The gloves come off

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama tried to turn rival Hillary Rodham Clinton’s words back on her Wednesday, saying her vote to authorize the Iraq war was “irresponsible and naive.”

Clinton had used the same language a day earlier to criticize Obama for saying he would be willing to meet with leaders of nations such as Cuba, North Korea and Iran without conditions within the first year of his presidency. Clinton said renegade leaders could use such a meeting for propaganda and that envoys below the presidential level should begin diplomatic work.

Obama told NBC News it’s obvious that the diplomatic spade work must be done before any such meeting. But he wants to change Bush administration policies that freeze out enemies and move to a principle that says the United States should talk with everybody.

“The notion that I was somehow going to be inviting them over for tea next week without having initial envoys meet is ridiculous,” he said in an interview outside his Senate office. “But the general principle is one that I think Senator Clinton is wrong on, and that is if we are laying out preconditions that prevent us from speaking frankly to these folks, then we are continuing with Bush-Cheney policies.”

Obama’s comment about meeting with foreign foes came in response to a question in a Democratic presidential debate Monday night. The Clinton campaign immediately highlighted his statement as evidence that he doesn’t have the foreign policy skills to be president. “I thought that was irresponsible and frankly naive,” she told the Quad-City Times of Iowa.

Later Wednesday, the Clinton campaign issued a statement by former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who is supporting her candidacy, taking issue with Obama’s comments and saying she would bring an end to “the cowboy approach of the Bush years.”

“She has said she would initiate serious, responsible dialogue with nations with whom we don’t agree in order to further the national security interest of the United States,” Holbrooke said. “But she is right not to risk the prestige of the presidency by unconditionally committing to meet with leaders of adversarial nations.”

In his interview, Obama tried to turn the debate back to Clinton’s vote to authorize the Iraq war, which he opposed.

“I think what is irresponsible and naive is to have authorized a war without asking how we were going to get out,” Obama said. “And you know, I think Senator Clinton hasn’t fully answered that issue.”

Also Wednesday, an Obama campaign official told The Associated Press that New Hampshire Rep. Paul Hodes plans to endorse the Illinois senator Thursday. Hodes is the first member of the four-member congressional delegation from the nation’s first primary state to make an endorsement.


  1. JoyfulC

    Augh! Here we go again. Clinton and Obama are so greedy to find something to criticize the other on that they haven’t even bothered to examine the true meaning of the question, or how close their answers might actually be.

    Currently, we have an administration that insists on total submission, even to the point of regime change or giving up national defense interests or acceptance of Israel as a pre-condition to talks. That’s completely unrealistic. No state leader can afford to be seen as being that submissive to the US — and especially not at this point in history, when the current administration has so haplessly exposed our vulnerabilities and limitations to the entire world.

    So what’s a “pre-condition”? I believe Obama meant that, unlike the current admin, he wouldn’t expect leaders of other states to agree to anything that could be viewed as weakness and submission by their own people, and serve to undermine that leader’s authority — which is practical. I believe that Clinton’s answer meant essentially the same thing, but of course it’s essential to have some pre-conditions for the meeting itself — in other words, the POTUS can’t be viewed, at home or abroad, in a position of being submissive either. A reasonable pre-condition might consider what’s on the table and how the meeting is to be official described.

    Both candidates seem to grasp that any leader of any state has a first obligation to be seen to be stalwart with respect to their own nation’s interests through the eyes of his or her own people. I think that Obama was simply looking at this from the position of other leaders of other nations — who have, in fact, been put on the spot by the Bush administration — and Clinton was looking at it from the perspective of the importance of the US not being bullied into a similar situation by those who might take advantage of the extremes of the our previous administration. I could see a Chavez or an Ahmadinejad getting some mileage at home in the first year after a “regime change” here in the US by attempting to create the appearance that the US is cowed. That’s something the next president of the US is going to have to be wary of and avoid. Appearances count as much here as abroad, and many third parties will be looking on.

    What makes me mad is that both Clinton and Obama are so eager to take swipes at each other that they’ve completely missed the opportunity to demonstrate something over and above a “knee jerk” reaction. I do believe that both candidates have a good grasp of the actual issue, but it’s quite sad to see that they still believe that slinging mud is the way to impress the American people.

  2. common sense

    It’s obvious who is going to think differently than Bush, and get this country back on track with the rest of the world. It’s not Hillary. When senators opposed the Iraqi war four years ago, they were branded traitors. If Hillary is in the White House, four years from now we’ll be asking why we haven’t been talking to these nations. Kudos to Obama for showing initiative, character, and leadership, something sorely lacking with Clinton.