by Lauren Carroll and Louis Jacobson
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders gave dueling interviews to the Sunday news shows in anticipation of Sunday night’s Democratic presidential primary debate, sparring over health care, guns and foreign policy.
Clinton criticized Sanders as having a poor record on gun control, while Sanders went after Clinton for her foreign policy views.
Sanders went back to the 2008 Democratic primary contest to criticize Clinton about Iran.
"If you think back to 2007 during the campaign in which Secretary Clinton ran against Barack Obama, she was critical of him,” Sanders told Chuck Todd on Meet the Press. “A question was asked to Obama that said, ‘Would you sit down and talk to the Iranians?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I would.’ Point being, you talk to your adversaries. You don’t run away from that. Secretary Clinton, I think, called him naive. Turns out that Obama was right."
At one point, Clinton did describe an Obama statement on diplomacy as "naive," but Sanders is leaving out important nuance that misrepresents her position at the time. His statement rates Half True.
This all started at a July 2007 Democratic presidential debate that included questions from YouTube users. One asked, "Would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?"
Obama was first to respond, saying, "I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them, which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of (the George W. Bush) administration, is ridiculous."
Clinton also answered the question, saying she agreed that she would approach adversaries differently than Bush and "get back to diplomacy." But she distinguished herself from Obama by saying she would not necessarily meet with these leaders in her first year, without any preconditions. Instead, she would first send envoys.
Clinton’s "naive" comment came the next day in an interview with the Quad-City Times in Iowa.
"I think it is wrong for any president to say he or she will not talk to people because they’re bad or evil," she said. "But the question was very specific, asking whether either of us would talk to a list of leaders of five countries with which the United States has serious difficulties within the first year of becoming president, and I thought that was irresponsible and frankly naive to say he would commit to meeting with Chavez and Castro and others within the first year. As I said last night, there has to be a lot of diplomatic effort."
Sanders’ made it sound like Clinton shut the door on diplomacy, when in reality she was supportive, though she advocated for a more cautious approach.
It’s worth noting that Obama did not personally meet with Iranian leaders in his first year. It wasn’t until 2013 that he spoke over the phone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Obama did announce in April 2009, that the United States and five other countries would engage in talks with Iran — the P5+1 group that eventually negotiated the nuclear deal. For her part, Clinton as secretary of state was personally involved in diplomatic efforts to increase global sanctions on Iran that helped move the nuclear deal forward.
Rubio recalls Reagan and 1981 hostage release
Republicans weren’t pleased by Obama’s actions on Iraq. Sen. Marco Rubio said on Meet the Press that the United States should not have made any concessions to Iran. Part of the deal included Obama granting clemency to seven Iranians charged in U.S. courts with violating economic sanctions against Iran.
"Our enemies now know that if you can capture an American, you can get something meaningful in exchange for it," Rubio said on Meet the Press.
When pressed on how he would deal with countries like Iran, Rubio said: "When I become president of the United States, our adversaries around the world will know that America is no longer under the command of someone weak like Barack Obama, and it will be like Ronald Reagan, where as soon as he took office the hostages were released from Iran."
Rubio’s statement rates Pants on Fire as a misleading framing of history. Reagan’s inauguration in 1981 may have coincided with the release of the hostages, but historians say it did not cause it. Instead, the Iranians had tired of holding the hostages, while the administration of Jimmy Carter did the legwork to get the hostages released. (We asked the Rubio campaign for response but did not hear back.)
In 1979, Islamic revolutionaries overthrew the Shah of Iran, who had been installed and supported by successive U.S. administrations. Militants took over the American embassy and held 52 hostages from Nov. 4, 1979, until Jan. 20, 1981 -- the day Carter passed the reins to Reagan, who had defeated him amid widespread public disapproval of Carter’s handling of the crisis.
But negotiations for the hostages’ release started well before Election Day. In September 1980, the Iranians contacted the Carter administration with a proposal. The Iranians believed that they had extracted most of the benefits from holding the hostages and feared having to start negotiations over with a new administration, according to historians.
On the day of the inauguration, Carter informed Reagan at 8:31 a.m. that the release of the hostages was imminent, according to a contemporary report in the New York Times. The hostages left Tehran at 12:25 p.m., and Reagan announced the news at 2:15 p.m. at a luncheon with congressional leaders in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall.
Despite the showy announcement, scholars of the period say Reagan did not play any significant role in freeing the hostages.
"Well before Reagan became president, the deal for releasing the hostages had already been worked out by the Carter administration's State Department and the Iranians, ably assisted by Algerian diplomats," said David Farber, author of Taken Hostage: The Iranian Hostage Crisis and America's First Encounter with Radical Islam.
No Reagan administration officials participated in the negotiations, Farber said, and the Iranians waited to officially release the Americans as a final insult to Carter, not because they feared Reagan.
Rubio’s comments are a clear misreading of history, said Michael Gunter, professor of political science at Tennessee Technological University, who has authored several papers on the 1981 hostage release.
"It is clear that Sen. Marco Rubio is falling back on an exaggerated urban legend that the only way to deal with Iran is through implied threats of military retaliation, as President Reagan supposedly did," he said. "Actually, successful U.S. diplomacy then and now played the most significant role."