Saturday, January 24, 2009

Obama Backs Israel

Obama Supports Israel. Period.


Barack Obama's big speech on Israel is now over, and as expected, the candidate made no secret of his support and dedication to the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel. "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," were Obama's words to Haaretz last week. Today, he sounded as strong as Clinton, as supportive as Bush, as friendly as Giuliani. At least rhetorically, Obama passed any test anyone might have wanted him to pass. So, he is pro-Israel. Period.


"The kinds of communications that he would engage in and the pressure he envisions on Iran may differ in some respect from the other candidates," an adviser to Barack Obama told the NY Sun yesterday. And in the speech he made today, in Chicago, Obama showed his cards. He was clear, but not as tough as Edwards' "Let me be clear: Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons" or Clinton's "we cannot, we should not, we must not permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons."

Here's what Obama said: "The world must work to stop Iran's uranium enrichment program and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is far too dangerous to have nuclear weapons in the hands of a radical theocracy. And while we should take no option, including military action, off the table, sustained and aggressive diplomacy combined with tough sanctions should be our primary means to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons."

As I wrote for Slate last week, I don't believe there's a big difference between Democrats and Republicans in regards to Iran-policy. Nevertheless, Obama today sounded somewhat different, more cautious, than the 2004 Obama I quoted at the end of that Slate piece: "In light of the fact that we're now in Iraq, with all the problems in terms of perceptions about America that have been created, us launching some missile strikes into Iran is not the optimal position for us to be in ... On the other hand, having a radical Muslim theocracy in possession of nuclear weapons is worse. So I guess my instinct would be to err on not having those weapons in the possession of the ruling clerics of Iran."


On engaging Iran: "We need the United States to lead tough-minded diplomacy. This includes direct engagement with Iran similar to the meetings we conducted with the Soviets at the height of the Cold War."

On stopping Iran: "Tough-minded diplomacy would include real leverage through stronger sanctions. It would mean more determined U.S diplomacy at the United Nations. It would mean harnessing the collective power of our friends in Europe who are Iran's major trading partners. It would mean a cooperative strategy with Gulf States who supply Iran with much of the energy resources it needs. It would mean unifying those states to recognize the threat of Iran and increase pressure on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment. It would mean full implementation of U.S. sanctions laws. And over the long term, it would mean a focused approach from us to finally end the tyranny of oil, and developing our own alternative sources of energy to drive the price of oil down."

On Iraq and Israel: "A consequence of the Administration's failed strategy in Iraq has been to strengthen Iran's strategic position; reduce U.S. credibility and influence in the region; and place Israel and other nations friendly to the United States in greater peril."

On American aid to Israel: "We must preserve our total commitment to our unique defense relationship with Israel by fully funding military assistance and continuing work on the Arrow and related missile defense programs."

On diplomacy: "Our job is to do more than lay out another road map."

On Israel's security: "Our job is to rebuild the road to real peace and lasting security throughout the region. That effort begins with a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel: Our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy. That will always be my starting point."

On the Palestinian leadership: "We should all be concerned about the agreement negotiated among Palestinians in Mecca last month."

On U.S. mediation: "We should never seek to dictate what is best for the Israelis and their security interests. No Israeli prime minister should ever feel dragged to or blocked from the negotiating table by the United States" - or is that about Syria?


Is he really as friendly to Israel as any other candidate? Yesterday, writing about Clinton and Edwards, I mentioned the fact that "the constant interest in, and the open sympathy for, Israeli affairs that is required of all important elected officials in the most Jewish of states in the U.S. has had its effect on" Clinton and Giuliani, The Israel Factor favorites. Obama doesn't have this advantage. He isn't from New York and, more importantly, is relatively new to the public sphere.


It is no secret that Jewish money plays a big role in the Democratic Party. "They don't have the number [of voters], but have the means to get the voters," a prominent Democratic operative told me last week. That's why I told the told the NY Sun that "I don't think his real motive is to win votes. It's, of course, Jewish money." Will he get it? Here's one clue. Rep. Robert Wexler of Florida is going to co-chair Barack Obama's White House drive in the state. And why would Wexler do such thing? Because "I have spoken with Barack to discuss the dangers facing our ally Israel, and I am convinced there will be no stronger supporter of Israel than President Obama", his statement says. It "appears as Obama plans a big day on March 25 of fundraising in Florida, where he will be looking for help from the Jewish Democratic donor community", writes Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun Times today.


So, did Obama achieve his goal? Sorry, but I will have to repeat here what I wrote just a week ago. It is as true today as it was then: "After talking to people about him all week, I can tell you this: They very much want to be persuaded that Obama should win their backing, as they all understand the excitement and enthusiasm surrounding his candidacy and the importance of Obama adding his voice to the camp of Israel supporters. With such an attitude, it is relatively easy to be convinced."

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