Obama On Israel

by Dax-Devlon Ross


Remarks of Senator Barack Obama
As Prepared for Delivery
AIPAC Policy Forum
March 2, 2007
Chicago, Illinois

[NOTE: Obama’s speech was largely written by Mark Lippert, Obama’s Senate foreign policy adviser, and Dan Shapiro, a Middle East specialist, now a lobbyist, who is an Obama campaign foreign policy adviser. Shapiro recently was a deputy chief of staff for Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and handled international affairs for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). He also served on the National Security Council under former President Bill Clinton.]

It wasn’t immediately clear me to me why this note prefaced the version of the speech that Counterpunch reprinted online on March 5th. I had to do a little research into the newsletter itself. I discovered that on more than one occasion the leftist bi-weekly has been accused of being anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, and anti-American, despite also being well-respected by mainstream media. That being said, though, one of the clear intentions of this note appears to be the disclosure of Obama’s extensive and deeply entwined relationship with “Jewish” influences. But while the direct function of the note might’ve been to draw attention to those “behind the scenes” policy-shapers, the equally pernicious (and probably less thought through) insinuation is that Obama is incapable of shaping his own foreign policy with regard to Israel.

Below I’ve quoted from parts of Obama’s speech that I found particularly crucial with regard to the ever-touchy, ever-controversial subject of Israel.He also addresses his plan for extricating our military from Iraq, but I’ll leave that for another day. If you’d like to read the entire speech it can be found here.

“Our job is to renew the United States’ efforts to help Israel achieve peace with its neighbors while remaining vigilant against those who do not share this vision. Our job is to do more than lay out another road map; 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. And when we see all of the growing threats in the region: from Iran to Iraq to the resurgence of al-Qaeda to the reinvigoration of Hamas and Hezbollah, that loyalty and that friendship will guide me as we begin to lay the stones that will build the road that takes us from the current instability to lasting peace and security.”

 “As the U.S. redeploys from Iraq, we can recapture lost influence in the Middle East. We can refocus our efforts to critical, yet neglected priorities, such as combating international terrorism and winning the war in Afghanistan. And we can, then, more effectively deal with one of the greatest threats to the United States, Israel and world peace: Iran. Iran’s President Ahmadinejad’s regime is a threat to all of us. His words contain a chilling echo of some of the world’s most tragic history.” “…[W]e 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. This would help Israel maintain its military edge and deter and repel attacks from as far as Tehran and as close as Gaza. And when Israel is attacked, we must stand up for Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself.”“The Israeli people, and Prime Minister Olmert, have made clear that they are more than willing to negotiate an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will result in two states living side by side in peace and security. But the Israelis must trust that they have a true Palestinian partner for peace. That is why we must strengthen the hands of Palestinian moderates who seek peace and that is why we must maintain the isolation of Hamas and other extremists who are committed to Israel’s destruction.”

“Many Israelis I talked to during my visit last year told me that they were prepared to make sacrifices to give their children a chance to know peace. These were people of courage who wanted a better life. And I know these are difficult times and it can be easy to lose hope. But we owe it to our sons and daughters, our mothers and fathers, and to all those who have fallen, to keep searching for peace and security — even though it can seem distant. This search is in the best interests of Israel. It is in the best interests of the United States. It is in the best interests of all of us.”

“We can and we should help Israelis and Palestinians both fulfill their national goals: two states living side by side in peace and security. Both the Israeli and Palestinian people have suffered from the failure to achieve this goal. The United States should leave no stone unturned in working to make that goal a reality.”

Are we to believe that because Obama is supported by Jews and has Jews in his inner-circle of trust, that he has not drawn his own conclusions about the future? Or are we delusional about our expectations of Obama? After all, he hasn’t risen so quickly in the Democratic because he challenges the status quo. He hasn’t ever expressed his interest in radically changing the system. His appeal is based in large measure on his sincerity, something you’ll find there’s no shortage of in this speech should you read the parts that relate to his experiences on the ground in Israel. What he brings to this particularly divisive situation between the Palestinians and Israelis are:1) Practicality: Israel is our most trusted ally in the most volatile region in the world. Obama sees the redeployment of our troops from Iraq and into regions where terrorism born out of dissatisfaction with life conditions can be uprooted and peace can be restored. His number one target would be Iran, though not necessarily the people of Iran, whom Obama believes to be hungry for the democratic freedoms that have only been only modestly successful in Iraq thus far. 2) Humanity: Everyday Israelis and Palestinians are no different than any of us. Most of them, like most of us, aren’t connected to the power-structure that guides its foreign and domestic policy. Most of them, like most of us, are just trying to live. Obama feels that and his speeches never fail to invoke that, which gives him a populist/progressive appeal that ordinary people are longing for. Nobel Prize winning author V.S. Naipaul captured the essence of that insight into the human condition in his novel, A Bend in the River. One of the main characters in the novel, an African born Indian living in Uganda just after Idi Amin’s rise to power. The character is homeless, cultureless– a man without a country. But it is that outsidedness that allows him to penetrate the American idea (that we are all wealthy, arrogant, ignorant, infidels) with remarkable compassion: “It is stupid to talk of the Americans. They are not a tribe, as you might think from the outside. They’re all individuals fighting to make their way, trying as hard as you or me not to sink.”In his own words, Obama is conveying the exact message throughout his speech. It is our job to decide if that message, along with the rhetoric of maintaining the status quo, is a good enough. I’m interested in people’s thoughts on this issue. I’m not interested in whether Obama is right or wrong, but whether his arguments in favor of continuing an alliance with Israel make sense given our current Middle-East crisis. If not, what’s is missing from his argument for a dual state, and what are the other alternatives? Fill me in people. Give me some insight that I might be lacking.