A great way to referee the Obama-Clinton debate

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have been a fussin’ and a feudin’ since their disagreement at the YouTube debate over whether they would be willing to negotiate with foreign dictators. The Washington Post’s campaign blog summarizes the state of play: Sen. Barack Obama accused Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of taking the same closed-door approach as ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have been a fussin' and a feudin' since their disagreement at the YouTube debate over whether they would be willing to negotiate with foreign dictators. The Washington Post's campaign blog summarizes the state of play: Sen. Barack Obama accused Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of taking the same closed-door approach as President Bush in handling rogue states. "You'll have to ask Senator Clinton, what differentiates her position from theirs?" Obama challenged reporters in a conference call on Thursday. Clinton waited a few hours, then fired back. "What ever happened to the politics of hope?" she said in a CNN interview, tweaking the optimistic Obama campaign theme. Their tussle -- the first real verbal engagement of the Democratic primary between the top two candidates -- began during Monday night's debate in South Carolina. Asked whether they would agree to meet leaders from hostile countries such as North Korea and Iran in their first year in office, without preconditions, Obama had said he would. Clinton said she would not. Clinton advisers quickly cast Obama's answer as a rookie mistake, and in an interview on Tuesday, Clinton referred to him as "irresponsible and na?ve." Obama, who has promised to run a "different kind of campaign" free of acrimony, did not shy away from quarreling with Clinton over the substantive policy question at hand. "The Bush administration's policy is to say that we will not talk to these countries unless they meet various preconditions. That's their explicit policy," Obama said. But he did qualify his earlier answer about meeting with rogue leaders without preparation. "Nobody expects that you would suddenly just sit down with them for coffee without having done the appropriate groundwork. But the question was, would you meet them without preconditions, and part of the Bush doctrine has been to say no," he said. By late Thursday, officials from the Clinton and Obama campaigns were squabbling on a split-screen on CNN over the matter.Now campaign reporters love this sort of thing, for obvious reasons. For the rest of us, it's still too damn early. However, this particular tiff provides a great way to divine whether there's a real difference in their foreign policy approaches. Campaign reporters, please steal the following question from this blog and pose it to both the Clinton and Obama camps: Yesterday Cuban leader Raul Castro signaled his willingness to negotiate with the person who succeeds George W. Bush as president. This is the third time Castro has stated this desire since assuming power a year ago. If elected, would your administration be willing to negotiate directly with the communist regime in Havana? Would you be willing to meet with Castro personally? Would you attach any preconditions to such a meeting?

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have been a fussin’ and a feudin’ since their disagreement at the YouTube debate over whether they would be willing to negotiate with foreign dictators. The Washington Post’s campaign blog summarizes the state of play:

Sen. Barack Obama accused Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of taking the same closed-door approach as President Bush in handling rogue states. “You’ll have to ask Senator Clinton, what differentiates her position from theirs?” Obama challenged reporters in a conference call on Thursday. Clinton waited a few hours, then fired back. “What ever happened to the politics of hope?” she said in a CNN interview, tweaking the optimistic Obama campaign theme. Their tussle — the first real verbal engagement of the Democratic primary between the top two candidates — began during Monday night’s debate in South Carolina. Asked whether they would agree to meet leaders from hostile countries such as North Korea and Iran in their first year in office, without preconditions, Obama had said he would. Clinton said she would not. Clinton advisers quickly cast Obama’s answer as a rookie mistake, and in an interview on Tuesday, Clinton referred to him as “irresponsible and na?ve.” Obama, who has promised to run a “different kind of campaign” free of acrimony, did not shy away from quarreling with Clinton over the substantive policy question at hand. “The Bush administration’s policy is to say that we will not talk to these countries unless they meet various preconditions. That’s their explicit policy,” Obama said. But he did qualify his earlier answer about meeting with rogue leaders without preparation. “Nobody expects that you would suddenly just sit down with them for coffee without having done the appropriate groundwork. But the question was, would you meet them without preconditions, and part of the Bush doctrine has been to say no,” he said. By late Thursday, officials from the Clinton and Obama campaigns were squabbling on a split-screen on CNN over the matter.

Now campaign reporters love this sort of thing, for obvious reasons. For the rest of us, it’s still too damn early. However, this particular tiff provides a great way to divine whether there’s a real difference in their foreign policy approaches. Campaign reporters, please steal the following question from this blog and pose it to both the Clinton and Obama camps:

Yesterday Cuban leader Raul Castro signaled his willingness to negotiate with the person who succeeds George W. Bush as president. This is the third time Castro has stated this desire since assuming power a year ago. If elected, would your administration be willing to negotiate directly with the communist regime in Havana? Would you be willing to meet with Castro personally? Would you attach any preconditions to such a meeting?

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner

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