I appreciated Obama’s line in last night’s debate that he wanted to not just end the war, but “end the mindset that got us into war in the first place.” I thought that was his sharpest and most on-point critique of Clinton yet. Yet I thought he missed another opportunity to lay out a contrast with her, on the issue of negotiating with rogue states.
Clinton has dogged Obama for saying that he would meet with leaders of Iran, Syria, etc. in his first year in office. She said it’s “naive and irresponsible” to do so. But she also continues to say things like this (from the transcript):
And I also think it’s important to send that message to the region, because I think that Iran, Syria, the other countries in the neighborhood are going to find themselves in a very difficult position as we withdraw. You know, be careful what you wish for. They will be dragged into what is sectarian divisiveness with many different factions among the three main groups. Therefore, we need to start diplomatic efforts immediately getting the Iranians and Syrians and others to the table. It’s in their interest, it’s in our interest, and it certainly is in the Iraqis’ interest.
Obama should have come back and nailed her on this. He could have said, “how are you going to bring Iran and Syria to the table when you think it’s irresponsible to meet with them?” He could have even gotten in one of his signature zinger jokes, like, “man that’s going to be one empty table” or something. It would have instantly been the most memorably line of the night, and unlike other joke lines that get endless play the day after, this one would have been a substantive foreign policy critique that would have played right into Obama’s wheelhouse.