It's Hard To Be A Rogue Leader

It must be confusing to be a rogue leader right now. Witness:

Right before the Democratic debate, Sen. Barack Obama told the Miami Herald that under "certain conditions" he would meet with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

"Under certain conditions, I always believe in talking," Obama told the Miami Herald’s Andres Oppenheimer. "Sometimes it’s more important to talk to your enemies than to your friends."

At the debate, Obama answered "yes" when asked if he would meet with rogue leaders "without preconditions." Strategist David Axelrod later clarified that Obama simply meant that he would be willing to meet with them face-to-face without any pre-arranged concessions from those leaders.

It's not clear the circumstances Obama was thinking about when he was being interviewed by the Herald writer are akin to diplomatic "preconditions" -- perhaps he simply meant he would not immediately invite Chavez to the White House... but use of the word "conditions" does sound like Hillary Clinton's. Mr. Obama has tried to force some daylight into the two approaches: hers is allegedly "Bush-Lite" -- but he will now be challenged to describe how his conditions differ from hers. (One clue as to how he might respond: Obama said on a Thursday conference call with reporters that Clinton is "somehow maintaining is my statement could be construed as not having asked what the meeting was about. I didn't say these guys were going to come over for a cup of coffee some afternoon. From what I heard the point was… well, I wouldn't do that because it might allow leaders like Hugo Chavez to score propaganda points. I think that is absolutely wrong.")

And a further apparent complication, particularly if you're getting your news from soundbites. Earlier this year, Hillary Clinton was asked by MSNBC's Keith Olbermnann whether she'd "reach out immediately to the Syrians and the Iranians." Yes, she said, and "I don't see that as a sign of weakness, I see it as a sign of strength. ... I would immediately open a Democratic track."

Conclusion: Clinton will open a diplomatic track immediately; Obama would meet, quickly, directly with the principals themselves, provided he was satisfied he was not a propaganda tool.