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. Brent Stevenson

    Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

    February 28, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  2. Paull

    Can't hurt to talk. Won't help to ignore. Doesn't take a genius.......

    February 28, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  3. Pedro Diaz

    If Mr. Obama has a dream, well then we should let him dream. I wouldn't let a sleeping person lead a country, though.

    He is not ready, honestly, if he thinks, that to president means to be nice to everybody. Maybe Ahmadinejad thinks Obama is a good guy, so Mr. Obama can not reject the invitation?

    February 28, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  4. Sean Rupley

    I believe it would be a bad idea for an American President to meet directly with foreign adversaries. Foreign leaders, such as Hugo Chavez, Kim Jung Il, and the like, who are blatantly open about their disdain for the United States stand to benefit the most from any confrontation. These leaders have nothing to lose in talking to an American President, thus can speak in any fashion they wish, derogatory or otherwise, since they already have a reputation of contempt towards the United States. An American President has everything to lose, credibility on the world stage being the most crucial loss, because as Americans we are expected to be civilized, mild tempered, and well behaved. Any provocation that might occur during these talks could be used as fuel against America, thus reinforcing the dislike of America in the worlds of those leaders whom we consider enemies.

    February 28, 2008 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  5. Ernie from New York

    In a word NO.

    Meetings of heads of state have a very special meaning and bring with them an inherent importance. Obama’s position on this shows that he is not ready to sit in the Oval Office. He sorely lacks the knowledge of diplomacy and the keen behind the scenes workings at lower levels needed to orchestrate such a meeting.

    You can not empower your enemy by elevating them in the arena of world opinion, by holding a no pretense meeting.

    I also think that Bush goes to far in the other direction demanding 100% of his conditions be met. There is a middle ground and among the potential Democratic candidates Senator Clinton seems to walk the center path.

    February 28, 2008 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  6. ImShugz

    Isn't their an old adage about keeping friends close but our enemies closer? What's wrong with trying to reduce tension and threats around the world by sitting down and agreeing to disagree? America isn't the world police so let's stop trying to impose our ways on others – we need to learn to live in harmony with the world. I think we need to tidy up our own backyard before we go around the world policing other nations.

    February 28, 2008 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  7. Kirk


    February 28, 2008 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  8. barbara in tucson

    After these last 7 years, we have a lot of mending and leading to do in and outside of our country. Yes, I would be grateful if our next President would be 'changed' enough to sit down with any other world leader in the name of peace. After all – "We've nothing to fear but fear itself".

    February 28, 2008 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  9. Mr. Anderson

    Apparently, our current policy in foreign affairs does not seem to be working at the moment. What harm can this cause if our president sits and listens to our enemies. Actually, the fact that any country is declaring themselves our enemy should be cause enough to find out why. I am not saying we should be pushovers. But, just as we have pride and loyalty for our country, so do other individuals for their country. I don’t care how big and powerful you are, you should always show respect to everyone, even the little guy. Now, if that respect is not reciprocated, then hard measures should be taken. Yes, maybe some of these foreign leaders have been given chances in the past. However, I think the process has to be revisited by new administrations.

    February 28, 2008 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  10. Matt

    If I remember, Chamberlain's meeting with Hitler in 1938 was quite productive.

    February 28, 2008 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  11. Jill Bishop

    I tend to agree with Obama, that talking with our adversaries makes sense.....and I don't think it's about "giving aid and comfort." It's about finding a solution to the problem. I believe this would fall under the category of mediation, something the legal community is using more and more to settle conflicts and disputes.

    I also understand it is complicated and requires a good deal of preparation, but doesn't it make sense to have a dialog? Mediation and discussion don't mean 'aid, comfort, or approval ' of dictators or facist regimes... they mean conflict resolution. Since our foreign policy and tactics to resolve conflicts abroad seems to be woefully inept, I can't see why people are up in arms about this idea. Sitting down to negotiate deals is what smart people do in business, so why not in government?

    February 28, 2008 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  12. Daniel Freno

    Wolf, last time I checked negotiations were not meant to be between friends but between adversaries. The idea that we have the right to make demands on other leaders in order for them to talk to the US president is ludicrous and old school. We obviously have some differences with the leaders of other nations. The best way to move ahead and see progress is to talk about those differences. What would there be to talk about if they listened to all of our demands up front. This policy is just silly and reminds be of a schoolyard fight.

    February 28, 2008 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  13. Carl Chappell

    I think the notion of meeting with leaders of anti-american companies without prearranged outcomes would be an excercise in bad foreign policy. Why give dictators, and far left wing governments, access to the most powerful man in the world? That would only give the regime credibility that it does not deserve, and has not earned!

    I predict that if Obama is elected, he will not meet with these regime leaders with out prearranged outcomes.

    Time will tell.

    February 28, 2008 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  14. Braedon Clark


    This is a great question. My perspective (albeit as a non-American – I'm a Canadian citizen) is that choosing to ignore those with whom you disagree serves no particular purpose except to encourage your enemies and their people to dislike you even more. The U.S. has had no ties with Cuba for almost 50 years, yet the people of Cuba are not noticeably better off in terms of political and economic freedom than they were when Castro took power in 1959. In the case of Iran, choosing to avoid engaging with Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader gives them no incentive to change the course of their policy; if they see that the United States is not willing to engage with them, what reason do they have to change the way they operate? Many Republicans oppose meeting with these leaders, yet they forget that both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were strong advocates of a carrot and stick approach to the Soviet Union and Communist China. Not surprisingly, the Cold War was won not by ignoring the Soviets but by engaging in a constructive dialogue which solved problems that had seemed intractable. If one can negotiate with the "evil empire", then there is no reason why the United States cannot negotiate with states that pose a far less serious threat than the Soviet Union did. It's time to stop pretending that ignoring states that are hostile will somehow make them change their ways.

    February 28, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  15. Sean S

    I think it would be a good thing for us to meet with are adversaries. I think one reason we are disliked around the globe is because of our blatant arrogance. Why do we think we are simply better than everyone else. No I do understand the opposition stance, however the way we have been operating our foreign policy lately has only fanned the flames of anti american sentiment.

    February 28, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  16. Ron

    We should meet with adversaries and those who don't agree with us. It is like the old adage "ignorance is bliss" if we don't. How can you come to terms when you don't talk and more important don't listen. Imagine the bigger mess in the Middle East if Egypt and Israel had not sat down to talk. We need to approach all other nations with a certain amount of respect and understand that they have need and concerns as well. The only way to know what one thinks and requires is to talk and interact. The way we are acting now is that we know what is right for everybody and they need to follow whatever we say. We are in effect belittling other nations and leaders and show a lack of respect and concern for the citizens of other countries.

    February 28, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  17. J CREECH


    February 28, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  18. Nicholas

    of course the world would be a better place if the U.S finally agreed to be diplomatic with it's adversaries instead of just being allies with the usual suspects. the main reason the U.S remains unpopular among the rest of the world is because of the arrogant attitude of the current administration. Obama is absolutely right, his approach would ensure a better country and a better world.

    February 28, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  19. Steve Hallmark

    Basically both sides are right about this: it would be a bad idea for a President Hillary Clinton, John McCain or George Bush to meet the Iranian leadership 'without preconditions,' given who these politicians are and how they operate, but a plausibly good idea for a President Obama whose offer to meet Ahmadinejad shortly after taking office would show up as an 'offer Ahmadinejad could only refuse at his peril,' rather than an act of weakness on Obama's part. Obama has 'created space' as it were for some rather dramatic changes in international relationships in face-to-face negotiations. Obama's willingness to talk offers America's adversaries a 'one-time' chance to alter the terms of discourse they would be wise to take advantage of rather than blow off.

    February 28, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  20. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    It would be good for lower level members of the administration to start quietly meeting with members from the governments of Cuba, Iran and Venezuela. Once some trust has been built up with lower level people, things can be built up to higher levels. Reagan and Kennedy among other presidents were willing to talk to other leaders from countries we didn't like. Why has the current administration not done that? Because it thinks that America can do anything it wants since they seem to believe that we are the sole superpower with no one to say that is bad and act as a counter-balance.

    February 28, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  21. Mike Helfrich

    It is wise to be in contact with other leaders whether we like them or not. Better the devil you know than the devil you don't.

    February 28, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  22. Anthony

    The world already looks at the United States as a bully. Diplomacy is needed in all aspects of life in order to build a relationship with another individual. How long are we going to fear our enemies? Obama is right to want to meet with these individuals. They will realize two things. The U.S. has taken a different path by electing an African American president and that they are ready to sit down and talk.

    February 28, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  23. Jim H.

    Just to point out a "non-story". North Korea was very much in the news last year because of all the sabre rattling. Bush was refusing to meet, Rice was refusing to meet.

    HOWEVER, an undersecretary of state quietly went about meeting with the North Koreans. Slowly and deliberately his work and patience paid off with the stopping of nuclear tests and collaboration with neighboring nations, and recently a concert held there.

    NONE of this would have been possible if the US had followed his trademark "My Way or the Highway" attitude.

    Displomacy works, communication matters, and talking to your enemies rather than about them gets the job done.

    Barak Obama has it right when he says that you start with what you and the other person have in common, rather than over what you disagree. This is the sign of a LEADER. This is what the United States has been lacking for the past 7 years.

    February 28, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  24. B Harris

    I think it will work... Obama's strategy.

    It may not neccessitate cooperation per se. But it gives us the greater position amongst our allies and enemies should we have to send our troops into a situation.

    We then have the moral footing to say, we met with this country...extended an olive branch and they didn't accept the gesture.

    So when the "bombs fall" we can say, we tried...

    February 28, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  25. Jeff

    If the past several years have taught us nothing else, we should have at least learned that a complete and total lack of effective diplomacy is bad for the nation.

    February 28, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
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