Obama on the Middle East

Barack Obama spoke on middle east policy at the American-Israeli Political Action Committee Policy Forum. Here are portions of his comments on Iraq, Iran, and Israel:
On Iraq:

One of the heavy stones that currently rest at the United States feet is Iraq. Until we lift this burden from our foreign policy, we cannot rally the world to our values and vision.

As many of you know, I opposed this war from the beginning in part because I believed that giving this President the open-ended authority to invade Iraq would lead to the open-ended occupation we find ourselves in today.

Now our soldiers find themselves in the crossfire of someone elses civil war. More than 3,100 have given the last full measure of devotion to their country. This war has fueled terrorism and helped galvanize terrorist organizations. And it has made the world less safe.

That is why I advocate a phased redeployment of U.S. troops out of Iraq to begin no later than May first with the goal of removing all combat forces from Iraq by March 2008. In a civil war where no military solution exists, this redeployment remains our best leverage to pressure the Iraqi government to achieve the political settlement between its warring factions that can slow the bloodshed and promote stability.

My plan also allows for a limited number of U.S. troops to remain and prevent Iraq from becoming a haven for international terrorism and reduce the risk of all-out chaos. In addition, we will redeploy our troops to other locations in the region, reassuring our allies that we will stay engaged in the Middle East. And my plan includes a robust regional diplomatic strategy that includes talking to Syria and Iran something this Administration has finally embraced.

The U.S. military has performed valiantly and brilliantly in Iraq. Our troops have done all that we have asked them to do and more. But a consequence of the Administrations failed strategy in Iraq has been to strengthen Irans strategic position; reduce U.S. credibility and influence in the region; and place Israel and other nations friendly to the United States in greater peril. These are not the signs of a well-paved road. It is time for profound change.

On Iran:

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 regionthats 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 Irans 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 Irans 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.

On Israel:

At the same time, we must preserve our total commitment to our unique defense relationship with Israel by fully funding military assistance and continuing work on the Arrow and related missile defense programs. This would help Israel maintain its military edge and deter and repel attacks from as far as Tehran and as close as Gaza.

And when Israel is attacked, we must stand up for Israels legitimate right to defend itself. Last summer, Hezbollah attacked Israel. By using Lebanon as an outpost for terrorism, and innocent people as shields, Hezbollah has also engulfed that entire nation in violence and conflict, and threatened the fledgling movement for democracy there. Thats why we have to press for enforcement of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which demands the cessation of arms shipments to Hezbollah, a resolution which Syria and Iran continue to disregard. Their support and shipment of weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas, which threatens the peace and security in the region, must end.

These are great challenges that we face. And in moments like these, true allies do not walk away. For six years, the administration has missed opportunities to increase the United States influence in the region and help Israel achieve the peace she wants and the security she needs. The time has come for us to seize those opportunities.

The Israeli people, and Prime Minister Olmert, have made clear that they are more than willing to negotiate an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will result in two states living side by side in peace and security. But the Israelis must trust that they have a true Palestinian partner for peace. That is why we must strengthen the hands of Palestinian moderates who seek peace and that is why we must maintain the isolation of Hamas and other extremists who are committed to Israels destruction.

The U.S. and our partners have put before Hamas three very simple conditions to end this isolation: recognize Israels right to exist; renounce the use of violence; and abide by past agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

We should all be concerned about the agreement negotiated among Palestinians in Mecca last month. The reports of this agreement suggest that Hamas, Fatah, and independent ministers would sit in a government together, under a Hamas Prime Minister, without any recognition of Israel, without a renunciation of violence, and with only an ambiguous promise to respect previous agreements.

This should concern us all because it suggests that Mahmoud Abbas, who is a Palestinian leader I believe is committed to peace, felt forced to compromise with Hamas. However, if we are serious about the Quartets conditions, we must tell the Palestinians this is not good enough.

But as I said at the outset, Israel will have some heavy stones to carry as well. Its history has been full of tough choices in search of peace and security.

Yitzhak Rabin had the vision to reach out to longtime enemies. Ariel Sharon had the determination to lead Israel out of Gaza. These were difficult, painful decisions that went to the heart of Israel’s identity as a nation.

Many Israelis I talked to during my visit last year told me that they were prepared to make sacrifices to give their children a chance to know peace. These were people of courage who wanted a better life. And I know these are difficult times and it can be easy to lose hope. But we owe it to our sons and daughters, our mothers and fathers, and to all those who have fallen, to keep searching for peace and security — even though it can seem distant. This search is in the best interests of Israel. It is in the best interests of the United States. It is in the best interests of all of us.

We can and we should help Israelis and Palestinians both fulfill their national goals: two states living side by side in peace and security. Both the Israeli and Palestinian people have suffered from the failure to achieve this goal. The United States should leave no stone unturned in working to make that goal a reality.

But in the end, we also know that we should never seek to dictate what is best for the Israelis and their security interests. No Israeli Prime Minister should ever feel dragged to or blocked from the negotiating table by the United States.

We must be partners we must be active partners. Diplomacy in the Middle East cannot be done on the cheap. Diplomacy is measured by patience and effort. We cannot continue to have trips consisting of little more than photo-ops with little movement in between. Neither Israel nor the U.S. is served by this approach.

If I were to nitpick I might say that I could see circumstances in which an American President should drag an Israeli Prime Minister to the negotiating table, but for the most part Obama is correct in seeking a diplomatic settlement which provides “Peace with security.”

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1 Comment

  1. 1
    Tim says:

    I really hope the left doesn’t fall for the corporate-imperialist media hype candidacy of Obama (or Clinton or Edwards for that matter) Here is another look at Obama and the Middle East:
    http://www.counterpunch.org/frank01172007.html

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