Barack Obama, who takes over as U.S. president from George W. Bush on January 20, broke his silence about the violence in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, calling the loss of civilian lives in Gaza and in Israel a "source of deep concern for me."
Obama added he would adhere to his principle that only Bush should be the voice of U.S. foreign policy at this time but he would have plenty to say after his inauguration in two weeks.
Nonetheless, Obama said that he is "not backing at all from what I've said during the campaign we're going to engage effectively and consistently in the peace process."
"We've got plenty to say about Gaza, and on January 20, you'll hear directly from me," he added. [my emphasis]
I'm actually surprised that he spoke out directly on this before Inauguration Day. Cheney and Bush are still in charge, and the Republicans are likely to trash him for saying anything.
But it looks significant to me, optimist that I am for this brief moment in time, that his reference to civilian casualties in "in Gaza and in Israel" could be a signal of a return to at least a nominally independent stance that could allow the US to be a credible mediator. And reiterating his support for the peace process is a positive sign.
Billmon also points to some significant changes that look to be for the better that Obama's team is insisting upon at the Pentagon in A Final Communique From the Neocon Bunker Daily Kos diary 12/31/08. There are real reasons for the Democratic base to be optimistic - cautiously and critically, but still optimistic - about the incoming administration.
Compare that with the sad, superficial performance of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Meet the Press on Sunday, being interviewed by the even sadder and more superficial David Gregory:
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about the ground invasion into Gaza. Do you think on the part of this Israeli--of the Israelis this was offensive or defensive?
SEN. REID: I spoke to Prime Minister Olmert a couple of days ago. He indicated that they would do the ground activities. Let's understand the background. For eight years they've been firing rockets into Israel. They've become more intense the last few months. Israelis have been killed, maimed and injured. Sometimes more than 200 a day coming into Israel. If this were going on in the United States from Vancouver, Canada, into Seattle, would we react? Course we do. We would have to. I think what the Israelis are doing is very important. I think this terrorist organization, Hamas, has got to be put away. They've got to come to their senses. The Fatah group, which is--makes up part of Palestinian group, has a peace arrangement with Israel. Hamas should do the same.
MR. GREGORY: And they're in power in the West Bank.
SEN. REID: That's right. And, and, and Israel, for--since 1967, controlled Gaza. They gave it to the Palestinians as a gesture of peace. And all they got are a bunch of rockets in return.
MR. GREGORY: So you think that Israel ought to move forward and try to remove Hamas from power?
SEN. REID: They have to. I, I'm not concerned about removing Hamas from power, I'm concerned about stopping the rocket fire and the mortar fire into Israel. That is the key, and that's what Israel's up to according to the prime minister.
MR. GREGORY: Should there be an immediate cease-fire?
SEN. REID: If the Hamas organization will agree and there is some degree of certainty that they will follow through. They, in the past, have simply not lived up to what they said they would do. If there's a way of enforcing this cease-fire, then yes. Otherwise, Israel has to continue till they stop the rockets and mortars coming into Israel, maiming, injuring...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
SEN. REID: ...and killing Israelis.
MR. GREGORY: So you, you're in sync with the Bush administration on this point?
SEN. REID: Yes, I am.
MR. GREGORY: OK. [my emphasis]
It sounded poor enough listening to it. When I start looking closely at the words, it sounds even stranger. Did I miss something, in particular the fact that Al Fatah has "a peace arrangement with Israel"? Did Reid just let something confidential slip?
I'm more concerned about his reflexive and one-sided position defending the Israeli offensive in Gaza without reservation. If Obama intends to place the US in a more mediating postion - which was the US position before Cheney and Bush took over - then I don't see how Reid's statement helps that a bit.
The incoming Obama administration certainly has some political flexibility among the public and the Democratic base on an Israeli-Palestinian peace, though you wouldn't know it from listening to Harry Reid in that appearance. Glenn Greewald recently reported on opinion poll results (More oddities in the U.S. "debate" over Israel/GazaSalon 01/02/08):
This Rasmussen Reports poll -- the first to survey American public opinion specifically regarding the Israeli attack on Gaza -- strongly bolsters the severe disconnect I documented the other day between (a) American public opinion on U.S. policy towards Israel and (b) the consensus views expressed by America's political leadership. Not only does Rasmussen find that Americans generally "are closely divided over whether the Jewish state should be taking military action against militants in the Gaza Strip" (44-41%, with 15% undecided), but Democratic voters overwhelmingly oppose the Israeli offensive -- by a 24-point margin (31-55%). By stark constrast, Republicans, as one would expect (in light of their history of supporting virtually any proposed attack on Arabs and Muslims), overwhelmingly support the Israeli bombing campaign (62-27%).
And the question of proportionality can't be ignored. Juan Cole adds some important persective in that regard in a post that looks at ways in which the credibility gap that Cheney, Bush, Rummy and the neocons created in the US over the Iraq War is also affecting the credibility of Israeli claims about Gaza (Have Bush and the Neocons Ruined it for the Israelis? Informed Comment blog 01/05/08):
Israelis point to thousands of rocket attacks by Hamas on Israel, without mentioning that no Israelis had been killed by them during the truce stretching from mid-June, 2008 until December 26. That is, the prelude to the most violent Israeli attack on Gaza since 1967 was . . . not a single Israeli death at the hands of Hamas in the preceding half-year. And in 8 years, Hamas had killed about 15 Israelis with those home made rockets, during which time the Israelis had killed nearly 5000 Palestinians, nearly 1000 of them minors. The rockets were small, handmade affairs for the most part and most landed uselessly. Some did damage to property and a few wounded or killed people. That would be a legitimate assertion. But the quotation of "thousands" of rockets is a half-truth and intentionally misleading.
Another half-truth is that Israel is involved in a "peace process" or supports Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, when in fact it has gone on stealing Palestinian land in the West Bank and making Palestinian lives miserable and colonizing them.
Cole doesn't seem to know about that "peace arrangement" between Fatah and Israel either.