, will only push the more reform-minded Raul back into the remnants of the hard-liners.

    February 28, 2008 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  19. Annie from California

    I guess Christopher Dodd who touted serving on two committees with Barack Obama hasn't missed any meetings lately since there haven't been any with Senator Obama.

    Shameful what he is trying to smoke and mirrors the American people into! He knows better than when he represents what Senator Obama said about preparation that Senator Obama was only parroting Senator Clintons answer and as a matter of fact, Senator Obama initially, a couple of debates ago, insisted that preparation was not necessary when in a discussion with Senator Clinton. Again Senator Clinton ended up teaching Senator Obama what to do!

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

    I think it's a great idea!

    February 28, 2008 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  21. sophia

    ithink is good idea to have contact with your anemy look at cuba
    how long does us i solate them the policy didn't work there
    sometime is good to meet with your anemy you know where they stand rather wait and see

    February 28, 2008 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  22. Carrie PA

    Anything opposite of the Bush Administration’s approach would be an improvement.

    February 28, 2008 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  23. Obalola

    I do sincerely believe that meeting with United States adversaries presents more good than bad. Think about it when you don't talk to them they exist in their own worlds believing they are untouchables but when you do, you help them to rationalize their thinking with regards to what is acceptable in the society (World).
    The earlier we understand that, more love will be generated than hate, the better for America as America will be seen in a different light as partnering with other countries to make peace than arm twisting.


    February 28, 2008 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  24. Michael

    Clinton (in apparent desperation to find a difference between her and Obama) and McCain (in an apparent search for justification to bomb something) make it sound like Obama is seeking to have a cup of turkish coffee with Ahmadinejad and discuss world affairs. He has repeatedly said that although there would be no preconditions, there would be lenghty preparation in formulating an agenda. Talking to people we do not like would actually raise the respect for the US around the world and let leaders know exactly what the U.S. expects and demands when it comes to human rights and political freedoms.

    Troy, MI

    February 28, 2008 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  25. Matthew Kauffman

    The two main arguments against meeting that I have heard is that it somehow diminishes the diplomatic prestige (and therefore, power) of the Presidency, and also that it would be perceived as legitimizing governments which we have strong disagreements with.

    I disagree with the first argument, simply because I don't believe that the diplomatic power of the U.S. President is tied merely to the scarcity of his appearances– it is rather the consequence of the enormous power the U.S. wields, economically and militarily. It doesn't make sense to suggest that foreign countries would suddenly pay less attention to the President just because he spends more time in direct diplomatic talks, when all the real sources of diplomatic power remain the same. Beyond that, to the extent that cultivating the good will and respect of the citizens of foreign nations makes diplomacy easier, more Presidential diplomacy could have a positive impact.

    The second argument is simply a logical fallacy, in my opinion. If it was true than clearly no one should ever meet to discuss issues with someone they disagree with. Besides that, corrupt leaders can create propaganda from the lack of diplomacy as easily as they can from a Presidential visit, or anything else for that matter. That can't be changed. But the purposes served by Presidential diplomacy extend beyond the limited range of that propaganda, both in the international community and also to the citizens of those leaders' countries, who won't all be fooled.

    Beyond these arguments, there is also the concern that increased time spent in international diplomacy would increase the risk of some gaffe or faux pas that would damage the President. This is valid, but to me it reflects more on the lack of confidence Americans have in their leadership than a criticism of the principles behind Presidential diplomacy.

    February 28, 2008 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
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