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So, Who Is His Friend?

Martin Kramer notes that Barack Obama places suspicious emphasis on the influence of benign nobodies, while buttoning up about his many conversations with Rashid Khalidi:

For example, Obama, in an interview and in his spring AIPAC speech, recalled conversations with a Jewish-American camp counselor he encountered-when he was all of eleven years old. “During the course of this two-week camp he shared with me the idea of returning to a homeland and what that meant for people who had suffered from the Holocaust, and he talked about the idea of preserving a culture when a people had been uprooted with the view of eventually returning home. There was something so powerful and compelling for me, maybe because I was a kid who never entirely felt like he was rooted.” (In the same interview, Obama said Israel “speaks to my history of being uprooted, it speaks to the African-American story of exodus.”)

Of course, the story of someone like Khalidi could have just as readily spoken to Obama’s history of uprootedness, exodus, preserving a culture, and longing to return home. (So too would the story of the late Edward Said, who was photographed seated at a dinner with Obama in 1998, and who entitled his memoir Out of Place. Obama has never said anything about the impact, if any, of that conversation.) And indeed, it stretches credulity to believe that a two-week childhood encounter at a summer camp was more significant to Obama that his decade-long association, as a mature adult, with his senior university colleague, Khalidi.

It’s true. In Obama lore, camp counselors shape your politics, while terrorists are just guys in the neighborhood, and terrorist mouthpieces are babysitters. As Kramer points out, the Obamas’ babysitter said the following about the start of the Iraq War:

This war will be fought because these neoconservatives desire to make the Middle East safe not for democracy, but for Israeli hegemony. They are convinced that the Middle East is irremediably hostile to both the United States and Israel; and they firmly hold the racist view that Middle Easterners understand only force. For these American Likudniks and their Israeli counterparts, sad to say, the tragedy of September 11 was a godsend: It enabled them to draft the United States to help fight Israel’s enemies.

Which, Kramer notes, sounds a lot like Obama’s own October 2002 antiwar speech:

“What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.” No mention of Cheney or Rumsfeld-and no need to mention them, to a constituency that knew who was really behind the push for war, and why. (Later, the same argument would figure prominently in The Israel Lobby, co-authored by another Chicago professor, John Mearsheimer.)

Funny–none of the sage words of Obama’s camp counselor seemed to make it into that speech.


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