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Obama and Emanuel

Barack Obama’s position on the Mideast conflict will be a strong indicator of his foreign policy agenda. After his speech at the AIPAC conference, Mr Obama left many doubts about the prospect for real change in US policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Real News Network Senior Editor Paul Jay talks with Robert Parry about the appointment of Rahm Emanuel, and whether this selection is symptomatic of things to come.

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Obama and Emanuel

Paul Jay

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: The president-elect is putting together his team. The team will tell us a lot about who Barack Obama is and what his administration plans to do. Joining us to discuss this is Bob Parry. He’s the senior editor of consortiumnews.com. He’s also the author of a book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George [W.] Bush. So the disastrous presidency of George Bush is coming to an end. The new administration is putting together its framework. Rahm Emanuel’s been offered the job as chief of staff, and as I said in another interview, for people who watch this, anyone that watched West Wing knows how important that is, ’cause the chief of staff has a lot to do with controlling the flow of information. Rahm Emanuel voted for the Iraq War, and some say he was very active in getting Democrats onside, voting for the Iraq War. Obama won the Democratic primary as being the guy who had the good judgment to be against the Iraq War. Now he’s surrounding himself with people who were for the Iraq War. If he wanted to send a message of real change, wouldn’t this have been a good place to start?

ROBERT PARRY, AUTHOR AND INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Well, it might have been. It is, probably, hard to find many mainstream Democrats in Washington during that period who didn’t support the Iraq War.

JAY: And you need a mainstream Democrat because—.

PARRY: Well, he certainly is a mainstream Democrat. He’s very much part of the leadership faction in the House. He’s not a person who is known for taking positions that are too far off on the left or right. He’s very much a person who works with the leadership. And all that that meant, if you remember, back in 2002, it was Dick Gephardt and other leaders of the House on the Democratic side who pushed for the support of the Iraq War.

JAY: One of the defining speeches of Obama’s candidacy was a speech at AIPAC, the American-Israeli Policy—. Help me out here.

PARRY: Public Affairs Committee.

JAY: Public Affairs Committee. And in that speech, it was very, very hard, hard support for, you could say, the right-wing position within Israel and within the United States. Obama more or less reversed himself on the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which declared the Iranian Revolutionary Guard terrorist. Obama wasn’t there for the vote, but he said he was going to oppose it, and in the speech he said the Iranian Revolutionary Guard had been quite correctly condemned as being terrorists, which is more or less a reversal of his position. He went as far as to support the Israeli attack on the Syrian installation, which the IAEA says there’s no proof it had anything to do with a nuclear development, and a lot of the people said Rahm Emanuel either influenced that speech, may have written that speech, had input into it. And they see Emanuel as this kind of a figure that’s for very much a kind of AIPAC position in the Middle East. I mean, is that the case? Can he have that kind of influence?

PARRY: Well, I think you’re right about Obama taking those positions, even going so far as to saying that Jerusalem should not be divided, even though that is a position some of the more moderate Israelis say there should be on the table for negotiations and peace talks. One of the surprises, I think, that you may see—and I’ve been reporting on this, but I haven’t really written on this yet—but there seems to be some real pressure inside the Obama camp to make Israel and Palestine, and Israel-Syria, the peace process, an immediate priority, possibly even during the transition getting people into the area, getting fully briefed on where things stand, and using this next two months, even, to try to move the peace process along. Obviously, they have to do something in the Middle East that’s different—they can’t simply be involved in just trying to pull troops out of Iraq in their view. They have to sort of see if they can bring something to the table here that changes the whole picture, that brings the Islamic world more favorably into line with the United States. So they may make some rather brave moves, or at least some assertive moves, relating to the peace process, early on rather than wait. As we’ve seen with President Bush and other presidents, they often tend to wait till they’re on the way out of office to make Israel-Palestine a central issue. But it’s obviously very important, if they’re going to actually get some kind of change in the [inaudible]

JAY: And do you think Emanuel, being known as being a very, very strong supporter, as I said, of a kind of more right-wing approach on the Israeli-Palestinian question, does that tell us anything about where he might go in this area?

PARRY: I’m not sure it does. I think he’s looking for Emanuel as someone who can help him run the matters in Washington. Now, it also might be possible that if you wanted to make an initiative with Israel and sort of put some pressure on them to make a peace deal with the Palestinians and with Syria, you would want some people who have good standing with the Israelis but will see the bigger picture and [be] willing to work with you as a new president to achieve that.

JAY: Well, thank you very much. And we’ll be back to you as more members of this transition team and the new administration takes shape; we’ll come back and talk more about it. And for those of you who would like to know more about Bob Parry, visit consortiumnews.com, where you will also find The Real News. Thanks a lot, Bob.

PARRY: Thank you.

JAY: Thank you.

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