Obama and AIPAC: A Delicate Dance

Amazingly, it has taken less than 24 hours before Barack Obama started backtracking on one key part of his speech to AIPAC Wednesday -- the part that brought the crowd to its feet cheering - that Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel.

Now the Obama campaign is saying, never mind, we did not really mean that: Jerusalem is a final status issue subject to negotiation between the parties. This severely damages Obama's credibility. Can anyone really believe at this point that Obama stands by everything else he said in the talk?

Now that Obama has come to AIPAC, the question is: Did he conquer? Certainly some in the audience seemed willing to forget everything that had caused them concern about the presumptive Democratic nominee, once he gave a well-delivered speech that backtracked from many of his prior positions on Iraq, Iran , the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and missile defense, to name but a few.

Obama is certainly a fine speaker, particularly when he is reading from a teleprompter. Obama's AIPAC speech was almost certainly written for him, and carefully crafted to ease him over the ever lower bar required for AIPAC Board approval. AIPAC seemed obsessed with selling Obama's bona fides on Israel to the 7,500 attendees, and also selling to the candidate that AIPAC delegates were enthusiastic in the belief that he was a strong pro-Israel candidate. (John McCain gave a speech that was very similar in substance to Obama's on Monday, but without the rhetorical flourishes.)

The orchestration of the events at the AIPAC Policy Conference suggested that AIPAC's leaders are concerned about Obama's views on Israel, and so they are trying to build all the bridges they can to him. His AIPAC introducer seemed determined to convince the audience when he introduced Obama that his man was the real deal on Israel. None of this was necessary with John McCain, who has a more than twenty year record of strong support for the US-Israel relationship, and who was introduced in a far less evangelical fashion. I sense among some in AIPAC a real fear of payback to the pro-Israel community if Jews are not seen to be lining up for Obama as they have for all other Democratic Presidential nominees except Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Of course, most Democratic presidential candidates did not assemble an anti-Israel all-star team of advisors, such as Zbigniew Brzezinksi, Robert Malley, Samantha Power, and General McPeak to name but a few. And no prior Democratic Presidential candidate belonged to a church for 20 years where his Minister regularly bashed Israel, and celebrated the noxious anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan. In his speech to AIPAC, Obama concluded by reminding the audience of the historic ties between Jews and blacks during the Civil Rights era, suggesting of course that he would be the bridge to a better future between the groups. But the sad reality is that Obama has demonstrated a total lack of leadership on Jewish-African American relations during his 20 years sitting in the pews of Trinity United. There is no evidence that he ever talked to his minister to try to change his thinking and his noxious message.

Finally, no prior Democratic candidate for President regularly hung out with pro-Palestinian thinkers and activists before becoming a national political figure, at which point he cast them aside, as he has also now done with Reverend Wright, Trinity Church, Robert Malley, Samantha Power and others, when they became inconvenient to his presidential campaign. The views of Obama's advisors, and the folks he hung out with, before he felt the need to chuck them, are revealing. Obama is the most left wing candidate for President nominated by a major political party in American history. His friends and associates have been even further out on the left fringes. Obama, I think, is pro-Israel to the extent that it is helpful to his campaign to appear so.

What you also have with Obama is enormous ambition, and a streak of ruthlessness. Evidence of the latter is how Obama behaved Thursday with Joe Lieberman, who had the audacity to be critical of Obama on the Senate floor.

One can be sure that Obama's speech will be sent around to Jewish email lists across America. The Senator complained about misleading emails in his talk to AIPAC, and his surrogates were quick to pound the same message home in individual state breakout sessions. The surrogates complained about scurrilous emails about Obama's alleged Muslim background, or his middle name. But the substantive emails with articles that dealt with Obama's advisors, and Reverend Wright have created the greatest problem for Obama in the Jewish community here and in Israel.

There has never been a substantive response from the Obama campaign on the advisor problem, other than to say advisor A only talks to Obama about issue B, and never about Israel, and advisor C is not really an advisor. There will be many who will now say that all is well, and Obama is a safe choice in managing relations with Israel, Iran, and Iraq. That of course is exactly what Barack Obama and AIPAC seemed to want to accomplish this week.

Richard Baehr is chief political correspondent of American Thinker.

Reader Rich C, adds:

I don't feel as though enough people have seen Obama's speech to AIPAC or fully appreciate how dangerous his policies as outlined in the speech would be.  The speech was an appeal to the anti-war and environmentalist elements in the Jewish community, and not really aimed at US supporters of Israel, those concerned about Islamic terrorism, or those concerned by Iran.

About 12 paragraphs down in the speech he says:

"But part of our commitment must be speaking up when Israel's security is at risk, and I don't think any of us can be satisfied that America's recent foreign policy has made Israel more secure."

This section of the speech deals with the Hamas take over of Gaza, the Hezbollah take over of Lebanon, Iranian and Syrian meddling throughout the Middle East, and the Iraq War.  I think he meant to say that "no one can claim that America's recent foreign policy has made Israel more secure". Whatever he meant here, I don't think it was at all clear-eyed.

Obama doesn't seem to realize that Israel picked up and left southern Lebanon in May 2000, in the face of White House sponsored negotiations with Arafat and talks with Syria.  It was PM Sharon, for Israeli security interests, who ordered the evacuation of the Gaza Strip, again in the face of White House pressure to negotiate with Abbas. When Israel left, Hamas was already in control of Gaza, or Israel wouldn't have bothered with attacks against Hamas leadership before Arafat died and before they left. When Israel left Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah was able to claim victory, solidify their power, and then start the 2006 war. Hamas is doing the very same thing with the eventuality that Israel will have another war in Gaza. Moreover, if Israel could just leave Lebanon, why wouldn't Syria think that Israel wouldn't just leave the Golan with enough pressure?

In this section he also runs through a list of his unshakable commitment to Israel's security: passing the foreign aid authorization, making Israel a major non-NATO ally (similar to Australia); and enhance our cooperation on missile defense.

However, Obama has proposed defunding missile defense in the US and claims alternatively that it is too expensive, doesn't work, or it isn't needed. I would be curious how he will nuance this.  If an Iranian missile threat exists against Israel requiring missile defense, then it exists for our NATO ally Turkey, parts of Europe, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, and to US forces throughout the region. 

Another section of his speech states:
"Because a secure, lasting peace is in Israel's national interest. It is in America's national interest. And it is in the interest of the Palestinian people and the Arab world. As president, I will work to help Israel achieve the goal of two states, a Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security. And I won't wait until the waning days of my presidency. I will take an active role, and make a personal commitment to do all I can to advance the cause of peace from the start of my administration."

I have yet to hear a convincing argument why it is in the interest of the Arabs or Persians that a Palestinian state at peace with Israel is in their interest. They are all authoritarian, anti-Semitic regimes. A peaceful settlement would mean that those regimes would eliminate a key base of their support. I have yet to hear an explanation as to why no Middle Eastern country grants citizenship to Palestinians. He also claims that it will somehow be different this time.  However Carter made it his mission and ended up with only the Camp David Accord, but Egypt still produces hate-filled propaganda against Israel and they have done nothing to clean up the Sinai Peninsula (which would be difficult because it is "de-militarized" by the very same Camp David Accords) and the Clinton Administration spent nearly the entire 2 terms consumed with "peace" between Israel and the Palestinians only to be rewarded with the Second Intifada. 

Another thing that Obama's speech seems to forget is that he is stating Bush Administration policy as well -- a commitment to a state, ending support for Palestinian terrorism, not negotiating with terrorists, and recognition of Israel. He claims that the election in 2006 swept Hamas into power. I'll nuance it for him a bit-the election in 2006 ratified the situation on the ground. Hamas took, by force from Fatah, command of Gaza when Israel left. The only way to get rid of Hamas now is to invade Gaza and kill them-a policy, I have no doubt, Obama would not support.

More from the speech:

"The Palestinians need a state that is contiguous and cohesive, and that allows them to prosper - but any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel's identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders."

He claims that Israel's security is "sacrosanct"; however, the only way for the Palestinians to have a "contiguous and cohesive" state is for Israel to take down the fences and walls that have kept the terrorists out. More on this at the end of his speech, but it is also of a piece with the subtle movement of making Israel an analogy to apartheid South Africa, although in his speech, he does reject this outright comparison.

We get to the meat of the speech and a jaw dropper:  

"Syria continues its support for terror and meddling in Lebanon. And Syria has taken dangerous steps in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, which is why Israeli action was justified to end that threat."

One wonders if anyone would be so cheeky as to propose: Iran continues its support for terror and meddling in Lebanon. And Iran has taken dangerous steps in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, which is why American action is justified to end that threat. Not Obama, he has proposed legislation to make action more difficult. He even criticizes Clinton for voting to designate the IRGC a terrorist organization, a position which we learn in his speech, he now embraces.

This section regarding Iran is about the middle of the speech:

"But just as we are cleareyed about the threat, we must be clear about the failure of today's policy. We knew, in 2002, that Iran supported terrorism. We knew Iran had an illicit nuclear program. We knew Iran posed a grave threat to Israel. But instead of pursuing a strategy to address this threat, we ignored it and instead invaded and occupied Iraq. When I opposed the war, I warned that it would fan the flames of extremism in the Middle East. That is precisely what happened in Iran - the hard-liners tightened their grip, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005. And the United States and Israel are less secure."

He also states previously that the threat from "Iran is grave, it is real ..." and he will, if president, eliminate it. However, as the above passage demonstrates, he must believe that prior to 2003, the US policy of "dual containment" was working. It wasn't.  The Iranian sponsored bombing of al-Khobar in 1996, their sponsoring of bombings in 1992 and 1994 in Argentina, their collusion in the AQ Khan network, their counterfeiting of US currency are all data points for the failure of "dual containment".  The failure of "dual containment" in the 1990's would require a multi-volume history to fully detail.  The Middle East in the 1990's, for all of the Clinton administration's talks with Arafat and Syria, its weepy near apologies to Iran, and Clinton's own war against Iraq-made it more dangerous, not less, by the time the Bush administration was elected. Obama wants to dust off the Clinton playbook of failure, call it new, and with only wishful thinking, heal the Middle East with talk.

We knew since the 1980's, not in 2002, that Iran was a sponsor of terrorism. We knew in the 1990's, not just during the Bush Administration, that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons. The Council of Guardians, with their support for terrorism and their pursuit of nuclear weapons, are fighting a war against the US and Israel that they believe they can and are winning. How will a US retreat from Iraq dissuade the Council of Guardians that they are not winning? How will sweet words from an Obama Administration sound differently than the same sweet words from the Clinton Administration of the 1990's? Because they will be "tough", that they will be said without a southern accent, that they will be said in the special Said (Orientalism) code?

We have seen what happens when an army packs up and leaves in the Middle East, in Lebanon in 2000 and in Gaza in 2005. An Iranian sponsored terrorist force fills the void, the terrorist force consolidates its political power through violence, and then they launch another war to extract more concessions. Tough action against Iran would eliminate the regime, not strengthen it by legitimizing it in negotiations, giving it membership to international organizations, nor supporting UN sanction regimes which drive the economy deeper in the regime's hands, open up opportunities for international corruption, and are mostly ignored because there are few consequences for cheating.

The middle third of the speech is about Iran and he says the keys for a successful Iranian policy are:

"That starts with aggressive, principled diplomacy without self-defeating preconditions, but with a cleareyed understanding of our interests...There will be careful preparation. We will open up lines of communication, build an agenda, coordinate closely with our allies, and evaluate the potential for progress. Contrary to the claims of some, I have no interest in sitting down with our adversaries just for the sake of talking. But as president of the United States, I would be willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leader at a time and place of my choosing - if, and only if, it can advance the interests of the United States." [emphasis added]

He truly believes that words coming from his mouth will change Iranian behavior as if he has the special key, because as anyone can see, his approach has been tried in varying forms, from the 1980's to today.

The last third of the speech is why I think it was an appeal to the anti-war and environmentalist Jewish voters and why I think his strategy in not only misguided, but dangerous. He first launches into an attack on the Bush administration's energy policy and states "we must free ourselves from the tyranny of oil". He puffs up a mythical, unstated alternative to oil and he closes with this bit messianic and Marxist rhetoric:

"It is why so many Jewish Americans have stood by Israel, while advancing the American story. Because there is a commitment embedded in the Jewish faith and tradition: to freedom and fairness; to social justice and equal opportunity. To tikkun olam - the obligation to repair this world."

Now I'm not any sort of theologian, but fairness, social justice, and equal opportunity as an interpretation of Tikkun Olam seem in many ways comparable to the Liberation Theology interpretation of the Christian gospel. I might be reading too much into this, but I've also seen the phrase used as a religious duty for environmentalist action -- in other words, collectivist environmentalist politics to heal the planet. This is a bit of a detour, but I will draw your attention to the dna of the modern environmentalist movement (called "A Blueprint for Survival"), its grounding in post-modernist philosophy, and its call for "a the dawn of a new age in which Man will learn to live with the rest of Nature rather than against it".

He then goes on to state:

"Together, we can renew our commitment to justice. Together, we can join our voices together, and in doing so make even the mightiest of walls fall down."

Now I'm not too sure when the Bush Administration ended "our commitment to justice", and his call for bringing down a wall doesn't seem to fit the speech all that much (and I would be confused if it were a reference to the fall of Jericho), unless one realizes that this is a call to the anti-war elements in the Jewish community who believe that the Israeli fences and walls, which keep the terrorists out, are an impediment to peace. His call to "rededicate ourselves to end prejudice and combat hatred in all of its forms" isn't a message that he will confront the anti-Semitism in the black community or confront the eliminationist anti-Semitism in the OIS or the UN. He doesn't say what he means with this passage, but the UN's little trip to find "Islamophobia and racism" in the US might be a pretty good place to look.

Rich C.  is an American Thinker reader and commentor at Just One Minute