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(Published Oct. 22, 2008)
Sometimes they make it easy on us fact-checkers.
Take the new flier from the Republican National Committee landing in mailboxes in the hard-fought state of Virginia.
"Terrorists don't care who they hurt," it says on the front, with a photograph of an airliner looming over silhouetted figures in an airport concourse.
"Why should we care what they have to say?" the text continues inside. "Barack Obama thinks terrorists just need a good talking to."
The flier, which first appeared in mid October, goes on to recount how Obama said he would meet with leaders of hostile nations, and concludes with an ominous warning: "Barack Obama. Not who you think he is."
We'll review past statements from Obama to see whether he really believes terrorists "just need a good talking to," starting with more context from a comment the RNC cites as evidence for its claim.
It's from the CNN/YouTube debate among the Democratic presidential contenders on July 23, 2007. A questioner asked whether the candidates would meet with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea.
"I would," Obama replied. "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 this administration — is ridiculous.
"Now, Ronald Reagan and Democratic presidents like JFK constantly spoke to the Soviet Union at a time when Ronald Reagan called them an evil empire. And the reason is because they understood that we may not trust them and they may pose an extraordinary danger to this country, but we had the obligation to find areas where we can potentially move forward."
To state the obvious, it's not fair to extrapolate from that comment the sentiment that "terrorists just need a good talking to."
Iran, Cuba and Syria are indeed designated "state sponsors of terrorism" by the U.S. State Department. But diplomacy with their leaders does not preclude confronting the countries in other ways, any more than summits with Soviet leaders kept Cold War-era presidents from engaging in the nuclear-arms race or competing with communism in Southeast Asia, Afghanistan and South America.
On many occasions before and after that debate, Obama has spelled out that his diplomacy would not replace military options.
"Tough-minded diplomacy, backed by the whole range of instruments of American power — political, economic, and military — could bring success even when dealing with long-standing adversaries such as Iran and Syria," he wrote in an article that appeared in the July/August 2007 edition of Foreign Affairs (emphasis added).
And just because Obama favors diplomacy with certain nations that sponsor terrorism does not mean he would talk to all terrorists, as the claim implies. In fact, Obama has consistently argued for beefing up the U.S. military effort against the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and does not propose diplomacy with those groups.
He said at a rally in Iowa on July 14, 2007, that America must "take the fight more effectively to the enemy's home by destroying al-Qaida's leadership along the Afghan-Pakistan border."
Obama has arguably outhawked Sen. John McCain on that subject. McCain said in the second presidential debate that it was inappropriate for Obama to talk about launching cross-border raids into Pakistan because such talk "turns public opinion against us."
"If we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think that we have to act and we will take them out," Obama countered in that Oct. 7, 2008 debate. "We will kill bin Laden; we will crush al-Qaida."
That's more than just a "good talking to." Examples abound of Obama pledging to take on terrorists militarily. This claim is beyond false. It's Pants on Fire wrong.
Politico.com, RNC raises specter of 9/11 attacks , Oct. 21, 2008
Council on Foreign Relations, Democratic Debate Transcript, CNN/YouTube , July 23, 2007
Foreign Affairs, Renewing American Leadership , July/August 2007
Project Vote Smart, The Second Presidential Debate – Transcript , Oct. 7, 2008
Chicago Tribune (via Project Vote Smart), Obama: Shift troops to fight al-Qaida , July 14, 2007
U.S. Department of State, State Sponsors of Terrorism , accessed Oct. 22, 2008
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