Sunday, June 1, 2008

What Obama should say at the AIPAC conference (long version)

AIPAC, for those who don't know, is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Their slogan which appears prominently on the frontpage of their website is "America's Pro-Israel Lobby".

Here is a description of AIPAC from their own webpage

"As America's leading pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC works with both Democratic and Republican political leaders to enact public policy that strengthens the vital U.S.-Israel relationship. With the support of its members nationwide, AIPAC has worked with Congress and the Executive Branch on numerous critical initiatives -- from securing vital foreign aid for Israel to stopping Iran's illicit nuclear program."
AIPAC's annual Policy Conference for 2008 will be held June 2-4 in Washington, D.C. The webpage boasts that the attendees include "more than half of the U.S. Senate, a third of the House of Representatives and countless Israeli and American policymakers and thought leaders." Those speaking at this years conference include
  • Senator Barack Obama
  • Senator Hillary Clinton
  • Senator John McCain
  • President George Bush
  • Vice President Dick Cheney
  • Condoleezza Rice, US Secretary of State
  • Harry Reid, Majority Leader, United States Senate
  • Mitch McConnell, Republican Leader, United States Senate
  • Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
  • John Boehner, Republican Leader, United States House of Representatives
  • Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
That's right, all three remaining presidential candidates will be taking time out from their busy schedules to speak before the gathered AIPAC membership. Along with the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State, and the Democrat and Republican leaders of both the House and the Senate. And of course the embattled Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert.

Last year's conference featured John Hagee of CUFI (Christians United for Israel) giving a fiery speech, but this year he wasn't invited. Go figure.

Barack Obama is scheduled to give his speech on the morning of June 4. Jimmy Carter has written Obama's AIPAC speech for him. Now Obama just needs the courage to deliver it. At the 2008 Hay Festival in Hay, Wales, Carter gave this speech as reported in the Guardian article titled "Carter: 10 minutes to change the world".
"When I'm the president of the United States," he intoned, the voice still strong, "My country will never again torture a prisoner. When I'm the president of the United States, we will never again attack another country unless our security is directly threatened. When I'm the president of the United States, human rights will be the foundation of our foreign policy." He went on in that vein, with ringing declarations on global warming, a promise to honour international agreements and to bring "security and peace to Israel and all its neighbours and treat them all on an equal basis." The audience thundered its applause, signalling that this was the American speech they yearned to hear. Carter insisted that a new president would not need a hundred days to change America's image in the world, just the "ten minutes" required to say those words.
Obama says on his website under the heading ETHICS: Plan to Change Washington
“I am in this race to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over. I have done more than any other candidate in this race to take on lobbyists — and won. They have not funded my campaign, they will not run my White House, and they will not drown out the voices of the American people when I am president.”
That's great, but how about what many regard to be the most influential lobby on Capitol Hill - AIPAC? Sure, it's not a "corporate" lobby, but a lobby is a lobby. The problem as noted in Obama's statement is that lobbies have been actively "setting the agenda in Washington". This is just as true with regards to foreign policy as it is with regards to domestic policy. In fact, the impact on the federal budget caused by spending related to foreign policy is far greater than that caused by any domestic program.

Of course I'm referring here to the Iraq War. Not only is their a cost in terms of dollars, there is an even greater cost in terms of the lives of our young men and women in uniform. And there is an additional hidden cost in terms of national prestige which affects America's ability to push for the democratic principles we hold dear in countries like China, which refuses to grant autonomy to Tibet.

Here's what The Nation had to say about AIPAC in a 2002 article titled "The Israel Lobby"
AIPAC is widely regarded as the most powerful foreign-policy lobby in Washington. Its 60,000 members shower millions of dollars on hundreds of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. It also maintains a network of wealthy and influential citizens around the country, whom it can regularly mobilize to support its main goal, which is making sure there is "no daylight" between the policies of Israel and of the United States.
So how about it Obama, will you stand up to the powerful Pro-Israel Lobby and defend America's interests? Now that would be "change we can believe in".

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