How badly has Barack Obama bungled the Iranian question? His best asset on foreign policy appeared on Fox News this morning to attempt a walk-back of Obama’s pledge to meet Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions, and wound up criticizing the man he endorsed anyway. Bill Richardson told Fox that “you don’t talk to Ahmadinejad”, and then tried to argue that Obama didn’t specify Ahmadinejad:

Richardson’s strategy to shift the focus from Ahmadinejad to some nebulous concept of “Iranian leadership” simply won’t play. First, as he knows but Obama apparently does not, Ahmadinejad is nothing more than a straw man for the Guardian Council. He also knows how potentially stupid it would be to bolster the standing of a lunatic hard-liner like Ahmandinejad, a man believed to have played a major role in the sacking of the American embassy in 1979 and the hostage-taking afterwards. Instead, he pretends that Obama meant that he would meet with someone else, with “preparations”.

Unfortunately for Obama’s surrogate, his candidate already undermined that position in an interview with ABC yesterday (via the Weekly Standard):

TAPPER: In recent days it has seemed that some of your staffers and supporters have walked back from your statement that you would be willing to meet with the leaders of rogue nations, countries hostile to the US, without preconditions. Your foreign policy adviser Susan Rice said you wouldn’t necessarily meet with Ahmadinijad, Senator Daschle said of course there would be conditions — (Obama interrupts)

OBAMA: You know Jake, I have to say I completely disagree that people have been walking back from anything. They may be correcting the characterizations or distortions of John McCain or others of what I said. What I said was I would meet with our adversaries including Iran, including Venezuela, including Cuba, including North Korea, without preconditions but that does not mean without preparation….there’s a huge difference.

Richardson then goes on to attempt to change the subject to Cuba, where he blames a policy applied consistently for the last 48 years by Republican and Democratic presidents on George W. Bush. He skips entirely over the other members of the College of Oppressive Dictators that Obama pledge by name to meet in his first year without preconditions, Bashar Assad and Hugo Chavez. In case Richardson or anyone else needs their memory freshened, here is the video in which Obama pledged to meet each one – and watch the pictures displayed during the YouTube question:

Fox had Rudy Giuliani playing clean-up on the issue, and he clearly relished the moment. He explains why he knew Obama had made a huge, unforced error, and why the point is so important in evaluating Obama as a candidate:

When even the surrogates run away from the policy, it shows the shocking lack of judgment that Obama has on foreign policy and the nature of threats around the world. Even Bill Richardson knows better.