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. Mary T. Davis

    What is the downside? We are not respected in the world, we operate out of fear. We will not fundamentally change these leaders, but we may learn something. And if done correctly, what we learn may help our estranged relationships with our former allies and friends.

    February 28, 2008 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  2. Tony Joseph

    I think that it is a good idea for the next U.S. president to meet with adversaries. It would help make for a more stable and peaceful world. Meeting with someone does not mean you condone or agree with them. It actually gives you the ability to tell them what needs to be done in their face. The Bush Administration is hypocritical in it's stance because Bush plans to meet with top-level Chinese officials this August. We all know the human rights violations of China ...

    Overall, I commend Sen. Obama for his boldness. We should be willign to meet with all parties and talk about issues face-face.

    February 28, 2008 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  3. fonsworth for OBAMA

    Wolf fore one thing it's cheaper than blowing them up. But the larger hypocrisy is look at what we do with China and other countries. Our politicians pick and choose depending on the number of net votes this nonsense gets them. The best way to help any dictatorship is to allow it to remain isolated. That's how they control their people. That is a historical fact. We should talk to all of them. As we learned in kindergarten, that's how we make friends. Talking costs us nothing and can net us a lot. War unfortunately makes some fat cronies even fatter. That is what most wars have been about. The other unfortunate thing is, that, it makes the rest of us poorer. There is no one with any degree of intelligence that thinks war is the answer to achieving a stable and peaceful world.

    February 28, 2008 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  4. Ben from D.C.

    Absolutely. Talking to someone that agrees with you is stupid. We need to work with countries, not try to force our laws down their throats.

    February 28, 2008 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  5. RSP

    A candidate who makes such grand claims like Obama, with little political experience, can be not just a hindrance to progressive foreign policy but also a danger to it.

    Senator Obama has spent the past two years working on his campaign. He asks us to trust him, to have blind faith that he will make the right choices, and often disparages Hillary Clinton as too much "Washington".

    The "evil of Washington" is made up of many brilliant, experienced, seasoned men and women who know a heck of a lot more about world affairs than Barack Obama, and his lack of respect for these experts, and his brazen statements scare me.

    February 28, 2008 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  6. Elly

    The US needs to stop being the police of the world and learn how to sit down and talks to its friends as well as its enemies
    the current status and thinking has led to nothing but war and conflicts and torn down the American image!
    One of the smartest secretary of states in the world was Madalein Albright.She had vision and smarts and met with all US enemies
    Obama is an intelligent man , I am sure he will have smart decisions
    before engaging the enemy
    Obama 08 with Bill Richardson as secretary of state!!

    Bushs Opinion means nothing...zero ziltch!!!
    he has only a record of being a war monger and Americans are fully aware of how he has brought the country down in every way
    economy wise and image wise not to mention the honorable noble troops who have lost their lives because of his illegal war!!!
    He leaves office with little or NO respect!

    February 28, 2008 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  7. Me (a vet) Ohio

    I think the danger that we see in continuing the current policies far outweighs the risks of a President representing not only the will of the American people but also in many cases the will of the oppressed people of those countries. Alienating our allies as well as our enemies only achieves two outcomes. First, our positive relationships fail, and secondly we send the message to the people of oppressed nations that we only care in speeches and writing and not with heart and action. Let’s look at a historical figure, would Pope John Paul II be criticized for meetings with violent leaders and failed governments in an effort to bring peace, freedom, and prosperity to the people suffering under such harsh and strangling governments? I think not. In fact is that not one of the major reasons he is admired greatly throughout a large portion of the world. I find it ridiculous to think that by ignoring the world around us and following the same policies that placed us in the world as it is today that we somehow think that continuing down that same path will somehow fix things, that refusing to find common ground and growth will fail where threats of violence to those that do not agree 100% with our ideas is a better option. If holding a gun to a person’s head breeds fear, resentment, and anger, what does the offering of an open hand or help do? Maybe I am just an idealist or maybe I just have the guts to try.

    February 28, 2008 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  8. Tom S.

    Although sounding good in theory; meeting with the leaders of rogue nations, without preconditions, is somewhat naive on the part of Obama. The prestige of the presidency and the United States could be dimished along with other consequences. Would Obama also meet with leaders of the Nation of Islam and KKK?

    February 28, 2008 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  9. No way!

    In no way should our President ever meet with anyone with just and 'open door' policy.......that is what Senator Obama suggested at previous debates. It shows how inexperienced he is. This is the fella driving the bus without training or even a drivers license. He has no idea what the ramifications are for his well sounding but hollow suggestions!

    February 28, 2008 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  10. LT

    Pretty SAD when people think it's a bad idea to talk .

    February 28, 2008 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  11. Tom in Virginia

    I think the fact that the United States is not favorably viewed (I'm being kind) by the International Community is proof that the current philosophy does not work.

    I firmly believe that trying to open communications with our "enemies" (in quotes because in the current administration that includes everyone that is not a democracy or does not have oil), that we would be able to identify and move towards some common goals that would be beneficial to both countries.

    February 28, 2008 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  12. Luke Bryant

    President Nixon met with Chairman Mao Zedong and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in 1972. Soviet Premier Nikolai Khrushchev visited with President Eisenhower (and took a tour of the US) in 1958. At the time, both Mao and Khrushchev were seen as leaders of nations diametrically opposed to America and the values it stood for. But with an ever-present threat of war, those differences were put aside in the interest of diffusing tension between nations. For me, that logic still holds today. It would be much more difficult for the leader of a rogue nation to declare the United States a sworn enemy if our President is prepared to sit down at the table. Would such an act lead to immediate and dramatic reforms on the part of the rogue state? Probably not. But it would likely stall a pending escalation of tension, and that has tremendous value in it's on right. Let's not forget that in despotic regimes, one supreme leader holds ultimate power. If our President can address such a person mano a mano, who knows what detente could be reached. If negotiations are left to subordinates, the chances of a diplomatic breakthrough become much less likely.

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

    "By their fruits ye shall know them": If we judge the Bush administration's foreign policy a great success in boosting the USA's status and repurtation in the world, then clearly Bush, McCain and Clinton are right on this question. If you think it has been a disastrous failure, as I do, then Obama is obviously right.
    What is lost in much of this discussion is not the question of whether a readiness to talk with our adversaries will change THEIR minds, but rather what the effect will be on the people whom they rule over, and on those–many–countries that are neither decided allies of the USA nor decided foes. It seems to me obvious that a clear readiness on America's part to negotiate and listen, instead of simply ordering and bullying, will vastly increase the goodwill among those populations suffering under oppressive rule, and in those other countries between. Obama is clearly onto something big here.

    February 28, 2008 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  14. Greg

    How on earth could Obama really believe meeting with these dictators would be good for anything except propoganda and exploitation on their part? This leads people to think he really is as naive as they say, should we all fall over ourselves in praise for this idiocy.. Not me, I'll leave that to the media.

    February 28, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  15. EL

    I am not in favor of this method of communication. The US has too mush at stake to appear as though we will speak to any potential terrorist/hostile country without preconditions. It seems very nieve to think that problems can be resolved so easily.

    February 28, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  16. Von Horlick

    Yes. You just have to look at how not meeting with Cuba has worked in the past. I would rather the US be viewed as magnanimous as opposed to arrogant.

    February 28, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  17. eddie n. powellnye

    MATTER" !!!!!!!!!!!

    February 28, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  18. Belle

    It would not be wise at all! Obama is living in a dream world if he thinks he can just sit down and chat up the enemies of the US. I think even he is starting to back away from his "no pre-conditions" idea when he talks about now having "preparations" before he meets them. Same thing to me.

    Maybe he's learning from his elders finally. Now hopefully he can start on the road to respecting their wisdom.

    February 28, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  19. Todd French

    Where has not talking got us? I hope the "my way" or the "highway ends" with the Bush administration. We could have talked Sadam off the ledge as well............

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

    Obama is perfectly right. Why do we continue to call them enemies? I do not see any thing wrong that we meet with these people on a diplomatic basis to resolve problems,. Our strategy of avoidance is old politics. Bush keeps saying that meeting them will create the wrong signals, I think he is disillusioned and need to be more open minded than being DUMB as he is, there will never be a solution to this problem. It is time we do something about this situation and make things better for the world, Talking to the enemies will create the RIGHT signals, and make us understand what we are dealing with. If we are able to change the wrong things, then we have start getting angaged. Not in war, but in real DIPLOMACY.....

    February 28, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |

    I am Curious why CNN has closed the Comments so quickly for :
    Obama still battles Muslim myths and
    RNC denounces use of 'Hussein' in Obama's name forums.

    Wasn't this the same CNN that enjoyed the Romney/Mormon Comments…

    I find this very telling of CNN and it's infatuation with Obama and its reluctance to allow debate or comment on Muslims.

    I will be very surprised if CNN Posts this. Rarely will CNN Post if comment calls them out.

    February 28, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  22. Matthew Manley, Ann Arbor MI

    Diplomacy is so important to the safety of the world. American Presidents were always willing to talk to their Soviet counterparts during the Cold War and overall it cooled tensions and prevented a lot of very real fighting.

    Bush's diplomacy has been a nightmare - even when he wants to "work with Congress" its more like he tells them what to do or he'll veto it. A little less hubris and a lot more listening would do the world a lot of good.

    February 28, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  23. Sean Paul

    Everything has a solution when we talk even bible says so.

    No doubt we have to do our home work before we initiate the negotiation with the leaders like Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

    The gist of the thing is the leaders like Bush want to take political advantage out of these things by putting pre-conditions so that they need not to meet.

    Nobody wants blood. We need a new kind of leadership which will negotiate the differences with other country otherwise the differences will keep increasing and will result in World War III.

    February 28, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  24. Dana

    CNN Please Print My Comments and Don't Delete Them!!

    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 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  25. wrob

    Not talking has not worked. What's wrong with trying something different? It's clear that the world hates us – maybe it's because they think we are too arrogant to hold a civil conversation. Dialogue is better than bloodshed any day.

    February 28, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
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