Obama on Israel

This, via Spencer Ackerman, is all kinds of awesome:

“I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel, then you’re anti-Israel, and that can’t be the measure of our friendship with Israel,” leading Democratic presidential contender Illinois Senator Barack Obama said Sunday.
“If we cannot have an honest dialogue about how do we achieve these goals, then we’re not going to make progress,” he said.
He also criticized the notion that anyone who asks tough questions about advancing the peace process or tries to secure Israel by anyway other than “just crushing the opposition” is being “soft or anti-Israel.”

It’s like he took Gershom Gorenberg’s piece in The American Prospect from a month or so ago and transformed it into a sound bite. It’s so true, so refreshing to hear from a major Democratic presidential candidate, and something that Hillary Clinton would never utter to save her life. If you want an example of why Obama would be the first president to pursue an actually progressive foreign policy since, I don’t know, FDR, then just read those quotes.

4 thoughts on “Obama on Israel

  1. If Israel is the litmus test of whether a foreign policy is progressive, then it’s completely untenable to say that Obama would be the first since FDR. Bush 41 jeopardized aid to Israel to try to freeze settlements. Bill Clinton put an enormous amount of effort into the peace process, a process which produced unprecedented concessions to the Palestinians.
    Now maybe Obama will be even better than this, who knows. But he himself thought that he would be the first progressive on Israel, then it would suggest to me that he doesn’t know how hard it is to be a good president.
    On the other hand, if Israel is not the litmus test, then maybe Obama would be more progressive overall than (say) Bill Clinton, but his talking points so far already do include one big misstep. He said that he would be willing to ignore Pakistani sovereignty to fight Al Qaeda in Pakistan. If he wins the election and says that again, it will be an militaristic sock to the jaw for political reform in Pakistan. No political faction in Pakistan likes what Obama said.
    But I do agree with Obama’s remark about Israel, it may help reform for him to say it, and it may be true that Hillary Clinton is not prepared to say anything comparable at this time. Among other reasons, there is a picture of her kissing Suha Arafat and she is probably still worried about living that down.

  2. It’s not the litmus test, Greg, it’s one element. I’ll freely admit that Jim Baker and Bill Clinton cared a lot about ending the occupation. But I think it says something Obama that he’s willing to publicly state that Likudnik intransigence isn’t what Israel needs. H.W. didn’t do that in 1988, or in 1980. Clinton didn’t do that in 1992.
    More important, though, is that Obama is the best candidate when it comes to thawing relations with Cuba, the best when it comes to diplomacy with North Korea and Iran and he’s, yes, the best when it comes to Pakistan. All he said was that if the US has actionable intelligence and Musharraf says no, we’ll act on it anyway. We’re already doing that, and it’s already working wonders. I don’t think it takes a genius to see that a candidate who wants to talk to Raúl Castro, Kim Jong-Il, Ayatollah Khomenei, and who publicly states his desire to see the occupation of Palestine end, is remarkably progressive. Even Carter and Clinton maintained the Cuba embargo; Obama would weaken it substantially.

  3. I’ll freely admit that Jim Baker and Bill Clinton cared a lot about ending the occupation. But I think it says something Obama that he’s willing to publicly state that Likudnik intransigence isn’t what Israel needs.
    I agree that it says something. But it doesn’t say as much as what Baker and Clinton did, because actions speak louder than words.
    All he said was that if the US has actionable intelligence and Musharraf says no, we’ll act on it anyway.
    It is at best an unhelpful description of a defensible policy. The United States would never tolerate a statement from Pakistan — from any leader of Pakistan — that if they had actionable intelligence on Al Qaeda cells in the US, and Bush said no, then they would act on it anyway. No country wants to be told that its sovereignty doesn’t matter.
    Moreover, it’s not at all clear that we’re already doing what Obama said, because regardless of autonomy, the article doesn’t say that those Predators are flying without Musharraf’s consent. Nor is it clear that it’s working wonders. I can believe that it’s a useful military strike against al-Libi. But the larger problem by far is that Pakistan’s civilian institutions are weak and its government isn’t all that stable. Predator diplomacy is unhelpful at best for that problem.
    As for Cuba, North Korea, and Iran, again, it’s easy to talk a good game. If you asked Carter now, he would be at least as progressive as Obama on all three fronts. When Carter was president it was different, and not because he had a political conversion in the intervening years.
    It is also possible to talk a bad game and play a better one. Behind the scenes, even the Bush Administration reached an agreement with North Korea. So again, I voted for Obama because all I have is his talking points and I like them. But does that mean that he will be the first president to pursue a progressive foreign policy? It’s far from guaranteed that he will succeed at any foreign policy that’s first or progressive.

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