No more playing nice.
Senators Clinton and Obama now are going for each other's throat, and in doing so, they both expose why neither might not be "ready for primetime" in a post-September11 world.
In last week's CNN/YouTube debate, a questioner asked if the candidates would promise as president to meet -- without conditions -- with the brutal leaders of Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria. Mr. Obama hastened to say he would, and Mrs. Clinton proceeded to blast him, saying that such meetings have to be done under the right conditions or the meeting could become a propaganda tool that strengthens the dictator and make matters worse.
Most experts were quick to agree that Mr. Obama's answer was absolutely wrong. When the president of America meets face to face with the leader of another nation, it has effects on international relations on a host of matters, both immediate and longterm. An American president cannot promise to go blindly into a meeting with a tyrannical dictator, as that meeting could facilitate or enable a calamity.
While any experienced foreign policy leader understands this, Mr. Obama apparently does not, or even worse, has decided to throw caution to the wind. No matter how bright he was in law school, this blind foolishness exposed a dangerous naivety.
So the next day, Mrs. Clinton said that his answer to that question was "irresponsible, and frankly naïve." But instead of admitting he was wrong, Mr. Obama counterattacked, alleging her worldview was “Bush-Cheney Lite.” Those are fighting words among Democrats.
It's now gone to the next level, as both campaigns have cast their surrogates into the ring against each other on television. One battleground for these fights was Chris Matthew’s “Hardball” on MSNBC, where two congressmen squared off: Hillary's Steve Israel versus Barack's Adam Smith. The second was Thursday, where Hillary's Howard Wolfson got into an increasingly sharp and angry exchange with Obama's David Axelrod.
Mr. Axelrod's performance showed that Mr. Obama was trying to recalibrate his position. During the debate, Mr. Obama was clearly referring to meeting with these brutal dictators without any conditions. Knowing his candidate had made a big mistake, Mr. Axelrod started his spin, saying that the freshman senator was referring to diplomacy, not attending summits. This contradicts the debate question, which was asking about unconditional face-to-face meetings.
By Thursday, Mr. Axelrod was back to supporting the idea that our president should be willing to meet face-to-face without preconditions, which Mr. Wolfson again called "irresponsible" and "naive."