Feud Boiling Over
Escalating a Democratic battle over national security, 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 naÃ¯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. "You've misstated the question," Obama adviser David Axelrod shouted at Howard Wolfson, the communications director for Clinton, at one point. "This is about a fundamental change in our foreign policy," Axelrod said.
"Senator Obama's position isn't clear to me listening to you articulate it," Wolfson said.
In a separate national security fight, Sen. Clinton scored a victory against the Pentagon on Thursday, as she received an apology from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates for an earlier response she had gotten on military plans for withdrawal from Iraq.
"I emphatically assure you that we do not claim, suggest or otherwise believe that congressional oversight emboldens our enemies," Gates wrote Clinton a week after his under secretary of state, Eric Edelman, told accused her of doing so by talking about pulling out of the war. Gates continued: "That said, we all recognize that there are multiple audiences for what we say, and need to be careful not to undermine the morale of our troops or encourage our enemies -- the point I think Ambassador Edelman was trying to make in his letter."
Clinton, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said she was "disappointed that Secretary Gates does not repudiate Under Secretary Edelman's unacceptable political attack," but welcomed "Secretary Gates's acknowledgment that congressional oversight of the war in Iraq is essential to our national debate."
--Anne E. Kornblut
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