Barack Obama’s promise to meet with the world’s dictators without preconditons has been a subject of intense debate in the Democratic primary race and a focus of much ridicule by John McCain and conservatives for over a year. Now that Obama is heading into the general election, he is claiming, or rather his advisor is, that it’s all a misunderstanding.
Susan Rice, his foreign policy advisor ( I think even he admits she really is an “official” one), argued that it’s those mean Republicans telling tales and that “nobody said he would initiate contacts at the presidential level; that requires due preparation and advance work.” She also contends that Obama never said that he would meet unconditionally with rogue states like Iran.
What’s more, after that initial debate, the two candidates spent days arguing about their respective positons. Obama defended his position in an NBC interview. If there were any doubt, this should refresh your recollection:
“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.”
Moreover, when Clinton appeared to flip flop on her position in the fall of 2007, Obama chastized her and restated his own view – that direct talks with Iran was part of a smart, new foreign policy.
Most damning is this exchange from the Texas debate on February 21:
CAMPBELL BROWN: Senator Obama, just to follow up, you had said in a previous CNN debate that you would meet with the leaders of Cuban, Iran, North Korea, among others, so presumably you would be willing to meet with the new leader of Cuba.
OBAMA: That’s correct. Now, keep in mind that the starting point for our policy in Cuba should be the liberty of the Cuban people. And I think we recognize that that liberty has not existed throughout the Castro regime. And we now have an opportunity to potentially change the relationship between the United States and Cuba after over half a century.
I would meet without preconditions, although Senator Clinton is right that there has to be preparation. It is very important for us to make sure that there was an agenda, and on that agenda was human rights, releasing of political prisoners, opening up the press. And that preparation might take some time.
But I do think that it’s important for the United States not just to talk to its friends, but also to talk to its enemies. In fact, that’s where diplomacy makes the biggest difference.
In short, it is a lie, plain and simple, that Obama never promised direct, unconditional presidential talks with Iran, Syria, Cuba, and North Korea. He took pride in that position and tried to beat Clinton over the head with it for a year. Now that it has proved to be the subject of ridicule and unsustainable in a general election context he’s pretending to have never said it. Is this the New Politics? Or is it rather lame and transparent double-talk?