July 25, 2007 — -- At a closed-door, off-the-record meeting with media mavens and corporate titans at the Time Warner Center in Manhattan Tuesday evening, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., the freshman senator who just three years ago was an Illinois state senator, said he had better judgment about foreign policy than any presidential candidate in either party.
"One thing I'm very confident about is my judgment in foreign policy is, I believe, better than any other candidate in this race, Republican or Democrat," Obama said.
Others in the race have spent decades in the foreign policy world, including Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., who visited 82 countries as first lady, Vietnam veteran Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and former Vietnam prisoner of war Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
But Obama said, "The notion that somehow from Washington you get this vast foreign policy experience is illusory."
The Clinton campaign begged off commenting, but campaigning in New Hampshire and told of Obama's remark, Sen. McCain, R-Ariz., offered a sarcastic reply.
"Well, I also think I'm the most qualified to run the decathlon because I watch sports on television all the time," McCain said, according to the Associated Press.
More pointedly, McCain criticized a debate answer Obama gave Monday night in which he said he would meet with various leaders of countries hostile to the U.S. within the first year of his presidency and with no preconditions.
"I think that Senator Obama showed a degree of naivete when he advocated direct talks with the leader of North Korea and the president to Iran and of all these other people who are sponsoring terror all over the world," McCain said.
Obama told the crowd of roughly 125 that he didn't base his boast "simply on the fact that I was right on the war in Iraq, but if you look at how I approached the problem. What I was drawing on was a set of experiences that come from a life of living overseas, having family overseas, being able to see the world through the eyes of people outside our borders."
The speaking event, which was not a fundraiser but included a full bar and appetizers, and Time Warner Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer Richard Parsons sitting on a stage with Obama, interviewing him for more than an hour.
According to sources at the event, other attendees included Time Inc. Editorial Director John Huey, Time Magazine Managing Editor Richard Stengel and Time.com Washington Editor Ana Marie Cox; superstar journalists Charlie Rose, Bryant Gumbel, Harry Smith, Frank Rich, Ken Auletta and Barbara Walters; hip-hop mogul Damon Dash; actresses Edie Falco and Mariska Hargitay; musician Jon Bon Jovi, "The View" co-host Joy Behar and various employees of the Time Warner media empire, all of whom were repeatedly told the talk was off the record and could not be reported.
Several sources, none of them with ABC News, told this reporter about Obama's Tuesday night comments.
ABC News questioned the Obama campaign that night about the remarks, and the Obama campaign provided a partial transcript Wednesday and played a recording of the remarks over the phone.
Asked about his foreign policy credentials on ABC News' "Good Morning America" in January, Obama said his "experience in foreign policy is probably more diverse than most others in the field. I mean, I'm somebody who has actually lived overseas, somebody who has studied overseas. You know, I majored in international relations."
Obama's boast this week came on the same day that he and Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton got into a heated back-and-forth about their respective answers to a question at the first official Democratic National Committee-sanctioned debate, held Monday night in Charleston, S.C.
The fracas ensued after a voter, via Youtube, asked whether candidates would "be willing to meet separately, without preconditions, 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."
Clinton said she would not make such a pledge, since one doesn't "promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are. I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes. I don't want to make a situation even worse."
In interviews with Iowa's Quad City Times Tuesday, both candidates took shots at one another. "I thought that was irresponsible and, frankly, naive to say that he [Sen. Obama] would commit to meeting with Chavez and Castro and others within the first year," Clinton said. "Sen. Obama gave an answer which I think he's regretting today."
Countered Obama: "If anything is irresponsible and naive, it was authorizing George Bush to send 160,000 young American men and women into Iraq -- apparently without knowing how they were going to get out."
Moreover, Obama said, "If Sen. Clinton's interested in a continuation of the Bush-Cheney diplomatic strategies over the next several years, that's fine, but she certainly can't claim the mantle of change. She's not going to be able to significantly shift the perception of the United States around the world."
The back and forth exemplified how Clinton is running as the candidate of experience, Obama as the candidate of change, and how heated the race for the Democratic presidential nominee is becoming.