While many political junkies feel that foreign policy is perhaps Hillary Clinton’s Achilles heel with Democratic primary voters, she seems to have decided to make it the centerpiece of her attacks on Barack Obama. The Times reports that the latest salvoes “stemmed from their answers at a debate Monday involving the circumstances under which each as president might meet with leaders of Syria, Cuba and Venezuela, but it has broadened into a debate over whether the nation needs experience or a fresh approach on the world stage.”
The Washington Post’s heavyweight pundits are split on the strategy, with E.J. Dionne noting that “the eagerness with which Obama’s camp kept the battle going reflected a cardinal rule in politics: Front-runners should be wary of picking fights with challengers” and Charles Krauthammer feeling that “the grizzled veteran showed up the clueless rookie.”
Others have more subtle opinions. Soren Dayton, a Republican political consultant who writes the eyeon08 blog, thinks both the YouTube debate and the resulting dustup are good for politics and the country:
I think this is a real philosophical debate about foreign policy that cuts to a real fracture in the Democratic Party between (responsible) foreign policy elites and one part of the liberal faction of the party base. And it took real people to ask this question. Why? Probably because the press is part of the same elite opinion formation apparatus as everyone else. (incidentally, that’s why they didn’t ask questions about Iraq. Very few serious people were asking questions about Iraq, so the press didn’t either) … This gimmicky debate has resulted in the first real large-scale policy clash of the 2008 cycle. Something that 8(?) media sponsored debates couldn’t really achieve.
Ezra Klein thinks the press is making much ado about very little:
So far as I can tell, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton don’t disagree at all. Barack Obama would, if made president, deploy various ambassadors and envoys to lay the diplomatic groundwork that could result in Obama meeting with leaders of countries that America doesn’t necessarily consider allies. Hillary Clinton, too, would deploy envoys and various high-level administration officials to lay the diplomatic groundwork that could result in Clinton meeting with the leaders of countries that America doesn’t necessarily consider allies … At the end of the day, this is really about Clinton and Obama demonstrating their central appeals: Change for Obama, and competence for Clinton. Both think they can win this spat. Maybe they’re both right. But I don’t think, on this point, either is indicating a radically different policy. Their main disagreement is on which of them should be President.
Scarecrow at Firedoglake agrees with Klein on the substance, but places the blame elsewhere:
We’ve been treated to a growing display of ambition and campaign stupidity, in which the campaigns have manufactured a dispute that never had to be. Last night, both campaigns sent their spokesmen onto CNN and Hardball, and both managed to make their respective candidates seem petty and silly – Clinton for her insincere charge of inexperience, Obama for the silliness of his comparing Clinton with Bush on this point, then Clinton for the arrogance and condescension of Wolfson’s response and finally Obama for the incoherence of his advisor’s reply. Nice going guys. And the point of this was demonstrate how wise the two of you are in talking to adversaries?