Friday, July 27, 2007

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A great way to referee the Obama-Clinton debate

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have been a fussin' and a feudin' since their disagreement at the YouTube debate over whether they would be willing to negotiate with foreign dictators. The Washington Post's campaign blog summarizes the state of play:

Sen. Barack Obama accused Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of taking the same closed-door approach as President Bush in handling rogue states.

"You'll have to ask Senator Clinton, what differentiates her position from theirs?" Obama challenged reporters in a conference call on Thursday.

Clinton waited a few hours, then fired back. "What ever happened to the politics of hope?" she said in a CNN interview, tweaking the optimistic Obama campaign theme.

Their tussle -- the first real verbal engagement of the Democratic primary between the top two candidates -- began during Monday night's debate in South Carolina.

Asked whether they would agree to meet leaders from hostile countries such as North Korea and Iran in their first year in office, without preconditions, Obama had said he would. Clinton said she would not. Clinton advisers quickly cast Obama's answer as a rookie mistake, and in an interview on Tuesday, Clinton referred to him as "irresponsible and na´ve."

Obama, who has promised to run a "different kind of campaign" free of acrimony, did not shy away from quarreling with Clinton over the substantive policy question at hand. "The Bush administration's policy is to say that we will not talk to these countries unless they meet various preconditions. That's their explicit policy," Obama said. But he did qualify his earlier answer about meeting with rogue leaders without preparation.

"Nobody expects that you would suddenly just sit down with them for coffee without having done the appropriate groundwork. But the question was, would you meet them without preconditions, and part of the Bush doctrine has been to say no," he said.

By late Thursday, officials from the Clinton and Obama campaigns were squabbling on a split-screen on CNN over the matter.

Now campaign reporters love this sort of thing, for obvious reasons. For the rest of us, it's still too damn early.

However, this particular tiff provides a great way to divine whether there's a real difference in their foreign policy approaches. Campaign reporters, please steal the following question from this blog and pose it to both the Clinton and Obama camps:

Yesterday Cuban leader Raul Castro signaled his willingness to negotiate with the person who succeeds George W. Bush as president. This is the third time Castro has stated this desire since assuming power a year ago. If elected, would your administration be willing to negotiate directly with the communist regime in Havana? Would you be willing to meet with Castro personally? Would you attach any preconditions to such a meeting?

posted by Dan on 07.27.07 at 08:06 AM


Absolutely. Positively. And no preconditions of any kind except that we will only surrender Florida, and southern Georgia maybe. If Castro insists on taking over Atlanta too, then forget it. Unless it would really, really help world peace, and in any event we draw the line at the Kentucky border, because Democrats are tough on national security and don't you forget it.

posted by: Zathras on 07.27.07 at 08:06 AM [permalink]

We know exactly why no candidate will pledge that, not even Obama, and that is the cuban-american vote. Its a damn shame too because I always wanted to visit Havana.

posted by: David Quartner on 07.27.07 at 08:06 AM [permalink]

I find it amusing, in light of this debate, how forthright Europe and the United States now are with wanting to invest in Libya.

Its also amusing that for all this talk about Venezuela, trade with Venezuela has increased steadily over the past few years.

posted by: David Quartner on 07.27.07 at 08:06 AM [permalink]

The Bush administration's practice of simply not talking to people it doesn't like could be described as the grumpy toddler approach to foreign policy. Unfortunately the administration has always assumed 'talk with' is the same as 'make concessions to' and acted accordingly. The difficulty with this approach is that stony silence is an extremely ineffective method of persuasion.

'Would you meet with Castro?' is really the wrong question to ask. After all meeting with a foreign head of state, regardless of any personal feelings about that individual, is an entirely normal thing for the leader of a civilized country to do. A much better question would be, 'If you were to meet with Castro, what would say?'

Mr Obama is often a little lite on specifics so he may not have thought this one through. Hopefully he has in mind a carefully considered package of carrots and sticks.

In any case, if we were really interested in determining what kind of president Mr Obama might be we should asking real policy questions rather discussing his willingness to shake Mr Castro's hand.

posted by: Steve on 07.27.07 at 08:06 AM [permalink]

So basically, Hillary didn't answer the question as to how her position is different than the Cheney/Bush regime.

posted by: Shawn on 07.27.07 at 08:06 AM [permalink]


We could use some better cuban restaurants here in Atlanta. What's a few civil liberties, when a treaty will give us both piece and a decent ropa vieja?

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 07.27.07 at 08:06 AM [permalink]

What preconditions are Obama willing to meet in order to meet with Iran, North Korea, and Cuba? At least one of Raul's is very easy for Obama--anyone but Bush.

posted by: Sam on 07.27.07 at 08:06 AM [permalink]

Now Edwards is starting to get in on attacking Clinton too. Obama and Clinton are making gains and Edwards is dropping off. We also have Thompson and Romney attacking Giuliani. It will get more vicious as we get closer to the primaries.


posted by: political forum on 07.27.07 at 08:06 AM [permalink]

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