Posted on January 03, 2013 in Arab American Institute

 

Civil Liberties

First, let me say a few words about Guantanamo. By any measure, our system of trying detainees has been a failure. Over the course of nearly seven years, there's not been a single conviction for a terrorist act at Guantanamo. There has just been one conviction for military support of terrorism.

Meanwhile, this legal black hole has substantially set back America's ability to lead the world against the threat of terrorism and undermined our most basic values.

So make no mistake: We are less safe because of the way George Bush has handled this issue.

Now, my approach is guided by a simple premise. I have confidence that our system of justice and that our traditions of rule of law are strong enough to deal with terrorists. Senator McCain does not.

That is not the same as suggesting that we should give detainees the full privileges that are afforded American citizens. I never said that; the Supreme Court never said that; and I would never do that as president of the United States.

June 18, 2008
Speech, as found on Congressional Quarterly

 

[The Supreme Court decision] "ensures that we can protect our nation and bring terrorists to justice while also protecting our core values. The Court's decision is a rejection of the Bush administration's attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantanamo - yet another failed policy supported by John McCain," he said. "This is an important step toward re-establishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law and rejecting a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus"

June 13, 2008
Statement by Senator Barack Obama in regards to the Supreme Court ruling allowing those held in Guantanamo Bay have the right bring their case up in civilian court

 

"I am proud to stand with Senator Dodd, Senator Feingold and a grassroots movement of Americans who are refusing to let President Bush put protections for special interests ahead of our security and our liberty. There is no reason why telephone companies should be given blanket immunity to cover violations of the rights of the American people - we must reaffirm that no one in this country is above the law.

"We can give our intelligence and law enforcement community the powers they need to track down and take out terrorists without undermining our commitment to the rule of law, or our basic rights and liberties. That is why I am proud to cosponsor several amendments that protect our privacy while making sure we have the power to track down and take out terrorists.

"This Administration continues to use a politics of fear to advance a political agenda. It is time for this politics of fear to end. We are trying to protect the American people, not special interests like the telecommunications industry. We are trying to ensure that we don't sacrifice our liberty in pursuit of security, and it is past time for the Administration to join us in that effort."

February 12, 2008
Senator Obama in a written statement in regards to the FISA Bill

 

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds - by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

March 18, 2008
Remarks of "A More Perfect Union"

 

We are going to lead by example, by maintaining the highest standards of civil liberties and human rights, which is why I will close Guantanamo and restore habeas corpus and say no to torture.

Because if you are ready for change, then you can elect a president who has taught the Constitution, and believes in the Constitution, and will obey the Constitution of the United States of America.

February 19, 2008
Remarks following the Wisconsin Primary

 

America cannot sanction torture. It's a very straightforward principle, and one that we should abide by. Now, I will do whatever it takes to keep America safe. And there are going to be all sorts of hypotheticals and emergency situations and I will make that judgment at that time. But what we cannot do is have the president of the United States state, as a matter of policy, that there is a loophole or an exception where we would sanction torture. I think that diminishes us and it sends the wrong message to the world.

September 26, 2007
Transcript, Democratic Presidential Debate, Hanover, NH

 

On what the disparity between black and white inmates in the prison system suggests...

That the criminal justice system is not color blind. It does not work for all people equally, and that is why it’s critical to have a president who sends a signal that we are going to have a system of justice that is not just us, but is everybody. And -- you know, this is something that I’ve got a track record working on at the state level, where a lot of the criminal justice issues come up.

That’s why I passed racial profiling legislation at the state level. That’s why I passed legislation to make sure that we didn’t have wrongful convictions.

June 28, 2007
Transcript, Democratic Presidential Debate, Washington, DC

 

While we're at it we're going to close Guantanamo. And we're going to restore habeas corpus. ... We're going to lead by example _ by not just word but by deed. That's our vision for the future.

June 24, 2007
Article, Obama Says Gitmo Facility Should Be Closed, Washington Post

 

Second point, our legitimacy is reduced when we've got a Guantanamo that is open, when we suspend habeas corpus. Those kinds of things erode our moral claims that we are acting on behalf of broader universal principles, and that's one of the reasons why those kinds of issues are so important.

June 3, 2007
Transcript, Democratic Presidential Debate, New Hampshire

 

We could have fixed all of this in a way that allows us to detain and interrogate and try suspected terrorists while still protecting the accidentally accused from spending their lives locked away in Guantanamo Bay. Easily. This was not an either-or question.

Instead of allowing this President - or any President - to decide what does and does not constitute torture, we could have left the definition up to our own laws and to the Geneva Conventions, as we would have if we passed the bill that the Armed Services committee originally offered.

Instead of detainees arriving at Guantanamo and facing a Combatant Status Review Tribunal that allows them no real chance to prove their innocence with evidence or a lawyer, we could have developed a real military system of justice that would sort out the suspected terrorists from the accidentally accused.

And instead of not just suspending, but eliminating, the right of habeas corpus - the seven century-old right of individuals to challenge the terms of their own detention, we could have given the accused one chance - one single chance - to ask the government why they are being held and what they are being charged with.

...I've heard, for example, the argument that it should be military courts, and not federal judges, who should make decisions on these detainees. I actually agree with that. The problem is that the structure of the military proceedings has been poorly thought through. Indeed, the regulations that are supposed to be governing administrative hearings for these detainees, which should have been issued months ago, still haven't been issued. Instead, we have rushed through a bill that stands a good chance of being challenged once again in the Supreme Court.

September 28, 2006
Senate Floor Statement on the Military Commission Legislation

Immigration

Q: Is there any down side to the US becoming a bilingual nation?

A: It is important that everyone learns English and that we have that process of binding ourselves together as a country. Every student should be learning a second language, because when you start getting into a debate about bilingual education, for example, now, I want to make sure that children who are coming out of Spanish-speaking households had the opportunity to learn and are not falling behind. If bilingual education helps them do that, I want to give them the opportunity. But I also want to make sure that English-speaking children are getting foreign languages because this world is becoming more interdependent and part of the process of America's continued leadership in the world is going to be our capacity to communicate across boundaries, across borders, and that's something frankly where we've fallen behind. Foreign language is one of those areas that I think has been neglected. I want to put more resources into it.

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We need stronger border security. We are cracking down on employers that are taking advantage of undocumented workers because they can't complain if they're not paid a minimum wage and not getting overtime. Worker safety laws are not being observed. We have to make sure that doesn't lead to people with Spanish surnames being discriminated against. We have to require that undocumented workers go to the back of the line, so that they are not getting citizenship before those who have applied legally.

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Q: Do you think your vote on the border fence or the implementation of it was wrong?

A: The key is to consult with local communities, whether it's on the commercial interests or the environmental stakes of creating any kind of barrier. The Bush administration is not real good at listening. I will reverse that policy. There may be areas where it makes sense to have some fencing. Having border patrolled, surveillance, deploying effective technology, that's going to be the better approach.

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It is important that we fix the legal immigration system, because right now we've got a backlog that means years for people to apply legally. What's worse is, we keep on increasing the fees, so that if you've got a hard working immigrant family, they've got to hire a lawyer; they've got to pay thousands of dollars in fees. They just can't afford it. It's discriminatory against people who have good character, but don't have the money. We've got to fix that. We have to improve our relationship with Mexico and work with the Mexican government so that their economy is producing jobs on that side of the border. The problem is that we have had an administration that came in promising all sorts of leadership on creating a US-Mexican relationship. Bush dropped the ball. He has been so obsessed with Iraq that we have not seen the kinds of outreach and cooperative work that would ensure that the Mexican economy is working not just for the very wealthy in Mexico, but for all people.

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The American people want fairness, want justice. They recognize that the idea that you're going to deport 12 million people is ridiculous, that we're not going to be devoting all our law enforcement resources to sending people back. But what they do also want is some order to the process. We're not going to be able to do these things in isolation. We're not going to be able to deal with the 12 million people who are living in the shadows and give them a way of getting out of the shadows if we don't also deal with the problem of this constant influx of undocumented workers. That's why comprehensive reform is so important. Something that we can do immediately that is very important is to pass the Dream Act, which allows children who through no fault of their own are here but have essentially grown up as Americans, allow them the opportunity for higher education. I do not want two classes of citizens in this country. I want everybody to prosper. That's going to be a top priority.

February 21, 2008
Democratic Debate, Austin, TX

 

If you're ready for change, we can stop using immigration as a political football and actually start solving the problem. We are a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants, and those two things we can join together. We can get serious about our borders and crack down on employers who are taking advantage of undocumented workers and undermining U.S. labor. But we can also provide a pathway for those who are living here. They can pay a fine and learn English and go to the back of the line, but we've got to give them an opportunity, too. We're a nation of immigrants.

February 19, 2008
Remarks following the Wisconsin Primary

 

Comprehensive immigration reform is something that I have worked on extensively.

Two years ago, we were able to get a bill out of the Senate. I was one of the group of senators that helped to move it through, but it died in the House this year. Because it was used as a political football instead of a way of solving a problem, nothing happened.

And so there are a couple of things that I would just add to what Senator Clinton said.

Number one, it is absolutely critical that we tone down the rhetoric when it comes to the immigration debate, because there has been an undertone that has been ugly.

Oftentimes, it has been directed at the Hispanic community. We have seen hate crimes skyrocket in the wake of the immigration debate as it has been conducted in Washington, and that is unacceptable.

We are a nation of laws and we are a nation of immigrants, and we can reconcile those two things. So we need comprehensive reform, and that means stronger border security. It means that we are cracking down on employers that are taking advantage of undocumented workers because they can't complain if they're not paid a minimum wage. They can't complain if they're not getting overtime. Worker safety laws are not being observed.

We have to crack down on those employers, although we also have to make sure that we do it in a way that doesn't lead to people with Spanish surnames being discriminated against, so there's got to be a safeguard there.

We have to require that undocumented workers, who are provided a pathway to citizenship, not only learn English, pay back taxes and pay a significant fine, but also that they're going to the back of the line, so that they are not getting citizenship before those who have applied legally, which raises two last points.

Number one, it is important that we fix the legal immigration system, because right now we've got a backlog that means years for people to apply legally.

And what's worse is, we keep on increasing the fees, so that if you've got a hard working immigrant family, they've got to hire a lawyer; they've got to pay thousands of dollars in fees. They just can't afford it. And it's discriminatory against people who have good character, we should want in this country, but don't have the money. So we've got to fix that.

So we've got to fix that.

The second thing is we have to improve our relationship with Mexico and work with the Mexican government so that their economy is producing jobs on that side of the border.

And the problem that we have is that we have had an administration that came in promising all sorts of leadership on creating a U.S.- Mexican relationship. And, frankly, President Bush dropped the ball. He has been so obsessed with Iraq that we have not seen the kinds of outreach and cooperative work that would ensure that the Mexican economy is working not just for the very wealthy in Mexico, but for all people. And that's as policy that I'm going to change when I'm president of the United States.

 

On the border fence:

Well, this is an area where Senator Clinton and I almost entirely agree. I think that the key is to consult with local communities, whether it's on the commercial interests or the environmental stakes of creating any kind of barrier.

And the Bush administration is not real good at listening. That's not what they do well.

And so I will reverse that policy. As Senator Clinton indicated, there may be areas where it makes sense to have some fencing. But for the most part, having border patrolled, surveillance, deploying effective technology, that's going to be the better approach.

The one thing I do have to say, though, about this issue is, it is very important for us, I think, to deal with this problem in terms of thousands of -- hundreds of thousands of people coming over the borders on a regular basis if we want to also provide opportunity for the 12 million undocumented workers who are here.

Senator Clinton and I have both campaigned in places like Iowa and Ohio and my home state of Illinois, and I think that the American people want fairness, want justice. I think they recognize that the idea that you're going to deport 12 million people is ridiculous, that we're not going to be devoting all our law enforcement resources to sending people back.

But what they do also want is some order to the process. And so, we're not going to be able to do these things in isolation. We're not going to be able to deal with the 12 million people who are living in the shadows and give them a way of getting out of the shadows if we don't also deal with the problem of this constant influx of undocumented workers.

And that's why I think comprehensive reform is so important. That's the kind of leadership that I've shown in the past; that's the kind of leadership that I'll show in the future.

One last point I want to make on the immigration issue because we may be moving to different topics: Something that we can do immediately that I think is very important is to pass the Dream Act, which allows children who through no fault of their own are here but have essentially grown up as Americans, allow them the opportunity for higher education.

I do not want two classes of citizens in this country. I want everybody to prosper. That's going to be a top priority.

February 21, 2008
Transcript, Democratic Presidential Debate, Austin, Texas

 

I think that John and myself and Hillary may agree on the broad outlines of where we need to go, but two years ago I stood with Ted Kennedy and John McCain and took on this tough issue, and have consistently been involved in making sure that we've got the kind of comprehensive plan that makes us a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.

January 15, 2008
Transcript, Democratic Presidential Debate, Las Vegas, Nevada

 

We do not deputize the American people to do the job that the federal government is supposed to do. So as president of the United States, I will make sure that the federal government does what it's supposed to do, which is to do a better job of closing our borders and preventing hundreds of thousands of people to pour in, have much tougher enforcement standards when it comes to employers, and create a pathway of citizenship for the 12 million people who are already here.

We're not going to deputize a whole bunch of American citizens to start grabbing people or turning them in, the — in part because the ordinary American citizen may not know whether or not this person is illegal or not.

Now, we do — we should be holding employers accountable, because they have a mechanism whereby they can actually enforce. But you know, the notion that we're going to criminalize priests, for example, or doctors who are providing services to individuals and throw them in jail for doing what their calling asks them to do, which is to provide help and service to people in need, I think that is a mistake. I think that's out of America's character.

December 4, 2007
NPR Democratic Debate

 

Commenting on the impact of illegal immigration on the economy

Well, look, this requires leadership. I believe that there are circumstances where, in fact, illegal immigrants are driving down wages. The question is, how do we fix it? Because oftentimes when it's posed that way, then your — the thinking is that somehow we have to pit low-wage American workers versus low-wage immigrant workers.

My answer is to stop illegal workers from coming in, hold employers accountable, but give the 12 million people who are here illegally, many of whom have been here for years, many of whom have U.S. citizens for children, to make sure that they've got a pathway to legalization. If we do that, then they do have rights that they can – they can access.

The — I think that if they are illegal, then they should not be able to work in this country. That is part of the principle of comprehensive reform, that we're going to crack down on employers who are hiring them and taking advantage of them. But I also want to give them a pathway, so that they can earn citizenship, earn a legal status, start learning English, pay a significant fine, go to the back of the line. But they can then stay here and they can have the ability to enforce a minimum wage that they're paid, make sure the worker safety laws are available, make sure that they can join a union.

December 4, 2007
NPR Democratic Debate

 

I would say that they're justified in feeling frustrated because this administration -- the Bush administration -- has done nothing to control the problem that we have. We've had 5 million undocumented workers come over the borders since George Bush took office. It has become an extraordinary problem, and the reason the American people are concerned is because they are seeing their own economic position slip away.

And oftentimes employers are exploiting these undocumented workers. They're not paying them minimum wage. They're not observing worker safety laws. And so what we have to do is create a comprehensive solution to the problem.

Now, I have already stated that, as president, I will make sure that we finally have the kind of border security that we need. That's step number one.

Step number two is to take on employers. Right now, they -- an employer has more of a chance of getting hit by lightning than be prosecuted for hiring an undocumented worker. That has to change. They have to be held accountable.

And when we do those things -- when we do those things, I believe that we can take the undocumented workers, the illegal aliens who are here, get them out of the shadows, make sure that they are subject to a stiff penalty, make sure that they're learning English, make sure that they go to the back of the line so they're not getting an advantage over people who came here legally. And when we do that, I think that we can, instead of shedding all this heat, start shedding some light on the problem, and we can once again be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. That's what I intend to do as president of the United States.

When I was a state senator in Illinois, I voted to require that illegal aliens get trained, get a license, get insurance to protect public safety. (Scattered applause.) That was my intention. And -- but I have to make sure that people understand the problem we have here is not drivers licenses. Undocumented workers don't come here to drive. (Laughter.) They don't go -- they're not coming here to go to the In-N-Out Burger. That's not the reason they're here. They're here to work. And so instead of being distracted by what has now become a wedge issue, let's focus on actually solving the problem that -- this administration, the Bush administration, has done nothing about.

I have already said I support the notion that we have to deal with public safety and that drivers licenses at the state level can make that happen. But what I also -- But what I also know, is that if we keep on getting distracted by this problem, then we are not solving it.

I am going to be fighting for comprehensive immigration reform, and we shouldn't pose the question that somehow we can't achieve that. I believe that the American people desperately want it. That's what I'm going to be fighting for as president.

November 15, 2007
Transcript, Democratic Presidential Debate, Las Vegas, NV

 

The federal law is not being enforced not because of failures of local communities, because the federal government has not done the job that it needs to do. And --

What I would do as president is pass comprehensive immigration reform. And the federal government should be doing, which is controlling our borders but also providing a rational immigration system, which we currently don't have.

September 26, 2007
Transcript, Democratic Presidential Debate, Hanover, NH

 

And so when I see people who are coming across these borders, whether legally or illegally, I know that the motivation is trying to create a better life for their children and their grandchildren. And that's why in the state legislature I championed efforts to make sure that we could incorporate and bring people into the political process and to have access to the resources that would give them a better life, and the same thing has been my cause since I've been in the United States Senate. So I was one of the leaders, along with several other senators, in passing comprehensive immigration reform the year before last out of the Senate. It failed in the House.

That is going to involve some elements of border security because we've got to make our borders more secure. We can't just have hundreds of thousands of people coming into the country without knowing who they are.

It also means, though, that we have an employer verification system that works, and it means that we provide a pathway to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented workers who are already here. And is something that I have championed, and that is smething that I will pass when I am president of the United States; we will begin working on it the first year.

... Making sure that we are investing in our relationship with Mexico so that people in Mexico feel as if they can raise a family and have a good life on the other side of the border is going to be critical; making certain that we have strong border security is important; a pathway to citizenship is something that I've been committed to since I came to the United States Senate.

One other thing, though, that I think has not been mentioned – and I've been working with my dear friend and that colleague Congressman Luis Gutierrez on this -- is we've got to fix a broken immigration system not just for the undocumented but for legal immigrants. Because the backlogs are horrendous, the fees have been increased and doubled and tripled, and as a consequence more and more people are having difficulty just trying to reunify their families even if they're going through the legal pathways, and that puts more pressure on people to go into the illegal system. That is something that we've already got legislation to work on; that is something that we're going to try to pass even before I'm president.

September 9, 2007
Transcript, Democratic Presidential Debate, Coral Cables, FL

 

Look, I think it’s possible for us to be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. That’s what we’ve always been and that’s what we have to continue to be. And that’s why I’ve worked in the Senate and will work hard as president to make sure that we’ve got comprehensive immigration reform that has strong border security. We need to make sure that it’s orderly, that we don’t have thousands of people pouring over our borders or overstaying our visas.

But we also have to make sure that employers are held accountable, because right now employers are taking advantage of undocumented workers. They don’t have benefits. They don’t -- aren’t paying the minimum wage. That is equally important. They’ve got to be held accountable.

And finally, we’ve got to give a pathway to citizenship. But people have to earn it. They’re going to have to pay a fine. They’ve got to make sure that they’re learning English. They’ve got to go to the back of the line so that they’re not rewarded for having broken the law.

If we do those things, then I think that it’s possible for us to bring together the country instead of seeing the country continually divided.

One last thing I’ve got to say. John said something important, and that is, you want to look to see where people have been to know where they’re going. Just a few miles down from here is where the LTV plant used to be. And I originally came to Chicago to work with a community organization, with churches and with unions to deal with laid-off steel workers.

Resurrection, I’ve worked with you and marched on your picket lines. Everybody in this stadium knows the work I’ve done with Illinois labor, and that’s what I want to do all across the country. So thank you so much, everybody.

August 7, 2007
Transcript, Democratic Presidential Debate, Chicago, IL

 

Well, we should certainly do a better job patrolling the borders in Canada. In fact, this recent case with the young lawyer who had tuberculosis being waved through by a border guard because he said he looked OK is a problem. And we've got to strengthen our border patrols on both sides.

But let's go back to the essential issue here. We are a country of immigrants. We're also a country of laws. And the question is, how do we balance that appropriately?

I am hopeful that we can solve this problem constructively. I think Joe is exactly right, that we want to have a situation in which those who are already here, are playing by the rules, are willing to pay a fine and go through a rigorous process, should have a pathway to legalization. And I think most Americans will support that if they have some sense that the border is also being secured

What they don't want is a situation in which there is a pathway to legalization and you've got another several hundred thousands of folks coming in every year. And that, I think... is a sensible position we should be able to arrive at. 

June 3, 2007
Transcript, Democratic Presidential Debate, New Hampshire,

Iran

KELLY (on camera): Senator John McCain came out swinging against you today on the issue of negotiating with our enemies without preconditions. Today, the subject was Raul Castro of Cuba. Yesterday, it was Ahmadinejad of Iran. GOP voters and others also agree with McCain saying -- this is bowing down to terrorists, to dictators in some instances. What's your response to those who believe that?

OBAMA: You know, I think the people just have to look at our history. Ronald Reagan met with Gorbachev; Kennedy met with Khrushchev; and, Nixon met with Mao -- and these were folks who have done horrendous damage not only to their own countries but to other countries. But what we understood was tough, strong, direct diplomacy is the hallmark of a leader in the world, and that's the kind of leadership that we need right now.

Keep in mind, I have never said that I would somehow have meetings with these folks right away, that there wouldn't be any preparation for them. What I've said is that the failed approach that we've had over the last eight years with George Bush not initiating any contacts with these countries has led to them becoming stronger, and Iran is the perfect example.

Iran is stronger now than when George Bush took office. And the fact that we have not talked to them means that they have been developing nuclear weapons, funding Hamas, funding Hezbollah. We have had no impact whatsoever as we pursue our policies.

And if you keep on doing the same thing over and over again, and it doesn't work, then at some point, you should start thinking about something new.

KELLY: Senator, do you assume too much about men like Ahmadinejad, in other words, that you could reason with someone as irrational as he is?

OBAMA: First of all, he is not the most powerful leader in Iran. So, he might not be the person that we would need to meet with. But more importantly, the reason that you have discussions and diplomacy is not because you assume reason or good motives on the other side. That would be naive.

What you assume is that if you are very clear about the need to stand out on nuclear weapons, that you are very clear about the need to stop funding Hezbollah and Hamas, and to stop threatening Israel. And you have engaged in those direct talks and you are listening about what their interests are -- number one, we get a better sense of what their true interests are, and number two, you have sent a message to the world that we are not the impediment of making progress, that they're the ones who are holding up progress, which allows us then to strengthen our alliances, to impose the kinds of tough sanctions that may be necessary to change their behavior.

Right now, what we are doing is playing into their hands. It makes us look like we are the ones unwilling to reason and unwilling to talk, and that's what we've been doing for the last eight years with respect to Iran.

May 21, 2008
Transcript, America's Election HQ, Fox News

 

Our Iran policy is a complete failure right now. And that's the policy that John McCain is running on. He has nothing to offer except the naive and irresponsible belief that tough talk from Washington will somehow cause Iran to give up its nuclear program and support for terrorism.

I'm running for president to change course, not to continue George Bush's course. I believe we need to use all elements of American power to pressure Iran, including tough, principled and direct diplomacy. That's what John F. Kennedy did. That's what Ronald Reagan did when dealing with the Soviets. And that's what the president's own secretary of defense wants to do.

I mean, understand George Bush's secretary of defense suggests we talk directly to Iran. So I don't know if George Bush is calling his own secretary of defense an appeaser. I don't know who he is talking about.

It's time to present Iran with a clear choice. If it abandons its nuclear program, support for terror, and threats to Israel, then Iran can rejoin the community of nations. If not, Iran will face deeper isolation and steeper sanctions. But in the Bush/McCain world view, everyone who disagrees with their failed Iran policy is an appeaser.

May 16, 2008
Speech, Watertown, SD

 

In response to Senator Clinton's proposed umbrella of nuclear deterrence in the greater Middle East (i.e., beyond Israel):

So my central goal is to prevent them from getting nuclear weapons.

In response to Senator Clinton's comments on 'obliterating' Iran:

Well, it's not the language that we need right now, and I think it's language that's reflective of George Bush. We have had a foreign policy of bluster and saber-rattling and tough talk, and, in the meantime, we make a series of strategic decisions that actually strengthen Iran.

I've always said that, you know, as commander in chief, I don't take military options off the table and I think it's appropriate for us to plan for a whole host of contingencies. But let's look at the larger picture. Iran has been the biggest strategic beneficiary of our invasion of Iraq, they are stronger because of our decision to go in; and what we have to do is figure out how are we going to recalibrate our strategic position in the region. I think that starts with pulling our combat troops out of Iraq. We have placed them in harm's way, we have fanned the flames of anti-American sentiment, we are distracted from what's the real battle front that we need to focus on, which is Afghanistan and, and rooting out al-Qaeda. And if we put forward a plan where we are not going to be a permanent occupier in Iraq and we force the Iraqis to stand up and negotiate and come to a compromise that includes, by the way, a regional discussion with Iran, with Syria, as well as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and other regional powers, then I think we are going to be in a better posture to deal with the long-term threat of Iran and particularly its development of nuclear weapons. That's something that this administration has failed to do. I have consistently said that we've got to talk directly to Iran, send them a clear message that they have to stop, not only with their potential funding of militias inside of Iraq, but they also have to stop funding Hamas, they have to stop funding Hezbollah, they've got to stand down on their nuclear weapons. There will be continued consequences for those kinds of actions, but that here are also some carrots and possible benefits if they change behavior. Those kinds of direct talks have not taken place. That's the kind of change in foreign policy that I plan to put in place when I'm president of the United States.

May 4, 2008
Interview, Meet the Press

On extending our nuclear deterrence to Israel, if attacked by Iran:

Well, our first step should be to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of the Iranians, and that has to be one of our top priorities. And I will make it one of our top priorities when I'm president of the United States.

I have said I will do whatever is required to prevent the Iranians from obtaining nuclear weapons. I believe that that includes direct talks with the Iranians where we are laying out very clearly for them, here are the issues that we find unacceptable, not only development of nuclear weapons but also funding terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as their anti-Israel rhetoric and threats towards Israel. I believe that we can offer them carrots and sticks, but we've got to directly engage and make absolutely clear to them what our posture is.

Now, my belief is that they should also know that I will take no options off the table when it comes to preventing them from using nuclear weapons or obtaining nuclear weapons, and that would include any threats directed at Israel or any of our allies in the region….

I think it is very important that Iran understands that an attack on Israel is an attack on our strongest ally in the region, one that we -- one whose security we consider paramount, and that -- that would be an act of aggression that we -- that I would -- that I would consider an attack that is unacceptable, and the United States would take appropriate action.

April 16, 2008
Transcript, Democratic Debate in Philadelphia, PA

I don't believe that diplomacy alone will stop the Iranians from pursuing nuclear weapons. I believe it will require all facets of our national power to achieve this important goal. The gravest threat to Israel today comes from Iran, where a radical regime continues to pursue the ability to build a nuclear weapon, and continues its support for terrorism across the region. (Iranian) President (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad continues his offensive denials of the Holocaust, and his disturbing denunciations of Israel; recently he referred to Israel as a "deadly microbe" and a "savage animal." Threats of Israel's destruction cannot be dismissed as rhetoric

The threat from Iran is real, and my goal as President will be to eliminate it. Ending the war in Iraq will be an important step toward achieving this goal, because it will increase our flexibility and our credibility when we deal with Iran. Make no mistake; Iran has been the biggest strategic beneficiary of the war in Iraq, and I intend to change that.

My approach to Iran will be based upon aggressive diplomacy. I will not take the military option off the table. But I also believe that under this administration, we have seen the threat grow worse, and I intend to change that course.

The time has come to talk directly to the Iranians, and to lay out our clear terms: an end to their pursuit of nuclear weapons; an end to their support of terrorism; and an end to their threats against Israel and other countries in the region. To achieve this goal, I believe that we must be prepared to offer incentives: like the prospect of better relations and integration in the international community; as well as disincentives: like the prospect of increased sanctions.

I would seek these sanctions through the United Nations, and encourage our friends in Europe and the Gulf to use their economic leverage against Iran outside of the UN. I believe we will be in a stronger position to achieve these tough international sanctions if the United States shows that we are willing to come to the table. And I would continue the work that I have started in the Senate by enacting my legislation to make it easier for states to divest their pension funds from Iran.

February 29, 2008
Interview, Israel News

 

Now the gravest threat …to Israel today I believe is from Iran. There a radical regime continues to pursue its capacity to build a nuclear weapon and continues to support terrorism across the region. President Ahmadinejad continues his offensive denials of the Holocaust and disturbing denunciations of Israel, and who recently referred to Israel as a deadly microbe and a savage animal. Threats of Israel's destruction can not be dismissed as rhetoric. The threat from Iran is real and my goal as president would be to eliminate that threat.

 

Ending the war in Iraq I believe will be an important first step in achieving that goal because it will increase our flexibility and credibility when we deal with Iran. Make no mistake I believe that Iran has been the biggest strategic beneficiary of this war and I intend to change that. My approach to Iran will be aggressive diplomacy I will not take any military options off the table. But I also believe that under this administration we have seen the threat grow worse and I intend to change that course. The time I believe has come to talk directly to the Iranians and to lay out our clear terms. Their end of pursuit of nuclear weapons, an end of their support of terrorism and an end of their threat to Israel and other countries in the reason. To prepare this goal I believe that we need to present incentives, carrots, like the prospect of better relations and integration into the national community, as well as disincentives like the prospect of increased sanctions. I would seek these sanctions through the United Nations and encourage our friends in Europe and the Gulf to use their economic leverage against Iran outside of the UN and I believe we will be in a stronger position to achieve these tough international sanctions if the United States has shown itself to be willing to come to the table. I will also continue the work I started in the United States Senate by enacting my legislation to make it easier for states to divest their pension funds from Iran. As president I will leave all options on the table for dealing with a threat from Iran including the military options. But I believe that we have not pursued the kind of aggressive and direct diplomacy that could yield results to both Israel and the United States. The current policy of not talking is not working. It is time to change that. I am running for president because I believe that America can do better both at home and abroad

February 25, 2008
PRemarks to Cleveland's Jewish Community

 

In response to what future position Iran will have in an Obama presidency

I think it is important to begin with an understanding that Ahmadinejad has used reprehensible language with respect to Israel. It is not acceptable, and that the United States should condemn it in its strongest terms. I have also been very clear that I think that Iran's possession of nuclear weapons would not only be contrary to US interests and destabilizing to the region but would be an extraordinary threat to Israel given the anti-Israeli language that has been used not only by Ahmadinejad but other Iranian leaders.

What I have also said, though, is that the essence of diplomacy is not simply talking to your friends but also talking to your enemies. And I think that based on all the reports that we have received of late with respect to Iran about the Bush strategy of not talking has not worked, it has not dampened Iran's anti-Israeli position, it has not lessened its move towards developing, at least the capacity to enrich uranium, and the National Intelligence estimates, the most recent ones, concluded that included that Iran had stood down, at least temporarily, on the weaponizing of its nuclear capacity. It also makes clear that what influences Iran are carrots and sticks and we should move forward aggressively on sanctions that are available.

I have been a sponsor of a divestment bill in the Senate that the administration so far has not gotten behind, but that would allow state and local pension funds to divest from those companies doing business with Iran to increase, not only public sanctions, but also private sector financial pressure, I think we should continue to explore other avenues where we could tighten the pressure on Iran, but I also think we should be presenting carrots and saying to them directly, if you are willing to change your attitudes towards Israel, if you're willing to stand down for the long-term on nuclear weapons, if you're willing to stop funding Hamas and Hezbollah, then we can provide a host of economic benefits, and diplomatic exchanges, everything from potential admission to the World Trade Organization, to a loosening of sanctions, to over the long-term a normalization of diplomatic relations.

The key is to give the Iranians incentives to behave differently, and right now our unwillingness to talk has produced further defiance and has empowered extremists like Ahmadinejad, and over the long-term I think weakened the power of more moderate forces inside Iran. We want to send a signal to the Iranian people and to the larger world community that we are reasonable and are not looking to impede Iran's legitimate national aspirations, but that they have to change their behavior in order to be a welcome member in the community of nations.

January 28, 2008
Press Conference, "Obama Expresses Jewish Concerns," JTA

 

Commenting on the findings of the National Intelligence Estimate

Well, I think Iran continues to be a threat to some of its neighbors in the region, so they're still funding Hamas, they're still funding Hezbollah, and those are things we have to be concerned about. But it is absolutely clear that this administration and President Bush continues to not let facts get in the way of his ideology. And that's been the problem with their foreign policy generally. They should have stopped the saber-rattling, should have never started it, and they need now to aggressively move on the diplomatic front.

I have said consistently since the beginning of this campaign that it is important for the president to lead diplomatic efforts, to try to offer to Iran the prospect of joining the World Trade Organization, potential normalized relations over time, in exchange for changes in behavior. That's something that has to be pursued.

December 4, 2007
NPR Democratic Debate

 

Commenting on the Kyl-Lieberman Resolution, which designated the Iranian Republican Guard as a terrorist organization

There was another problem with the resolution that we haven't spoken about, and that was that it suggested that we should structure in some way our forces in Iraq with the goal of blunting Iranian influence in Iraq.

Now, this is a problem on a whole bunch of fronts, but number one, the reason that Iran has been strengthened was because of this misguided war in Iraq. We installed — helped to elect a government in Iraq that we knew had connections with Iran. And so the notion somehow that they're not going to have influence and that we may be using yet another justification for a continuing mission in Iraq I think is an extreme problem and one of the reasons why this was a bad idea.

December 4, 2007
NPR Democratic Debate

 

But understand the problem with this vote on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. It wasn't simply that it was identified as a terrorist organization. It was also that in the language of the resolution it said we should maintain our forces in Iraq with an eye towards blunting Iranian influence. So it's not just going to have an impact in terms of potentially having a war against Iran. It also gives this administration an excuse to perpetuate their failed strategy in Iraq, and that could mean that you could be redeployed in Iraq. That's why this was a mistake, and that's why not only do we have to bring the war in Iraq to a close, but we have to change the mindset that got us into war, which means we initiate -- yes, I agree with Hillary that we've got to initiate bold diplomacy. I think the next president has to lead that diplomacy. It can't just be envoys.

And one of the reasons I'm running for president -- and Hillary and I had a disagreement on this. I said I would meet with not just our friends, but also with our enemies because that's what strong countries and what strong presidents do is meet with our adversaries, tell them where we stand.

November 15, 2007
Transcript, CNN Democratic Presidential Debate; Las Vegas, NV

 

His view on the designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a foreign terrorist organization

The previous quote was directed specifically at the issue of Israel, and I make no apologies for making sure that we are thinking about our security interests in Israel. The primary difference between myself and Senator Clinton is that she believes that our force structure inside Iraq should, in part, depend on how we can prevent Iran from having influence inside of Iraq. And I think that is a mistake, particularly at a time when we know this administration has been itching to escalate the tensions between Iran and the United States.

There's a broader issue at stake here, and that is how do we approach Iran? I have said, unlike Senator Clinton, that I would meet directly with the leadership in Iran. I believe that we have not exhausted the diplomatic efforts that could be required to resolve some of these problems—them developing nuclear weapons, them supporting terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas. That does not mean that we take other options off the table, but it means that we move forward aggressively with a dialogue with them about not only the sticks that we're willing to apply, but also the carrots. Are there inducements that we can put on the table—joining the World Trade Organization, over time normalizing diplomatic relations—giving them some sense that if they make the right decisions, if they change their behavior, then we will be willing to work with them as we would any other nation in a way that is mutually beneficial. That has not been tried. Not only has it not been tried, but reports indicate that it has been explicitly rejected by the Bush administration. That is a policy that I intend to change as president of the United States.

November 4, 2007
Transcript, "Meet the Press," NBC

 

On whether he would support a policy of regime change in Iran as president

I have repeatedly said I would not take military options off the table. I don't think any president can in any circumstance. What I have said is that until we have exhausted those efforts, then we are not doing what's right for the American people. And this—look, part of the reason it's important for us to talk to countries we don't like and leaders we don't like, it's not that I think that in a conversation with somebody like Ahmadinejad that I'm going to somehow change his mind on everything, but what we do is, we send a signal to other leadership in Iran, to the Iranian people and to the world community that we are listening and that we are willing to try to resolve conflicts peacefully. That's the kind of work to repair our standing in the world that I believe the next president's going to have to engage in. We have to have a clear break with the Bush-Cheney style of diplomacy that has caused so many problems and has actually weakened our ability to deal with a very real terrorist threat.

Here's what I can say, is that I will do whatever's required to keep the American people safe. That's my job as president, that's my job as commander in chief. Military tools are part of the tool kit that the president deploys. We have not been using the other tools that are available. That's what I intend to do as president of the United States. I will make certain that we are doing everything we need to do, not only to deal with Iran, but also to deal with the instability that we're seeing all across the region. And I think it's very important. I give Joe Biden credit in the last debate that we participated in to point out that you can't look at Iran in isolation from critical problems like Pakistan, from the problems that we're having in Afghanistan. We know now that 2007 was the deadliest year for U.S. troops not just in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan. We have seen a tremendous rise in suicide bombings. We have seen that al-Qaeda has strengthened itself in the borders along Pakistan and Afghanistan. We've also seen the Taliban resurgent. And those are all issues that involve the kinds of complexity and effective diplomatic work that we just have not seen from the administration. I intend to provide it.

I've got to say I'm afraid of losing a propaganda war to somebody like Ahmadinejad. You know, strong countries and strong presidents speak with their adversaries. I always think back to [President] Kennedy's saying that we should never negotiate out of fear, but we shouldn't fear to negotiate. We remain the most powerful nation, by far, on earth. Our military capacity is unequaled. We should not hesitate to go ahead and initiate the kinds of discussions that are required. Look at the progress we've made with North Korea. It's still uncertain. It still has to be verified. We shouldn't be trusting Kim Jung Il, but if you look at the kinds of progress we've made in terms of them being willing to stand down on their nuclear program through diplomacy and dialogue—and I will say, by the way, Chris Hill, the envoy from, from our side is, is one of the best diplomats out there—and you compare it to the lack of progress, in fact, the acceleration of their nuclear efforts during those years when the Bush administration was unwilling to talk to them, it's night and day. And we have to continue to apply the kind of intelligent foreign policy that, by the way, historically, has been bipartisan. I mean, this is not something unique to Democrats. People like Dick Lugar and Chuck Hagel in the Senate, who I think are excellent senators and really understand foreign policy, they, too, oppose the Kyl-Lieberman amendment [to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a foreign terrorist organization], and, and they are the kinds of folks that I think represent a tradition where, you know, our foreign policy differences end at our borders and, and we are projecting the kind of strength, but also intelligence, that makes ultimately American more safe.

November 4, 2007
Transcript, "Meet the Press," NBC

 

Regarding U.S. policy towards Iran

And what we should be doing is reaching out aggressively to our allies but also talking to our enemies and focusing on those areas where we do not accept their actions, whether it be terrorism or developing nuclear weapons, but also talking to Iran directly about the potential carrots that we can provide, in terms of them being involved in the World Trade Organization, or beginning to look at the possibilities of diplomatic relations being normalized.

We have not made those serious attempts. This kind of resolution does not send the right signal to the region. It doesn't send the right signal to our allies or our enemies, and as a consequence, I think over the long term it weakens our capacity to influence Iran.

Now, there may come a point where those measures have been exhausted and Iran is on the verge of obtaining a nuclear weapon, where we have to consider other options, but we shouldn't talk about those options now when we haven't tried what would be a much more effective approach.

October 30, 2007
Transcript, Democratic Presidential Debate, Philadelphia, PA

 

I think it's important to back up for a second, Tim, and just understand, number one, Iran is in a stronger position now than it was before the Iraq war because the Congress authorized the president to go in. And so it indicates the degree to which we've got to make sure, before we launch attacks or make judgments of the sort, that we actually understand the intelligence and we have done a good job in sorting it through.

Now, we don't know exactly what happened with respect to Syria . We've gotten general reports, but we don't know all the specifics. We got general reports in the run-up to the Iraq war that proved erroneous, and a lot of people voted for that war as a consequence.

Now, we are a stalwart ally of Israel , and I think it is important to understand that we will back them up in terms of their security. But it is critical to understand that until we have taken the diplomatic routes that are required to tighten economic sanctions

-- I have a plan right now to make sure that private pension funds in this country can divest from their holdings in Iran . Until we have gathered the international community to put the squeeze on Iran economically, then we shouldn't be having conversations about attacks in Iran . And I think what Mayor Giuliani said was irresponsible, because we have not yet come to that point. We have not tried the other approach.

I make an absolute commitment that we will do everything we need to do to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. One of the things we have to try, though, is to talk directly to Iran , something that we have not been doing. And, you know, one of the disagreements that we have on this stage is the degree to which the next president is going to have to engage in the sort of personal diplomacy that can bring about a new era in the region. And, you know, that means talking to everybo

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