Would Obama come to terms with Iran as a nuclear power?
It was obvious that US president George W. Bush’s denunciation of those who would negotiate with “terrorists and radicals” had put the Democratic candidate, Senator Barack Obama, on the spot. Minutes after the words had been spoken on Thursday, May 16, in a special 60th anniversary session of the Israeli parliament, Obama shot back with an attack on the president: “George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists.”
Some of the flak which landed on the senator was directed against his lobbyists, whose arrival to woo Israeli and Jewish support was timed to coincide with the presidential participation in Israel’s anniversary celebrations.
Bush felt that his gesture to honor Israel had been used for internal American political sparring and he struck back.
According to debkafile‘s political sources, Bush was furious when he found out that both Obama and Hillary Clinton had sent representatives to the international conference in Jerusalem to solicit campaign supporters in Israel.
Clinton’s was ex-ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk and Obama’s were Dennis Ross, formerly of the US state department and ex-special Middle east envoy, and Dan Kurtzer, another former ambassador to Israel.
Whereas Indyk kept a low profile, Ross and Kurtzer were in and out of the offices of Israeli leaders including prime minister Ehud Olmert, They promised that Israel had nothing to fear from Barack Obama as president, or his offer to meet the presidents of Iran and Syria for face to face discussion on the issues outstanding between them and the United States. They insisted that this offer did not apply to Palestinian terrorists like Hamas.
Granting that the prospects of talks with those leaders were slim, the ambassadors stressed that if they did indeed materialize, Obama would stand by the supportive positions on Israel articulated by President Bush and Republican candidate John McCain.
The sensitivity of the Obama campaign to this issue prompted Ross and Kurtzer to leave the Knesset visitors’ gallery before the end of Bush speech to brief the senator on the passages denouncing would-be negotiators with “terrorists and radicals” in the context of those who appeased Hitler in 1939. They urged him to respond strongly without delay else all their lobbying efforts on his behalf would be wasted.
Obama took their advice.
The president’s exact words in the relevant passages were:
“America stands with you in breaking up terrorist networks and denying the extremists sanctuary. And America stands with you in firmly opposing Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. Permitting the world’s leading sponsor of terror to possess the world’s deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”
And: “Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along,” he said. “We have heard this foolish delusion before.”
“As Nazi tanks crossed in Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is – the false comfort of appeasement which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”
Obama responded in an e-mail to reporters, saying it is sad that president Bush would use Israel’s 60th anniversary to launch a false political attack. “George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the president’s extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally, Israel.”
The word “never” was inserted in the final version when Kurtz and Ross insisted on the statement being strengthened. What Obama left out tellingly was a reference to “radicals,” namely Iran. By leaving “the world’s leading sponsor of terror” out of his response, he allowed the president to underscore his lack of an organized policy position on Iran.
Republican senator John McCain quickly picked up on his rival’s lack of clarity on the key Iranian issue.
While denying coordination with Bush on the speech, McCain said he wholeheartedly agreed with the gist of his remarks.
“Yes, there have been appeasers in the past and the president is exactly right, and one of them is Neville Chamberlain.” Asked if he considered Obama an appeaser, he said: “I think that Barack Obama needs to explain why he wants to sit down and talk with a man who is the head of a government that is a state sponsor of terrorism, that is responsible for killing brave young Americans, that wants to wipe Israel of the map, who denies the Holocaust.”
Obama’s lobbyists, debkafile‘s sources report, made a point of talking to most of the American Jewish leaders attending the international conference and asked them to support the Democratic senator’s bid for the presidency. debkafile‘s sources heard from some of them that their chief concern is that, if Obama wins the nomination, Clinton’s Jewish supporters will be lost to the Democrats and drift all the way over to the Republican candidate instead of voting for Obama.