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. Mikkel Perlt

    Regarding "Presidential Diplomacy"

    Look at it this way:
    If some adversaries are put at ease that the US has no hostile intentions towards them and so become less fearful and antagonistic in return, you will have gained an adde measure of respect and security.

    If some, less wise, adversaries seize upon this gesture as a sign that they can take a bolder stance towards the US, it will still just be an increase in antagonistic rhetoric, because let's face it, what can they do that they could not do before such a visit?

    February 28, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  2. Earl Taylor

    As long as I can remember, it is only after contact that we have been able to formulate a framework for any mutual agreement. Not speaking to adversories is counter productive on it's face. What are we afraid of? Are we afraid we may say yes, when we should say no?

    February 28, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  3. Todd French

    If most Americans believe everything Bush has said God help us the Republicans win again on the terror vote.

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

    Half of those same leaders gain support from their citizens by anti us talk. Bushs isolationaism does harm to our country by further infuriating such leaders, besides those same leaders say the same thing about Bush that he says about them, so wouldnt it be better if we could try to talk through some of these problems? Wouldnt we be better off with more friends than enemies? I surely think so.

    February 28, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  5. 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 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  6. Jim Shimmer

    Obama said clearly that there would be prep work. Obviously, he isn't simply going to sit down without any conditions... It is so naive of CNN to say this.

    Every president has enough advisors and sense to do prep work and have conditions before meeting another president..

    This is lame.. Obama is smart.. He knows what to do b4 meeting a president...

    Besides, the failed strategies havn't work of Bush! Please Bush giving recommendations – now thats a joke!

    February 28, 2008 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  7. Dale Hanley

    we don't talk to Cuba because it's communnist, not democratic, bad human rights, no free elections no free press etc.etc etc
    how about
    Communist China
    Communist Viet Nam
    Saudi Arabia
    Would attitude about Cuba change if a huge oil field was discovered in
    Gitmo Bay?

    February 28, 2008 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  8. John

    Bush, Clinton, and McCain are being ridiculous. When has NOT talking to a dictator ever produced good results? When? Give me examples. We should never negotiate out of fear but never fear to negotiate. John F. Kennedy said that. Let us compare two of Kennedy's foreign policy situations: The Bay of Pigs and the Thirteen Days. In one, he didn't talk to Castro, he tried to overthrow him. Bad plan. In the other, he used diplomacy with our worst enemies, the Russians, to avert a nuclear holocaust and also to prevent missles from being placed in cuba.

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

    You can't have a dialog if you insist on the other person agreeing with you before you even sit down to talk. Conversely, simply discussing issues, one head-of-state to another, does not commit either party to any course of action or agreement on the issues. Fears of "emboldening" our adversaries are overstated, in my opinion; you have to start somewhere if you intend to take a diplomatic rather than military approach to reaching an agreement!

    February 28, 2008 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  10. MS from PA

    Mr. Blitzer,

    I think it's pretty obvious that refusing to meet with our adversaries has been a less than successful diplomatic strategy. We can't continue to insult everyone in the world who doesn't agree with us – these are real people with real power and egos, and a direct meeting with the president of the Unites States would likely make quite an impression on them. It sends a message that we acknowledge their existence, and even if the talks don't go well, at least we tried.
    It's a lot better than our current doctrine of locking ourselves in our room and pouting.


    February 28, 2008 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  11. European voice

    The US would not be better off when it's president would meet with such leaders unconditionally. Those who think that see international problems as just the result of miscommuniction. Those who want to open up diplomatically but require conditions before meeting see conflict as the result of conflicting interests. Hillary Clinton's position makes a restoration of US moral leadership possible without being naive. Obama will fall into a trap (if he really means what he promises ...)

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

    It will Show the Iranian Government & Muslim Extremist that Obama is "Weak" It would be a Bad idea to engage in such talks until Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "Stopped" his activities in Syria, Lebanon and his Behind the Back of the World attacks on Israel and in Iraq. Obama needs to get serious and Stop thinking he can walk on water! Wrong Policy for the Times we are Facing. But then again, this is were the word "Experience" should be taken a little more seriously!

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

    John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and President Bush have this in common-they have experience, and have seen enough of the world to know that nothing is as "simple" as it seems.

    This is what scares me about Barack Obama. He's spent the last two years working on his campaign, not learning about the world, not listening to those experts in foreign policy. Yet with his recent success, he has developed an arrogant, yet naive attitude that he can make changes in Washington just because he wants to.

    There's a reason Asian and Hispanic democratic voters like HIllary–their culture respects age and experience, and the wisdom that comes with it. They are not enamored of the "exotic" nature of Obama's style and speech, or his 'faith-based" politics.

    Nothing is as simple as it seems, and to believe otherwise, especially with all the violence and terrorism around the world, is not only naive, but dangerous.

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

    Obama will meet with any one and not for the benefit of America or the American people. He and Michelle have no REAL affection for America. Michell's words say it as does her Thesis. There is no place for a "rock star" who's mesmerising people to be CIC of this country.

    Remember the movie "Roots", well Obama's "roots" are Muslim not African American.

    February 28, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  15. ralph

    I don't see any real problems with meeting. What are the tangible harms that could come from such an event? If there are no real commitments to negotiations, how can we get resolutions underway for solving our differences. Why should we fear such a country? America sees its self as the end all, and shouldn't.

    February 28, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  16. grant

    Yes, It can't be any worse than what Bush has done.

    February 28, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  17. Ron

    This is nothing but personal E-G-O. To think that talking with someone rewards them is asinine. I mean really, there are only two ways to resolve disagreements ..discussion or violence. What we have here is a person who barely won the election, and thinks the rest of the world has to kiss his a_ _ in order to talk with him. PLEASE give me a break. Without dialog, NOTHING will get better..if you have any doubt tell me one area where Bush's policy has worked??

    February 28, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  18. Kay Tuner

    Obama is right. He will not fear to look into eyes of all enemies and tell them that they should expect US to react if they continue to bring misery to the World. There is nothing long with meeting enemies. Unless you are guilty of some bad policies, meeting adversaries is necessary. They need to know who you are and how serious you do international business. It incredible to see how US diplomat fear people from Iran, Cuba or Venezuela while those presidents do not fear to look into the eyes of US president. That is how they feel happy to come to our soil ( in UN) and insult our leaders.
    The US mindset of fear must end.

    February 28, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  19. Jon in Northern Califia

    If Bush can meet with the dignitaries of recalcitrant regimes like Russia and China, why not Iran or any of the other Nation States we want to influence?

    A fool is someone who continuously does the same thing but expects a different result next time.

    February 28, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  20. TJ, Hoboken, NJ

    I'm not an expert on foreign policy so I may be missing something here but on the surface it seems like Obama has a point. Refusing to negotiate with someone until they meet all your demands sounds illogical to me. But then again if Bush, McCain and Clinton all think it's a bad idea then there may be a whole side to this that I don't understand. However, the explanation that the meeting would be used as propaganda doesn't sound convincing enough to avoid attempting to solve a problem.

    February 28, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  21. Crystal Mitchell

    First of all Obama will have adviser and all kinds of intelligence reports to confer to. This man is a very smart and intelligent man. Please stop taking statements and running with them. It shows in his campaign the type of intelligence that he surrounds his self with. We need to start forming some type of line of communication with our enemies and allies. Look at what the Bush Admin. did? Closed the American people off from what was really happening. Started a war with a country based on lies. Hililary, McCain and all of them felled for the okidope. All but Obama, who they are screaming, has so little experience!!!!! What does that say about there experience? I say this Hillary has been wishy washy on everything that she say's, Bush has lied and cost thousand of American lives, based on greed. And now we sit here asking if this man who has prove to do something no one has been able to do, and that is bring the American people a awareness about what's going on and what's at stake. I mean people from all walks of this world, you can't deny the movement, and you ask if he can sit with our enemy's , well first let me remind you that our enemy's are human first, and before they where our enemy's there had to be a misunderstanding. Why can't we get to the bottom of why we are so hated? Fear is what's been holding us back and it fear that we are using now. Stop the madness!!!!!!!!! We are the greatest Country in the World. Act like it.

    February 28, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  22. concerned cit

    Put it like this. We know that not talking to them has not made things any better. In many cases it has actually made things worst. We didn't talk to Fidel Catro for 50 yrs and what happened? Nothing. He gets to retire, hand power over to his younger brother, and die a peaceful death.

    I say we give talking a shot. How does bullying countries around help? We know that even at the most fundamental level that bullying only intensifies defensive behavior. How about we drop the arrogant childish policy and act like resposible adults.

    February 28, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  23. Grace Needed

    Why would it be MORE damaging to meet with a foreign leader of negative leanings, than to support one with billions of dollars? Personally, I think to be seen as respecting the office by meeting with them publically, gives one the opportunity to bring things out in the open that are questionable, leading to greater transparency. Our foreign policy history is loaded with questionable regimes, governments that we have supported without the American people knowing because there were no public face to face meetings. Things were done in secret that if seen in the light of day would shame our country. Even now, we should be shamed by the knowledge that we supported the Nicaraguan dictator Somoza, or the Pakistan leader Zia, with weapons and billions while they were oppressing their people in the most undemocratic ways. Zia detained, tortured and jailed any and most all opponents, including the Bhutto family who led the first democratic government in Pakistan, killing the father first and then shutting up the rest of the family to keep the West, specifically America, from objecting so they could continue to gain needed funds. Benazir Bhutto (educated at Harvard) was killed this past December after returning to Pakistan once again to attempt to reclaim the country for democracy

    February 28, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  24. Bill

    Obama's stance sounds reasonable to me, but I'd like to hear from public policy experts. Lots of 'em. Clinton and Obama are running for office. Bush is an ideologue. Everybody I've heard from so far has a dog in this fight. How about gathering input from scholars and other authorities from varying perspectives and traditions? Sounds like the job of a big news organization.

    February 28, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  25. vl

    While I feel it's a good idea to get discussions moving, I think it would be a SERIOUS ERROR to jump in without advance work first. If Sen. Obama was to win the nomination and do this, it would show his serious lack of experience and do more harm than good.

    February 28, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
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