Thanks to Joshua Landis and M.J. Rosenberg for this piece of good news from Barack Obama’s appearance on 60 Minutes last night. When asked by Steve Croft whether he would talk to Syria or Iran, Obama answered with an unequivocal affirmative:
KROFT: Would you talk to Iran or Syria?
OBAMA: Yes. I think that the notion that this administration has — that not talking to our enemies is effective punishment — is wrong. It flies in the face of our experiences during the Cold War. Ronald Reagan understood that it may be an evil empire, but it’s worthwhile for us to periodically meet to see are there areas of common interest. And most importantly, those conversations allow the possibility that our ideas and our values gain greater exposure in these countries. The fact of the matter is that Iran currently is governed by an oppressive regime, one that I think is a threat to the region and to our allies, but there are a lot of people in Iran who potentially would like to be part of this broader community of nations. For us not to be in a conversation with them doesn’t make sense. Now I don’t think that that conversation should be conditioned on our accepting their support of terrorism or their building nuclear capacity and potentially sparking an arms race in the Middle East, any more than our conversations with the Kremlin presumed that we approved of their aggression around the world. You know, we can have a robust strategy of blocking and containing aggressive actions by hostile or rogue states, but still open up the possibility that over time those relationships may evolve and they may change. And there may be opportunities for us to resolve some of our differences, not all of them, but some of them in a constructive way.
Obama also responds critically when asked if he would use force against Iran’s nuclear program:
KROFT: Would you advocate the use of military force to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons?
OBAMA: I think we should keep all options on the table, but I think that our first step should be a much more aggressive approach to diplomacy than we’ve displayed thus far.
M.J. was suitably impressed by Obama’s candor:
No saber rattling. No boilerplate rhetoric about how bad Ahmedenijad or Assad is. No BS. He has thus differentiated himself from Edwards and Clinton on the biggest threat America faces (the threat of war with Iran). For those who do not follow the politics of the Middle East closely, let me tell you that Obama’s statement was courageous and will cost him with the DLC-Neocon wing of the Democratic party. But he did it anyway. He simply endorsed a position that is right for America, right for Israel, and right for the entire world. This guy is the real deal and, it now appears, courageous. When was the last time a major candidate for President took a stand this brave and this right? I’m asking because, frankly, I don’t remember any.
Speaking as a Washington insider, he knows how presidential campaigns are run, how they try to get away with the least amount of substance possible until the last minute possible so as not to alienate any potential supporters.
In fact, after hearing some of Obama’s sound bytes in on-air interviews I was beginning to think that he was guilty of the same trepidatious behavior. But I agree with M.J. that this took some moxie.
And speaking as a Jewish Washington insider (having toiled in the fields while working for AIPAC), M.J. understands what presidential candidates can and cannot say if they want AIPAC support. And Obama, while possibly not ending his chance for such support, has put it in jeopardy. And he has done so deliberately and knowingly. It takes a certain amount of courage and a certain amount of throwing caution to the winds to say what he has said so early in a campaign.
There’s an interesting factor here no one has mentioned. One of Obama’s most important and wealthiest supporters is George Soros. Soros has participated in a series of meetings with Jewish Mideast peace supporters to explore the possibility of creating a a Jewish lobbying group which would compete with AIPAC by advancing a pro-peace agenda. I’m guessing that Obama has coordinated his Mideast statements with Soros and that the latter is giving him a certain amount of cover. There’s a lot an honest politician can say about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if he has a wealthy progressive backing him. For one, he doesn’t have to worry about losing the millions that AIPAC donors give every election cycle to Democratic presidential candidates who toe the line. If I’m right about any of this, perhaps we can look forward to more refreshing statements from Sen. Obama as the campaign progresses.
We’ll certainly hear a reaction both from Clinton and AIPAC questioning Obama’s loyalty to a pro-Israel position and his fealty to the AIPAC “talking points.” That’s where progresive bloggers come in. We, especially the American Jews among us, can inoculate him to a certain extent from the counter-attacks expected from the the hard right pro-Israel crowd.
A criticism levelled against M.J. in the TPM comments thread noted that both Edwards and Clinton have also spoken out in favor of engaging Iran (but neither as far as I know have made any statements with regard to Syria as Obama has). Equally important to note another commenter there who responded with the actual quotations from her statement on this subject at the NYC AIPAC dinner. When you examine them more carefully, you see (and perhaps they were couched so dismissively because of the highly suspicious AIPAC audience before whom she delivered these remarks) they are not as strong an endorsement of diplomacy as others claim them to be:
“I have advocated engagement with our enemies and Israel’s enemies because I want to understand better what we can do to defeat those who are aiming their hatred, their extremism and their weapons at us,” Clinton told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee dinner in New York…”I also want to send a message — if we ever do have to take more drastic action — to the rest of the world that we exhausted all possibilities because we need friends and allies to stand with us as we stand with Israel in this long war against terrorism and extremism,”
Rather than boasting about how progressive a statement this is as an American Prospect blogger has, I’d describe it as Machiavellian words from someone prepared, and perhaps intending, to go to war–but who first wants to be able to tell the world she tried, she really tried before she launched the bombs.
And even if one concedes Clinton’s notion of realpolitik compelled her to speak so aggressively given she was addressing the red meat AIPAC crowd, I’m just not prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt that there’s really a dove lurking under her wolf’s clothing.
Returning to Obama’s comment, as another TPM commenter notes, anything said at this stage of a campaign comes nowhere close to being a statement of what the candidate will actually do once in office. But it is important as a statement of intent. And thus it is heartening.
The full 60 Minutes transcript is here.
I think we have to be realistic. According to the Walt/Mearsheimer, 65% of the money going to Democratic presidential coffers is from Jewish-American sources – largely pro-Zionist. Any suggestion that the US can have an independent Middle East foreign policy in that kind of situation is profoundly silly. Imagine if 65% of Dem money came from, say, French-Americans. The politician would be falling over themselves to proclaim their loyalty to Paris.
If Barack wants to be President, he had better start saying what AIPAC wants him to, just as the front-runners of both parties have done already.
Richard Silverstein says
I’m not disputing yr number though it does seem high. I’d sure like to see a link or quote to the exact passage you’re referring to in the W-M essay.
And I think you’re somewhat missing the point of my comments about George Soros. With him in yr corner & those who are like-minded & equally wealthy, you don’t need to worry as much about AIPAC. You merely have to worry about AIPAC going on the warpath against you & protect yourself fr. such a witch hunt.
My, now, isn’t that an uplifting sentiment. Bend the knee at the feet of AIPAC or go down. Isn’t that precisely what progressives are fighting against?
‘I’m not disputing yr number though it does seem high.’
Yes, you’re right. It’s 60%, not 65. The quote is “The Washington Post once estimated that Democratic presidential candidates ‘depend on Jewish supporters to supply as much as 60 per cent of the money’.” from http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n06/mear01_.html
60 is still high enough to count though.
Soros is just one man, no matter how wealthy. And he didn’t do much for Kerry, despite the millions he doled out. As for “like-minded and equally wealthy”…. few and far between. The mythical pro-peace lobby seems to not much more than rumor. Justice is more complicated than blindly supporting Israel, and that’s why there’s no focus for fundraising. Sorry for the lack of uplifting sentiments, just thought a reality-check was in order.
Richard Silverstein says
Thanks for bringing that quotation. My, 60% IS high. I would never have thought that would be so high.
As for Soros not helping Kerry, all Soros has to do is give money & get other like-minded wealthy individuals to d so. He doesn’t run the campaign. That’s up to the candidate. Kerry, if you’ll recall, didn’t run a very good campaign. I think Soros’ luck w. Obama will be different. I think Obama is a much more compelling candidate.
There is no ME peace lobby YET. But I hope there will be soon. Read this story fr. Salon about a month ago. It’s a heartening account of progress made in fundraising to support the new lobby. I’m not guaranteeing this thing will get off the ground. But it has a damn good chance.
quoting from comment above: If Barack wants to be President, he had better start saying what AIPAC wants him to
Richard: My, now, isn’t that an uplifting sentiment. Bend the knee at the feet of AIPAC or go down. Isn’t that precisely what progressives are fighting against?
1) It might not be an uplifting sentiment but it is a fact. This is not to say we should all give up fighting for what we believe is right, but neither should we ignore reality.
2) Personally, I would not vote for someone whose website declares full total complete support for Israel, as his does. As far as I’m concerned, since he says nothing about the crimes of Israel, he condones them.
3) Richard and his readers might want to consider that Barack Obama was not exactly a household word when he made his speech at the Democratic National Convention. The speech suddenly catapulted him a national figure, and after, people immediately started talking about him as a Democratic candidate for President. Silly me, I dismissed that talk. Now here he is, the darling of the liberals. Based on what?
What he says?
Politicians will say what ever they think will get them elected. That’s obvious. That’s the definition of a politician. With rare exceptions like Cynthia McKinney. And we saw what happened to her. Or Ralph Nader.
4) The US is not going to elect a woman or a Black man president.
5) I urge people to check out this web site for a brilliant analysis of the rise of Barack Obama:
“Barack Obama: Progressives Beware! by Ted Glick
Barack Obama is nobody’s progressive politician, and proves it in his latest book. The Senator’s vision for the future, writes Glick, more closely resembles the Clintons’ than it does Rep. John Conyers or Dennis Kucinich. ”
and – on the marketing of Obama-
“Barack Obama – the Mania and the Mirage”
6) I saw the 60 minutes interview and he almost convinced me. Yes he’s sincere, or he’s learned how to appear sincere.
But in America, a nobody does not go to being a somebody in a few short years unless they either bought the fame, as Ross Perot did, or somebody wants them to be out in front. Glen Ford, the esteemed African-American journalist that I link to above, has done a lot of research on what Obama says and does and how he got to be where he is, on whose interests he serves. Check it out.
BTW Ask yourself why we rarely if ever see any news about Dennis Kucinich, a true progressive candidate.
Dan Sniderman says
I live in the Chiago area – and naturally have followed Obama’s career closely…. I was very happy to vote for him for Senator. He was extremely fortunate to have had a very dirty Republican primary deliver him a candidate who had to resign over a sex scandal – and then an internal battle in the State Republican party select Alan Keyes as a candidate.
Illinois is a moderate state – and the Republicans who do very well are moderates – and every time the primary delivers a right-wing Ideologue in a state-wide campaign, the result is a Democratic landslide.
That aside, I think Obama would have won the Senate race regardless. He is an excellent candidate and an excellent speaker. He has an enormous amount of charisma.
That said, he is certainly no Dennis Kucenick. Those of us on the left are going to find plenty of things to be unhappy about. But I think he is more liberal than Bill Clinton – who I believe was much more liberal than Hillary.
Let’s be real here, people. As the race stands today it’s Hillary vs Obama. This is early – but it could change. If you are a Hillary fan – I respect your opinion – but I personally have a lot of issues with her – and am concerned that the right-win-noise-machine has made her a symbol, and a lot of “Swing Voters” will vote Republican if she wins the primary regardless of any issues, the war, and so on.
The 2000 election has changed my view forever on being a Progressive and how I will vote. Bill Clinton and issues like Welfare reform, previously made me feel that a protest vote for someone like Nader is something for a Progressive to seriously consider. That if we don’t get a Kucenic-like candidate in the Dem primary, maybe it isn’t worth voting for the Democrat.
But after Nader and the SCOTUS delivered the presidency to George W Bush, and what this country has gone through the past 6 years (and perhaps turning 40 had something to do with, let alone becoming a father for the first time…) I will now NEVER EVER vote for a Republican. I do believe that the proper acronym for the Green party is “Get Republicans Elected Every November”.
But that said – I’d like to think Obama is “the real deal”. If you look at his resume – between undergrad and Law School – he did work in the inner-city as an activist.
I don’t know how the AIPAC factor will affect him – and how he will navigate the issue. I hope for the best. But my gut is at this time – his “rock star” status will help with the fund raising and that he will run a viable campaign.
If the primary were held today – I’d definitely vote for him. Who knows what will happen between now and February 8, 2008 (the date of the Illinois Primary) and that could change…
I just want to make clear – I am no Hillary fan!
I don’t see elections as being where I would put my energy as far as improving the world.
And Hllary once was a lawyer for the Children’s Defense Fund – a very good organization.
Once a person becomes a ‘viable’ candidate, if they are seious about winning, then they have to choose between their principles and pragmatism.
I remember hearing Maxine Waters once, for whom I had a lot of respect, during the Bill Clinton years. She was defending him.
I understand that if you are in politics there are certain things you must do and must not do. One does not go against the leader of the party. (usually) But still..to defend the indefensible.
And about Nader – He values the same things I value. Apparently a lot of people don’t share those values and they voted for Gore or Bush over Nader. I don’t think you can blame Nader for that.
Yes, a lot can happen between now and Election Day. Hopefully war on Iran won’t be one of those things!
Dan Sniderman says
No, I absolutely blame Nader (and SCOTUS).- and I do believe that was ENTIRELY his intention. I’ve seen several reports of him making comments that he desired Bush to be elected in order to “Make things worse” to “show the contradictions”. Here is one editorial, from The Guardian on the day of the election, I’m sure I could find some more recent ones.
Yes Ralph, “Let’s Make things” worse. Who cares how many Iraqi’s die.
I think the only value Ralph has any more is his meglomaina and ego. At one time he was a great man – now he is no better than those he ctriticizes.
IF we do have war in Iran, I feel that Ralph shares the blames. I do wonder how he sleeps at night.
When the United Nations (illegally I think) partitioned the former Mandate of Palestine it established identical conditions for a Jewish and for a
Palestinian State. Hence, under international law, the Palestinians have the right to a sovereign state of their own and Israel has the obligation to recognize such a state. Senator Obama does not seem to understand this.
Richard Silverstein says
Boy, are you misinformed. Where do you get that Obama doesn’t support an independent Palestinian state? Even Bush and Olmert claim they support this. So why would Obama have a problem with this?
I don’t know whether or not Obama supports a separate Palestine state. I do know that Haaretz’s Rosner is quite fond of Obama. My point is that if anyone thinks Obama is going to be any different about Israel than any other candidate (possible exception of Kucinich who has been disappeared), they are about to be very disillusioned.
Rosner speaking of Obama:
“”Israelis want more than anything to live in peace with their neighbors, but Israel also has real – and very dangerous – enemies,” were Obama’s words to Haaretz. “My view is that the United States’ special relationship with Israel obligates us to be helpful to them in the search for credible partners with whom they can make peace, while also supporting Israel in defending itself against enemies sworn to its destruction.”
Like all the other major Democratic candidates, he will be a strong advocate for American involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nonetheless, he said he is yet to see – “particularly in the Palestinian community – “leaders who have both the will and the capacity to renounce violence as a strategy to resolve the problems and to actually enforce any agreement that might be reached with the Israelis.” Talking about the current prospects for an agreement, Obama said that under the existing conditions, “I think we’re not going to see much progress.”
There’s also a chance that he will make his comments on Israel at a Washington rally calling for the release of the abducted Israeli soldiers or while speaking to a group of Chicago Jews. One thing is quite clear: It will happen in the next two to three weeks.
I asked about the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) convention in March and was told that he will speak there too, but wants to have another speech sooner. Obama doesn’t want to wait such a long time – not when he is running a campaign in which he will need the support of many people who care deeply about Israel. (Oh, let’s just say it: Jewish voters are major donors to the Democratic Party and its nominees.) He also wants to make sure that people will hear him, and him alone. After all, Obama will not be the only candidate speaking and getting attention at the AIPAC conference. ”
More on Obama (Rolling Stone)
“The Illinois Senator is the ultimate modern media creature — he’s a good-looking, youthful, smooth-talking, buttery-warm personality with an aw-shucks demeanor who exudes a seemingly impenetrable air of Harvard-crafted moral neutrality. ..
His entire political persona is an ingeniously crafted human cipher, a man without race, ideology, geographic allegiances, or, indeed, sharp edges of any kind. You can’t run against him on the issues because you can’t even find him on the ideological spectrum. ”
Above from: Obama Is the Best BS Artist Since Bill Clinton
By Matt Taibbi, RollingStone.com
Posted on February 14, 2007, Printed on February 20, 2007
Check this site for an interview with the brilliant Ali Abunimah. Among other issues he discusses the evolution (or devolution) of Obama’s relation with Israel, Condi in the Mid-East, and the ‘two-state solution’.
PALESTINE: EI IN THE PRESS:
EI’s Ali Abunimah discusses Rice trip on Flashpoints
Interview, Flashpoints Radio, 21 February 2007
EI co-founder Ali Abunimah was interviewed
on Flashpoints Radio on Tuesday, 20 February 2007. He
discussed the previous day’s talks in Jerusalem with
Condoleezza Rice as she presses for Bush’s vision for a
future Palestinian state. He told host Nora
Barrows-Friedman, “The United States and Israel expect
Abbas to act as their quisling, really, just a
collaborator representing them. And Abbas’ transgressions
in their books are that he has placed the desire among
Palestinians for unity and democracy above the demands of
the occupier and the United States.”
Richard Silverstein says
I don’t think that’s right. I checked Rosner’s ratings of presidential candidates for their “friendliness to Israel” & Obama is rated last of all the candidates. I generally find myself perfectly in harmony w. Rosner as long as I invert all his preferences.
We’ll just have to disagree on that unless or until Obama does ‘a Hillary’ on Israel-Palestine matters.
The Haaretz interview you’re quoting was done by Rosner, it’s most right-wing correspondent. I wouldn’t fully trust the interview to reflect Obama’s full range of views on this subject. In addition, an Israel Policy Forum delegation lobbied Congress last wk. & met w. him among others. Delegation members were fully confident that he was entirely with them on all major issues.
And what’s so bad about being compared to Bill Clinton?? He was a damn fine president in my opinion except for a few serious moral failings.
Well Richard we disagree deeply about Clinton, whom Nat Hentoff calls
“the president in this century who has inflicted the most harm on our constitutional rights and liberties”.
and whom the ACLU characterizes as the biggest infringer of civil liberties of any president. (pre GB)
The following is as brief as I can make it, and is hardly comprehensive.
Bill Clinton’s assaults on our civil rights and liberties:
– 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) mandated that telephone companies rewire their networks to enable federal and state law enforcement to wiretap without being onsite. A direct line could be drawn from CALEA to the recent NSA warrantless wiretap scandal.
– 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act expanded the authority of secret courts and allowed the FBI to investigate First Amendment–protected activities.
– 1999 Intelligence Authorization Act includes a provision for “roving” wiretaps long sought by the President and FBI director Louis Freeh, and was slipped into the final bill without hearings or public debate.
“Tough on crime”
The above Death Penalty Act severely restricts the right of death row inmates to file federal habeas corpus petitions. Also under his administration, in 1996 Congress eliminated funding for the 20 Death Penalty Resource Centers which provided legal services for poor defendants.
Clinton’s policies have led to a tripling of the rate of executions — at the same time as a record number of innocent people have been released from death row.
In January 1992 he flew back to Arkansas in the midst of his first presidential campaign to approve the execution of Ricky Ray Rector. Rector, who had blown away part of his brain in a failed suicide attempt, was so mentally impaired that he asked that his desert be put aside so he could eat it after his execution.
Clinton’s attempts to increase the power of the presidency at the expense of the other two branches of government:
-Clinton claimed that executive privilege made a sitting president immune from lawsuit, a position the Supreme Court rejected in Clinton v. Jones (1997).
-Got Congress to pass the Line-Item Veto Act of 1996, which allows the President to selectively veto specific parts of a bill without vetoing the entire bill. Struck down by the Supreme Court in Clinton v. City of New York (1998).
-allowed the Independent Counsel Act to expire, which could have been used to investigate the Bush administration for FISA violations.
Without even mentioning the disaster of his “Welfare Deform”
Cast more women and children into poverty. Put recipients into ‘jobs’ that had no security, no benefits, and hardly any pay, thus lowering wages and rights for workers in general. Eliminated job training and education component of welfare, which had allowed many women to move into productive employment. Reduced eligibility for food stamps. “Racialized” welfare: proportion of women of color receiving welfare as compared to white women rose dramatically.
Need we say “NAFTA”?