On Diplomacy, Obama's Spokesman Links Clinton With Giuliani

Bill Burton, Barack Obama's spokesperson, e-mails a response to Rudy Giuliani's assertion that Barack Obama, who regularly cites the willingness of Ronald Reagan to negotiate with the Soviet Union, is, himself, not Ronald Reagan.

E-mails Burton: "While Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton do not think we should engage in the type of strong diplomacy practiced by Ronald Reagan and John Kennedy, Obama does. And given the hefty fee that Hugo Chavez's oil company paid Rudy Giuliani's firm, he apparently thinks we shouldn't talk to Chavez, but it's fine to take his money."

To remind you of the quibble: Clinton, as in the Clinton Administration, would negotiate with rogue leaders without preconditions. But she herself would let the diplomatic process trickle up from low-level meetings. Obama would emphasize face-to-face diplomacy among principles from day one -- including his own personage. Reagan and Gorbachev, Nixon and Mao, that type of thing.

What Kennedy actually said -- as a candidate -- was that the U.S. should engage with Russia but not at the highest levels until the process ran its course; he was cautious not to endorse face-to-face bilateral meetings between leaders.

That said, it was Kennedy's refusal to sanction the war that his Joint Chiefs insisted, and also the back-channel negotiations between Robert F. Kennedy and Anatoly Dobrynin (the Turkey-Cuba missile removal) that helped stave off a military confrontation during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962. In a sense, through that channel, JFK and Khrushchev communicated directly. (They had met once before, in 1961. It did not go well.)

So both Clinton and Obama can draw lessons from history. And the difference between them is more of style and posture than content -- although, in diplomacy, style and posture can be as important as words on paper.

Back to politics: is linking Hillary Clinton to Rudy Giuliani like linking her to Bush-Cheney? Is that a credible charge to make in a Democratic primary?