The Exchange






SEN. OBAMA: 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. (Applause.) Ronald Reagan and Democratic presidents like JFK constantly spoke to the Soviet Union at a time when Ronald Reagan called them an evil empire. And the reason is because they understood that 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. And I think that it is a disgrace that we have not spoken to them. We've been talking about Iraq. One of the first things that I would do in terms of moving a diplomatic effort in the region forward is to send a signal that we need to talk to Iran and Syria, because they're going to have responsibilities if Iraq collapses. They have been acting irresponsibly up until this point. But if we tell them that we are not going to be a permanent occupying force, we are in a position to say that they are going to have to carry some weight in terms of stabilizing the region.

SEN. CLINTON: While I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these during my first year, I will promise a very vigorous diplomatic effort, because I think it is not that you promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are. I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes. I don't want to make a situation even worse.
But I certainly agree that we need to get back to diplomacy, which has been turned into a bad word by this administration. And I will pursue very vigorous diplomacy, and I will use a lot of high-level presidential envoys to test the waters, to feel the way. But certainly we're not going to just have our president meet with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and, you know, the president of North Korea, Iran and Syria until we know better what the way forward would be. (Applause.)
To many who have been waiting for an end to civility, the fight finally arrived. Obama and Clinton sparred. To Clinton it felt like victory: she had scored in the so-called experience department. To Obama it felt like vindication: Clinton was not into the new kind of politics that Obama has been promising. She is "Bush light."

Obama mentioned Reagan. I would also mention Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton talked to Kim Jong Il. That engagement was necessary to prevent that state from going ahead with its nuclear plans. Ronald Reagan talked to Gorbachev. He got engaged.

The chances of North Korea, or Iran, or Venezuela, or Syria, or Cuba physically attacking the United States are nil. The next attack on the US, if there is one, will not come from some state with a standing army. It will come from a non-state actor with no standing army: the Al Qaeda.

So talking to Kim Jong Il,
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Bashar al-Ashad is not security stuff, or at least not directly. By the way, Bill Clinton also talked to the president of Syria, the current president's father.

It might not have been intentional on the part of Hillary, but she twisted what Obama said. When a President of the United States says he wants to talk to a head of state, he is not talking about having a cup of tea. He has an entire state machinery at his disposal. That whole machinery talks, in part or full, as might be ordered to do. When you send an envoy, you are talking. When you hold a summit, you are talking. When you together participate in an international conference, you are talking.

The US does not face physical threats from any of these countries directly, but it does want to see each of these countries turned into full fledged multi-party democracies. And engaging their governments at all levels and possibly opening doors for much trade and people to people exchange and interaction is what will bring about such desirable change. Shunning them will keep the status quo in place in those countries.

Reagan talked from a position of strength, but he still talked. That talking is what helped.

When Obama says new kind of politics, he really means it. This exchange reveals that. The difference between them is obvious.

Talking is also the thing to do when the need is to talk tough. Talking is not a sign of weakness.

To keep these states engaged in dialogue is also to make sure they don't forge a strong, undemocratic alliance with a power like Russia.

And all the big problems of the day have global dimensions: terrorism, global warming, nuclear proliferation. A power like America has to get engaged and stay engaged with as many countries as possible.

Talking is also the way of global trade and overall globalization. Disengaging is less and less often an option.

Hillary missed all these points in claiming victory in this brief exchange.

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