During the recent Democratic presidential debate (the CCN/YouTube Democratic debate) in question 16 Barack Obama was asked if he would meet -- without preconditions -- the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea in order to bridge the gap between our countries?
Obama gave a good answer that was approved by the focus group with reaction meters. He said,
"I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them, which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration, is ridiculous.... We may not trust them, they may pose an extraordinary danger to this country, but we have the obligation to find areas where we can potentially move forward."
That was a presidential answer. Of course meetings like that should not be had with preconditions. As Obama implies, when there is antipathy or miscommunications then it is the initial face to face meeting that creates the conditions for real progress, not the other way around.
Hillary Clinton then said she would not promise to meet with these nations' leaders. She said "I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes." That is the adolescent answer which is really just a diplomatic Bush-Cheney lite.
Today the chickens came home to roost on Clinton's answer. I received an email alert from her campaign whining that the Bush administration has played the propaganda card against her and she is crying foul. Here's what Clinton says,
Here's the whole story. Back in May, concerned about the administration's failure to plan in Iraq, I sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates asking him to provide Congress with briefings of contingency plans for withdrawal -- or an explanation of why no such plans exist.
Two weeks ago, Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman responded in a letter that said discussing plans for withdrawal "reinforces enemy propaganda." It was an outrageous response -- and a dangerous one. Planning for withdrawal isn't just common sense. It is vital to ensuring our troops return home safe.
Now wait a minute Hillary! You can't tell Obama that he should not meet with a nation's leader because it might be used as propaganda and then complain when the identical propaganda card is used against you. Either you are worried about preventing propaganda or you aren't. This is the kind of lack of political principles that makes Clinton have no credibility or appearance of integrity. And, by the way, the TV focus group seemed to agree with me because they turned their meters toward disapproval when Clinton said she would play politics and not talk to the national leaders.
In this case, of course it was her comment to Obama that was just as outrageous as Edelman's comment to her. A president can't conduct policy discussions based on whether or not others will try to make propaganda out of it. A president has to decide what is the right thing to do and then explain it as carefully and clearly as possible. The truth is what takes away any propaganda value of the other side, not the diplomatic jockeying for propaganda hegemony.
So I give your words back to you Hillary Clinton: Your response to Obama was an outrageous response -- and a dangerous one. Promising to talk with national leaders with whom we have national disagreements isn't just common sense. It is vital to ensuring our nation remains safe.
That said, I don't want this to be taken as an endorsement of Obama. Obama is a better choice than Clinton. For example, in this area of being open to talking with leaders he disagrees with he is willing to change the direction of Clinton's Bush-Cheney lite approach to diplomacy. However, Obama is still rattling the sabres when he thinks it will make him political points. Today's news in the BBC has Obama he would order military action against al-Qaeda in Pakistan without the consent of Pakistan's government. Well that's a step in the wrong direction.
Of all the presidential candidates, only Dennis Kucinich makes sense when he says he will not use war as an instrument of foreign policy and will track down terrorists as the criminals they are and use diplomacy to bring them to justice.