“The Israel Factor”


   I think the Junior Senator from the State of Illinois
   is the subject of far too much unfair criticism for
   being, as they say, a novice at foreign affairs. His
   speech last November before the Chicago Council
   on Global Affairs ("
A Way Forward in Iraq"), and
   then again yesterday, March 2, before the Midwest
regional forum of the American Israel Public Affairs
   Committee, showed exactly which cows he and his
   handlers hold sacred, and which enemies a serious candidate is supposed to decry.
   As Haaretz's
Shmuel Rosner noted some time ahead of Obama's performance, in a ranking of the 24 U.S. presidential candidates (some of whom already have dropped out, while others never really entered in the first place) in terms of how good or how bad their victory in November 2008 might prove for Israel, Obama comes in around the middle of the pack, and light-years behind the two leading Republican contenders (Rudy Giuliani and John McCain), and almost as far behind the Democrat who appears to be his most serious rival, Hillary Clinton. 

"What is it about Obama that makes them uncomfortable about his possible future attitude toward Israel?" Rosner asked.

In this case, the them happens to refer to the eight panelists who, at Haaretz's behest, periodically offer their rankings of U.S. presidential figures in relation to Israel.  On the basis of these rankings an average is determined.  The so-called "Israel Factor" is what Haaretz calls this semi-regular ranking of U.S. presidential figures.

As Rosner explained it, the consensus among the panelists had been that Obama's track-record on Israel is too short for them to feel comfortable ranking him any higher.  "Obama has not been deaf to such suspicions.  And now that he is not just a 'possible candidate' but an officially declared one, he will try to fix these perceptions."  Hence, Obama's March 2 address before AIPAC – Chicago, which one embarrassingly Obamamized writer at the Chicago Sun-Times previewed as "his vision for Israel and the Mideast."

It's worth noting what lines from Obama's speech Associated Press, the Chicago Sun-Times, and the Chicago Tribune selected as the focus of their reports — presumably because these were the lines that stirred the emotions among his largely Jewish-American gallery.  Not so much anything about Israel as everything about Iran, a country literally surrounded by the U.S. and NATO-bloc militaries, and yet a country whose regime Obama singled out as "a threat to all of us."  While the word 'Israel' appeared 37 different times in the prepared text of Obama's March 2 speech that his staff placed in circulation over the wire services, the word 'Iran' turned up no fewer than 28 times — and never in any role other than that of a threat to the peace. — How's that for coming off "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." 

In Barack Obama's universe, you see, Iran is guilty of having seen its "strategic position" strengthened as a "consequence of the Administration's failed strategy in Iraq."

In Barack Obama's universe, "one of the greatest threats to the United States, Israel and world peace [is] Iran."

According to Barack Obama, "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."

And in Barack Obama's universe, "history has a terrible way of repeating itself."

President Ahmadinejad has denied the Holocaust. He held a conference in his country, claiming it was a myth. But we know the Holocaust was as real as the 6 million who died in mass graves at Buchenwald, or the cattle cars to Dachau or whose ashes clouded the sky at Auschwitz. We have seen the pictures. We have walked the halls of the Holocaust museum in Washington and Yad Vashem. We have touched the tattoos on loved-ones arms. After 60 years, it is time to deny the deniers.

In the 21st century, it is unacceptable that a member state of the United Nations would openly call for the elimination of another member state. But that is exactly what he has done. Neither Israel nor the United States has the luxury of dismissing these outrages as mere rhetoric.

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.

Iranian nuclear weapons would destabilize the region and could set off a new arms race. Some nations in the region, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, could fall away from restraint and rush into a nuclear contest that could fuel greater instability in the region–that's not just bad for the Middle East, but bad for the world, making it a vastly more dangerous and unpredictable place. Other nations would feel great pressure to accommodate Iranian demands. Terrorist groups with Iran's backing would feel emboldened to act even more brazenly under an Iranian nuclear umbrella. And as the A.Q. Kahn network in Pakistan demonstrated, Iran could spread this technology around the world.

To prevent this worst-case scenario, 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, laying out in clear terms our principles and interests. 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 develop our own alternative sources of energy to drive the price of oil down.

We must also persuade other nations such as Saudi Arabia to recognize common interests with Israel in dealing with Iran. We should stress to the Egyptians that they help the Iranians and do themselves no favors by failing to adequately prevent the smuggling of weapons and cash by Iran into Gaza.

The United States' leverage is strengthened when we have many nations with us. It puts us in a place where sanctions could actually have a profound impact on Iran's economy. Iran is highly dependent on imports and foreign investment, credit and technology. And an environment where our allies see that these types of investments in Iran are not in the world's best interests, could help bring Iran to the table.  

AIPAC Policy Conference 2007, March 11 – 13, 2007

Obama '08 (Homepage)
"A Way Forward in Iraq," Barack Obama, November 20, 2006
"AIPAC Policy Forum," Barack Obama, March 2, 2007

The Israel Factor: Ranking the U.S. Presidential Candidates (Homepage), Haaretz
"Obama will soon make the case that he'll be as strong on Israel as anyone," Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz Blog
"In AIPAC speech, Obama repeats support for Israel, peace talks," Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz, March 3, 2007
Obama Supports Israel.  Period," Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz Blog

"Obama to offer pro-Israel views at Chicago gathering," Lynn Sweet, Chicago Sun-Times, March 1, 2007
Obama Will Seek To Convince Aipac That He Is a True Friend of Israel," Josh Gerstein, New York Sun, March 2, 2007 
Obama Calls Iranian Regime a 'Threat'," Deanna Bellandi,  Associated Press, March 2, 2007 (as posted to ABC News online)
"Obama: Iran threatens all of us," Dave Newbart, Chicago Sun-Times, March 3, 2007
"Obama calls Iran a threat to world peace," John McCormick, Chicago Tribune, March 3, 2007

"How Barack Obama learned to love Israel," Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada,  March 4, 2007
"A Horse of a Different Color: Obama, the Lobby, and the next war," Justin Raimondo, Anti-War.com, March 5, 2007
"Obama Pivots Away from Dovish Past," Larry Cohler, Jewish Week, March 8, 2007
"Clinton and Obama Court Jewish Vote," Patrick Healy, New York Times, March 14, 2007
"Inside America's powerful Israel lobby," Gregory Levey, Salon, March 16, 2007 
"Obama Rebuffs Soros," Eli Lake, New York Sun, March 21, 2007
"Cash bonanza for 2008 presidential race," Laura Smith-Spark, BBC International, April 5, 2007

"Israel in the U.S. Empire," Bashir Abu-Manneh, Monthly Review, March, 2007 

"Great White Hope," ZNet, August 16, 2004
Barack Obama and the Clash of Civilizations," ZNet, September 27, 2004 
"'A Way Forward in Iraq'," ZNet, November 21, 2006
"'The Israel Factor'," ZNet, March 3, 2007

"Hegemony and Appeasement: Setting Up the Next Target for the 'Supreme International Crime'," Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, ElectricPolitics.com, January 29, 2007 

Update (April 1, 2007): Not to beat a dead horse — but let's swing away: The Democratic Party is in the crapper.

See below, where I'll reproduce the transcript (# 040101CN.V47) of the U.S. Cable News Network's April 1, 2007 interview with Illinois Senator Barack Obama. — We may as well start speaking of the Iran Factor

………… BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York today.

Some say Senator Barack Obama lacks the experience to deal with the tough questions of what to do in Iraq, how to handle a confrontation with Iran. I had the chance to sit down with him this week in his Senate office. We discussed those issues.


BLITZER: And joining us now on Capitol Hill, Senator Barack Obama.

Senator, thanks very much for inviting us into your office.

OBAMA: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the dominant issue right now affecting the country, the war in Iraq.

OBAMA: Right.

BLITZER: Some of your critics say you have not done enough to stop this war since coming into the United States Senate.

What do you say?

OBAMA: Well, I'm very proud of the fact that I was against this war from the start. I thought that it was ill-conceived, and not just in terms of execution, but also conception.

What I also said way back in 2002 is, once we were in, we were going to have to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in, and that we had some obligations to the Iraqi people, as well as the national security interests of the United States, to make sure that we handled an exit properly.

And that's what I have tried to be consistently projecting over the last two years of my time in the Senate.

BLITZER: Let me point out what you said back in 2003. And I'll give you the exact quote.


OBAMA: Just this week, when I was asked, would I have voted for the $87 billion, I said no. And I said no unequivocally, because, at a certain point, we have to say no to George Bush. If we keep on getting steamrolled, we are not going to stand a chance.



BLITZER: You said no then. But, since then, you voted for funding the war.

OBAMA: Well, that $87 billion, I had a very particular concern. And that was, you had $20 billion worth of reconstruction funds that were given out on a no-bid basis. And, as a consequence, I was concerned that you would not see that money spent effectively.

BLITZER: That was largely for Halliburton.

OBAMA: That's exactly right.

And, since that time, we have discovered that in fact the money wasn't spent wisely. We still have $9 billion that's missing somewhere in Iraq that we still aren't clear about. Some of those procedures were tightened in the votes that I took.

But, most importantly, I have said consistently that I think it's important, if we're sending our young men and women into battle, that they have got all the resources they need to come back home safely and also to execute their mission.

BLITZER: Because some ardent opponents of the war, like Dennis Kucinich, for example, who is a Democratic presidential candidate…

OBAMA: Right.

BLITZER: … he takes a principled stand. He's not going to vote to fund troops going off to this war, because he believes that would help bring the troops home.

OBAMA: Right.

You know, the problem is, is that you have got an obstinate administration that has shown itself unwilling to change in the face of circumstances on the ground.

And, in that situation, what you don't want to do is to play chicken with the president, and create a situation in which, potentially, you don't have body armor, you don't have reinforced humvees, you don't have night-vision goggles.

Now, there is a ratcheting-up of pressure on the president. And I am very pleased about the vote that took place yesterday, where a majority of the Senate for the first time said we need to have a timetable.

BLITZER: But he says he is going to veto that right now.

OBAMA: I understand.

BLITZER: And there is a game of chicken going on right now.

OBAMA: I understand that he says he is going to veto it. There is no doubt he will veto it. But what you are starting to see, I think, is a bipartisan movement in the direction of having a clear endgame.

And I am very pleased that the bill that I presented back in January calling for a phased withdrawal starting on May 1 of this year, with the aim of getting all combat troops out by March 31 of next year, that many of the elements in that bill ended up being part of this package that was voted on yesterday.

BLITZER: If the president does veto it, as he vows he will, what do you do next?

OBAMA: Well, I think we continue to put these votes up to the Senate. We put more pressure on many Republican colleagues of mine, who I think recognize that the Bush approach has not worked, but are still unwilling to put pressure on their president.

BLITZER: Because he says the money starts drying up in mid- April…

OBAMA: Right.

BLITZER: … for the troops to head over to Iraq.

OBAMA: Right. I think that we continue to put a series of votes up and try to convince our colleagues on the Republican side that the only way that we are going to change circumstances in Iraq is if you see a different political dynamic; that there are, at this point, no military solutions to the problems in Iraq; that what we have to do is get the Shia, the Sunni, the Kurd to come together and say to themselves "We, in fact, are willing to start making some compromises around oil revenues, around the arming of militias and so on."

In the absence of that, we can send 20,000 more troops, 30,000 more troops, we're not going to see a significant change.

BLITZER: Yesterday, I interviewed Republican presidential candidate John McCain and he said this.


MCCAIN: Failure is catastrophe. Failure is genocide. Failure means we come back. Failure means they follow us home.


BLITZER: What if he's right? What if he's right, and what you're proposing and a lot of Democrats are proposing results in genocide in Iraq?

OBAMA: Well, look, what you have right now is chaos in Iraq. After having spent hundreds of billions of dollars, after seeing close to 3,200 lives lost, what you now see is chaos. And there's no end in sight.

Now, John McCain may believe that it's an option for us to maintain an indefinite occupation of Iraq, regardless what happens in terms of the politics within Iraq, so that we're, every year, sending $100 billion over to Iraq, so that, every year, we're seeing hundreds or thousands of young Americans dying, so that we continue to see a deterioration of America's standing in the world.

I don't think that serves the best interests of the United States. And I don't think it will ultimately result in the kind of…


OBAMA: … stabilization in Iraq that's necessary.

Now, these are judgment calls. I don't question John McCain's sincerity in believing that the approach that he wants to take, which is essentially a continuation of Bush policies over the last six years, are the right ones to take.

BLITZER: If you're president of the United States in January of 2009, and the situation is basically the same in Iraq as it is right now…

OBAMA: Right.

BLITZER: … what would be your immediate first step?

OBAMA: Well, the bill that I put in I think…

BLITZER: But assuming that bill doesn't go in.

OBAMA: No, no, but I think assuming that things are the same, I think the same dynamic will be at work, which is to say we're going to pull out our combat troops out of Iraq in a phased, systematic way, that we continue to provide the Iraqi government with logistical and training support, that we have those forces over the horizon to respond to crises that spill over into the remainder of the region.

And most importantly, we have an aggressive diplomatic initiative with those countries in the region to make sure that we are part of a broader conversation about how can we stabilize Iraq and stabilize the region?

BLITZER: You're president of the United States…

OBAMA: Right?

BLITZER: … 15 American sailors and Marines are captured by Iranians, the Revolutionary Guard in the northern Persian Gulf, and they're held. What do you do?

OBAMA: Well, I think that the British obviously are taking the prudent steps that are required, sending a strong, unequivocal message to the Iranians that they have to release these British soldiers. I think that they are handling it in the appropriate way.

You know, my sense is that the Iranians are going to stand down fairly soon, but, look, one of the obligations of the commander in chief is to make sure that our troops are protected, wherever they're projected around the world.

BLITZER: So if they were to hold them, let's say, for 444 days — Iranians have held Americans hostage for a long period of time — what, do you just let them be held there?

OBAMA: No, you don't. I think you take firm action to make sure that those troops are returned.

BLITZER: You want to be specific?

OBAMA: You know, I think that it's important to say that all options, including military, would be on the table in such a circumstance.


BLITZER: Senator Barack Obama, speaking with me earlier in the week. Up next, in case you missed it, "Late Edition's Sunday morning talk show roundup. Find out what White House Counselor Dan Bartlett has to say about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria.

We'll be right back. …. [END]


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