Sunday, July 29, 2007

"There's a skirmish of wit between them. Much ado about nothing."
Mr. William Shakespeare
"Much Ado About Nothing"
Scene 1, Act 1

In the most famous exchange of the recent Democratic debate, held at The Citadel, a questioner asked whether the candidates would "be willing to meet separately, without precondition,during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?"
Senator Obama, before conjuring up (his) memories of Ronald Wilson Reagan and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, responded "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."

Senator Clinton retorted "Well, I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year. I will promise a very vigorous diplomatic effort because I thik 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..."
Then the quarrel heated up. Clinton spokesman Phil Singer argued that his client "understands that it is a mistake to commit the power and prestige of America's presidency years ahead of time by making such a blanket commitment." Clinton aide Madeline Albright stated "you can't just show up and have an event." Clinton herself in Iowa's Quad City Times characterized Obama's comment as "irresponsible and frankly naive." Obama responded in the same newspaper "I didn't say these guys were going to come over for a cup of coffee some afternoon." And he added that what was "irresponsible and naive" was voting to authorize the Iraq war.

Clinton was right, of course, that the groundwork must be laid before discussions between heads of state, which Obama seems to acknowledge by noting that he wasn't proposing an afternoon tea. Similarly, ABC News reports that in a pre-debate interview with a Miami Herald reporter, the Illinois senator contended that he would meet with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez only "under certain conditions." And Obama was right when he unearthed a Clinton quote from April, "I think it is a terrible mistake for our President to say he will not talk with bad people" and right on target when he referred to the spat as "a fabricated controversy." Clinton herself indirectly acknowledged the context of the debate, when her answer included "but I certainly agree that we need to get back to diplomacy, which has been turned into a bad word by this administration." Right. And whether a Clinton or Obama administration, the President will be open to discussions with any country, with proper preparation, under the right circumstances. Much ado about nothing.

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