This week three prominent Jews from Hollywood, Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg, decided to host a fundraiser for Illinois Senator and presidential hopeful Barack Obama. According to some reports George Soros is backing him as well. This is not a coincidence: all three of these Hollywood heavyweights were ardent supporters of Hillary Clinton. This spawns the following question: which of these two Democratic Presidential frontrunners will be more effective in the struggle against terrorism and Iranian nuclear ambitions and which will be a more reliable supporter of Israeli security?
There is little doubt that since entering the Senate Hillary Clinton has been a staunch supporter of Israel and for that she deserves credit and appreciation from Jews. Some have put a question mark regarding her motives. However whichever way one wants to put it, it is extremely difficult to find in Hilary Clinton’s published remarks anything but complete and total support for Israel’s continued safety and security.
The difficulty some have with Hilary is her husband former President Bill. Yasser Arafat was a regular guest at Bill Clinton’s White House and he used extreme pressure to get Israel to make concessions that were clearly not in her long term interests. During his second term in office Bill Clinton seemed to care more about creating his legacy than about the risks his ideas posed to Israeli security. Indeed it is Bill Clinton that must take some of the blame for the second intifada and the suicide bombings and killing of innocents that followed.
As recently as last year during the Lebanon war against Hizbullah Bill Clinton stated that Israel was using disproportionate force and wanted a quick ceasefire. Whether Hillary sincerely disagrees with Bill’s views regarding Israel’s national defense strategies is an open question. To her credit however, she has stated publicly that she disagreed with Bill regarding both his reluctance to use force and his lack of support for Israel. On March 21, 1999 she urged Bill to bomb the Serbians: “You cannot let this go on at the end of a century that has seen the major holocaust of our time. What do we have NATO for if not to defend our way of life?” she told him. The next day Clinton declared that force was necessary.
In October 2000 she urged her husband to veto a one sided and unfair UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s response to Palestinian protests. She said that Bill Clinton ignored her advice and the US just abstained instead. Hillary Clinton also voted for the war in Iraq and, as of yet, has not called for a timetable for troop withdrawal despite the pressure to do so. One must conclude that there is little basis on which to doubt Hillary Clinton’s sincere support for and dedication to Israel’s safety and security and her determination and strength when it comes to national security and defense.
The story with Barack Obama is very different. Although he has visited Israel and spoken in support of US commitment to Israeli security, his view of foreign policy and national security is troubling - not least as evidenced by the incoherent treatment of it in his bestselling book “The Audacity of Hope”.
In the chapter entitled, “The world Beyond Our Borders” he states that he did not support the invasion of Iraq from the outset because—quoting from a speech he gave at the time—he knew that, “even a successful war against Iraq will require US occupation of undetermined length, and undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.”
Most experts at the time thought that in a post 9/11 world a combination of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and weapons of mass destruction (and at the time every intelligence agency in the world thought they had them) was a real threat to the world. However Obama nonetheless thought that if the cost, length and consequences are undetermined (which incidentally is the case regarding all wars) then the war should not be undertaken. Later on in the same chapter he argues the exact opposite point: “We have the right to take unilateral military action to eliminate an imminent threat to our security—so long as an imminent threat is understood to be a nation, group, or individual that is actively preparing to strike US targets, and has or will have the means to do so in the immediate future.”
He goes on to say that al-Qaeda poses an imminent threat but Saddam Hussein’s Iraq did not. With hindsight one can say anything; however the fact is that at the time most experts thought that Saddam Husain did pose an imminent threat and that he possessed both the intent and the weapons to attack us either on his own or by using a proxy. Furthermore Obama writes that one of the United States’ strategic goals in Iraq must be to ensure that it does not become a base for terrorist activity. Nonetheless a few lines later he advocates a phased withdrawal of US troops from Iraq to begin at the end of last year. The judgment as to how quickly this could be accomplished, he writes, must be based on “a series of best guesses”.
The stakes in Iraq at the moment are very high and they have a direct bearing on the United States and world security. For a presidential candidate to advocate betting world and US security on a series of “best guesses” is frightening. From reading his book one must conclude that Barack Obama is a wonderful person whose heart is in the right place. He deserves respect, and indeed he could make a wonderful peacetime president.
However the next US President will have to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat, which will impact Israel first and then the entire world. At this point we simply cannot afford to allow a person with incoherent, weak and inconsistent views on national security and foreign policy to become the presidential nominee of a major political party in the United States.
I do not mean to endorse Hillary Clinton as president - it may well be that the Republicans have an even stronger candidate. However, I sincerely hope that the prominent Jews who are contemplating throwing their support behind Barack Obama read the part of his book which deals with foreign policy and national security very carefully first.
Rabbi Levi Brackman is executive director of Judaism in the Foothills
and the author of numerous articles on a whole range of topics and issues, many of which can be found on his website