YouTube video

Part 3 of this interview will be published later this weekend.

Story Transcript

Obama and the Middle East

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. It’s our second segment of our interview with Larry Korb. Larry’s a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, was assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration. Thanks for joining us again, Larry. So, in the last segment of the interview, we were talking about Obama, Israel, and Palestine. So if Obama asks you, “Do we want a real Palestinian state, a contiguous state, a state with a real economy that has control over its own borders? Or do we really want a state that’s kind of weak that Israel’s going to be able to kind of control?” what would you answer?

LAWRENCE KORB, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: My answer [inaudible] want a real, bona fide state that has control over its own sovereignty. I mean, this has been the policy. President Clinton came close to getting that at Camp David.

JAY: Was there any indication that the leadership of Israel and any of the parties that might produce the next prime minister actually wants that?

KORB: Well, I think they do, because the Israeli people want it, and, basically, until you have a two-state solution, Israel is going to be in an impossible situation, because if it’s not a two-state solution, Jewish people become a minority in their own country, and if it’s not a two-state solution, you’re not going to have a nonviolent situation. As long as you don’t have a two-state solution, there are going to be groups in Palestinian territories, as they now are called, or other parts of the Middle East, that will use that as a pretext for violence not only against Israel but for other—.

JAY: Okay. So if you want to get there, then don’t you have to accept that a significant number of Palestinians, and in the last real elections a majority of Palestinians, support Hamas? You know, whatever you think of Hamas or whatever I think of Hamas, clearly a lot of Palestinians support Hamas. And if you’re going to have a state that has elections and they elect the party, can you use that as a way to make that the issue, the demolishment of a political force you don’t like, before you allow a state?

KORB: Okay. I think, if you go back, it was a defeat for Fatah, which is not up to the job, and that’s a problem for the Palestinians. Hamas was actually losing support before this latest, you know, Israeli military operation. So I think what you have to do is basically, okay, that’s—you won, and if you act like any responsible nation, we will deal with you. But even if you have a democracy of people who are elected, and they start doing things that violate, you know, international law, you don’t say, “Well, you won, so, therefore, you know, we have to.”

JAY: Well, the head of the UN’s asking for an investigation of the bombing of the UN compound. Human Rights Watch and other organizations have said things have been committed there that amount to war crimes. And, you know, there’s a whole question of whether the whole response was disproportionate to, you know, some lousy homemade rockets falling down, equaling what took place. Shouldn’t Obama—he hasn’t said anything up until now.

KORB: Well, again, I think, you know, if you take a look at the situation, what Israel did is they used military power without a clear political objective, and I think that hurts them in the long run. I think you’re going to see, just as you saw after the war against Hezbollah, that there’ll be a lot of people in Israel saying, “Well, wait a second. What’s our goal? What’s our purpose here?” And I think that is a way to deal with the situation. They’re a vibrant democracy, and their leaders are not going to get away with doing things that don’t further Israel’s national interest.

JAY: But there’s clearly a feeling in the Arab world that America respects Israel’s national interests, America’s national interest, but not to the same extent Palestinians’ national interest. No one sees this as an equal hand. So if Obama’s going to make a move in a direction that says, “We’re being more equal about this,” what would that move be?

KORB: Well, I think [inaudible] negotiate like they’re talking about George Mitchell, former senator Mitchell.

JAY: Do you actually use the leverage of the amount of military age and such as a real lever?

KORB: Well, I think, you know, we have military aid, and, yes, I think the first President Bush basically, as I mentioned before, was able to use, you know, some of that. We also give aid to Egypt, and I think, you know, we have to use it. The thing that really concerns me is, if you look at what has happened in the last eight years or so, in the Middle East the United States is not liked, we’re not respected, and we’re not even feared anymore. So I think you have to restore American credibility in the whole region. Until you do, that’s going to be very hard to move things in the direction that you would like.

JAY: And the credibility based on—you can have two kinds of credibility: you could have credibility more based on the fear, or you can [have] credibility more based on a really new approach that people in the region say, “Okay, they’re not just after our oil; they’re not just after regional hegemony.”

KORB: Well, I think, you know, for example, against the wishes of the Bush administration, Turkey brokered talks between Israel and Syria. I would suspect that President Obama will say, “Well, you know, we need to get that problem done.” Egypt was brokering talks between Israel and Hamas, okay? When you had the problems in Lebanon, [inaudible] called a conference to deal with the situation. But where was the United States? I think that’s what people in the Arab world want: they want us to be an effective negotiator.

JAY: If there’s conference like that and Hamas is there, can the US send a representative?

KORB: Again, if it’s an elected representative from Hamas, it’s an elected government. But, you know, you have to go back and say, yes, Hamas did get the most votes in the election. But then they basically pulled an internal coup. That was not democratic. They took over Gaza, kicked out—.

JAY: There was a bit of it on the other side too.

KORB: Yeah, that’s right. You know. I mean, so it’s a whole different such [sic]. And remember this: Hamas doesn’t have that great a support in some parts of the Arab world. The Egyptians don’t like them; the Jordanians don’t like them; the Saudis don’t like them. In fact, when they had a meeting to deal with the Gaza situation, and the one that Hamas went to, Egypt and Saudis boycotted it. So, I mean, it’s not just, you know, a Hamas and all of the Arabs against—.

JAY: Oh, not at all. But many of these regimes that we just talked about are not very much liked by their own people either. So—.

KORB: I understand. And that, I think, Obama made a great point yesterday when he talked about—.

JAY: Do you think that’s who he had in mind?

KORB: Yeah. Oh, definitely.

JAY: Explain that for me.

KORB: Yeah. Basically what he said is, look, you know, you’re not taking care of the needs of your people and you’re blaming others, but history is going to say, “Did you do what you needed to do?” And that’s right. We’re sitting on a ticking time bomb because you’ve got regimes in there [that] don’t reflect the will of their people and are really not dealing with their own problems. I mean, Egypt has, you know, a demographic time bomb that’s going to explode unless they begin to do things that they need to do.

JAY: So, just to finish off concretely, should Obama make it absolutely clear that this blockade that Israel’s had on Gaza for the last six, seven months, in terms of food and medical supplies and fuel and such, that that blockade should end and that they actually should rebuild Gaza in a real way?

KORB: I think that’s part of the UN resolution that, basically, the United States abstained on, but basically, you know, I think, supporting that. And here’s the thing that I think is important: that’s in Israel’s interest to open that up, okay?

JAY: And many people in Israel argue this, except they’re not running the government.

KORB: Well, that’s [inaudible] correct. And I think [inaudible]

JAY: So the question is: will Obama confront those who are actually running the government?

KORB: Well, I have—.

JAY: ‘Cause Israeli public opinion probably agrees with what you just said.

KORB: Sure. Yeah. I have no doubt that he will do that. His new UN ambassador, Susan Rice, is so much different than some of the people that, you know, Bush sent up to the United Nations.

JAY: Okay. So, just quickly, one thing we should see in the next two months that would tell us we’re on a different track with Obama vis-à-vis Israel.

KORB: I think the appointing of a high-level negotiator like George Mitchell who will not be perceived, I think, by the Israelis as someone who is not so pro-Israel that he doesn’t take into account the desires of the other people.

JAY: Okay. We shall see. Thank you for joining us at this segment interview. And we will be back, and we’re going to talk about Afghanistan. Please join us for the next section of our interview with Larry Korb.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Lawrence J. Korb is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Senior Adviser to the Center for Defense Information. He served as the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Manpower, Reserve Affairs, Installations and Logistics) under President Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1985. In that position, he administered about seventy percent of the Defense budget.