When President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University on September 24, 2007, then-Senator Barack Obama defended his alma mater for inviting the rogue state leader, but also added he personally would not have extended such an invitation, because Ahmadinejad had other venues in which to spout his hatred, such as the United Nations.
At a conference later that day announcing the senator's endorsement by New York corrections officers, the senator made it clear that he would engage in presidential negotiations with the Iranian president without preconditions, quoting John F. Kennedy's famous line that one should never negotiate because of fear while not fearing to negotiate.
Obama did not make the distinction between the Iranian president and the Iranian supreme leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei. The implication was clear that he would negotiate with President Ahmadinejad. The senator had conveyed the same implication earlier in the year at a Democratic candidates debate on CNN.
The real issue has been whether the United States will or should negotiate with leaders of rogue states, including Venezuela, North Korea, and Cuba. On this issue, Senator Barack Obama has been called na�ive for saying he would meet with such leaders without preconditions. And not only did Senator John McCain deem this idea juvenile, but so did other experienced government officials. Even then-Senator Hillary Clinton weighed in against Obama on this issue.
Deflecting the Issue
Unable to successfully counter that fact that talking with rogue state leaders is not in the best interest of world diplomacy, McCain critics resorted to averting McCain�s argument with Obama to suggest that Senator John McCain did not really know who the leader of Iran is.
In an exchange between Senator McCain and Time Magazine's Joe Klein, the reporter distracted from the actual issue by claiming that Senator Obama had never said he would talk with President Ahmadinejad and that Supreme Leader Khamenei is the man in charge of foreign policy and the country�s nuclear proliferation; therefore, Klein wanted to know why McCain insisted that Obama would talk directly with Ahmadinejad.
The exchange between Klein and McCain laid bare the fatuousness of Klein's attempt to denigrate McCain's knowledge of world leaders. McCain clearly demonstrated that Ahmadinejad is the face of Iranian policy. That the Iranian president is not directly responsible for creating that policy is no more relevant to the argument than the fact that our president is in the same position: there is little policy that our president can effect without first passing it through congress.
On Barack Obama's campaign Web site, the foreign policy section asserted, "Obama is the only major candidate who supports tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions." This statement conveniently covered the problem of who is in charge of Iran and with whom Obama, as president, would directly negotiate. But it did reveal the real issue that caused experienced government officials to declare Obama's inexperience dangerous as well as na�ve--that he would meet with these leaders "without preconditions."
Originally appeared on Suite101.com June 2008