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Friday, June 06, 2008


Obama on Jerusalem, withdrawal from Iraq

Yesterday CNN's Candy Crowley interviewed Barack Obama. It might have been nice if we had these kinds of questions during the debates, instead of discussing flag pins and other such nonsense, but that's another story. Anyway, since the headlines from that interview are mostly about Obama's discussion of his potential VP choice, and since no transcript seems to exist (or online video, for that matter), I transcribed a key portion of it from my own video which I thought of interest:
Candy Crowley: I want to ask you about something you said in AIPAC yesterday. You said that "Jerusalem must remain undivided." Do the Palestinians have no claim to Jerusalem in the future?

Barack Obama: Well, obviously, it's going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues, and Jerusalem will be part of those negotiations.

Crowley: But you would be against any kind of division of Jerusalem?

Obama: My belief is that as a practical matter it would be very difficult to execute, and I think that it is smart for us to work through a system in which everybody has access to the extraordinary religious sites in old Jerusalem, but that Israel has a legitimate claim on that city.

Crowley: You've upset the Palestinians with this, who have said, some of the leaders have said, "It shows he is not for peace, if he believes Jerusalem shall remain undivided." It causes a problem, doesn't it, as the U.S. being an "honest broker"?

Obama: I've said some things, and I even said some things yesterday, that probably some Israelis aren't happy with. You know, there are a whole host of areas where I think there's going to have to be compromise on both sides, and what I said yesterday is that we're going to have to start earlier than we have historically on this process. I recognize that a President comes in with a lot of stuff coming at him, but the Middle East peace process is so important that we can't reserve it to the end of a Presidency. We've got to start soon, and I'm going to be absolutely committed to making that happen.

Crowley: You have said you want to go back to Iraq, see what the situation is on the ground. Is there nothing that they could show you or that Gen. Petraeus could tell you that would move you from wanting to immediately begin removing U.S. troops?

Obama: Well, I would never say there's nothing or never or no way in which I change my mind, obviously I'm open to the facts and to reason, and there's no doubt that we've seen significant improvements in security on the ground in Iraq, and our troops and Gen. Petraeus deserve enormous credit for that. I have to look at this issue from a broader strategic perspective, though. And in terms of long-term strategy, I am absolutely convinced that the best thing that we can do is to set a clear timetable, tell the Iraqis we are going to start pulling out, do it in a careful fashion, make sure...

Crowley: When you say "careful," what are we going to be careful about?

Obama: Well, we're going to be careful about two things. One is we've got to be careful about the safety of our troops. It's not an exercise to bring out the thousands of troops that we have there, the tons of equipment that we have there. So we've got to execute that effectively. But we also have to do it, and pace it, in a way that works in concert with the diplomacy that's happening inside Iraq and in the region. There's a lot of work that's going to have to be done, it's a very complicated operation, and I've got no interest in doing it carelessly or precipitously.

Crowley: So the timetable could slide, then, if you took all those things into consideration?

Obama: But I think it's important for us to say to the Iraqis, "We're not here for the long haul. It's time for you guys to achieve agreement on the critical issues like how you're dividing up oil revenues, how provincial government is relating to the national government." But we have a lot of other interests. We've got to make sure that Afghanistan is not sliding into chaos. We've got to deal with Iran. And we have to tamp down the anti-American sentiment that has become so pervasive in the Middle East. Those are all things that I've got to take into account and that's why I believe that my Iraq approach is much better to an approach that is essentially open-ended, when it comes to John McCain.
I'll let you form your own opinion about whether these remarks represent a "retreat," waffling, or whatever, but I just want to comment on one line - "I've said some things, and I even said some things yesterday, that probably some Israelis aren't happy with." First of all, what he really means is "Jews," not "Israelis." Why do I say that? Because there are a large number of Israelis who are Palestinian, and who therefore can't be counterposed to "I made Palestinians unhappy, but I balanced that by making Israelis unhappy." Second, because although I don't actually think he was trying to be this clever, of course there are "some" Israelis who aren't happy with some things he's said. After all, there are Israelis like Uri Avnery on the left, and then there are Israelis on the far right like Avigdor Lieberman who probably aren't happy with anything other than "let's expel all the Palestinians and bomb the Iranians tomorrow." But as far as the mainstream Israelis, and certainly the main Israeli leadership, I couldn't find a single thing he said at AIPAC that would make them "unhappy." In so many words, this is complete bullshit. He's implying he somehow has presented a balanced stance which has displeased both sides, when that's far from the case.

The discussion about choosing a Vice-President was all about process, so I remind readers of a time earlier this year when Obama did have some substantive things to say about that choice:

"I would want somebody with competence in areas where I am weaker. The obvious would be military experience. I'm very confident about serving as Commander-in-Chief in terms of my judgments in terms of what our strategic interests are, and so that's the area that I'd be concerned about, but I think having somebody who intimately understood some of the more tactical issues surrounding military deployments, or, conversely, also understands the bureaucracy of the Pentagon, because moving that and changing that can be a very difficult thing."

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