The coming attack on Obama

Justin Sullivan/AFP Last night’s Democratic debate was a snoozer, in part because there’s no drama if nobody except the media and political activists are watching. Ordinary U.S. citizens aren’t tuning in yet. But there are some threads worth watching in the (many) months ahead. The war in Iraq and President Bush dominated the discussion, and ...

602260_070427_obama_05.jpg
602260_070427_obama_05.jpg

Justin Sullivan/AFP

Last night's Democratic debate was a snoozer, in part because there's no drama if nobody except the media and political activists are watching. Ordinary U.S. citizens aren't tuning in yet. But there are some threads worth watching in the (many) months ahead. The war in Iraq and President Bush dominated the discussion, and it was no surprise that the candidates don't like either one of those things. Illinois Senator Barack Obama continues his efforts to brand himself as the candidate who opposed the Iraq war from the start (contenders Hillary Clinton and John Edwards voted for the 2002 bill that gave President Bush the authority to go to war).

Expect Obama's opponents to hit back with the charge that he is weak-kneed when it comes to Israel's security. Moderator Brian Williams asked Obama which countries he considered the United States' top three allies, and he came back with "the European Union as a whole" and Japan, with a nod to China as a state that is "neither our enemy nor our friend" but requires more "military-to-military contact." That's not exactly right—Canada, the UK, and Japan are probably the top three when you consider the full panoply of relations. Williams sensed an opening, immediately noting that Obama left Israel out of his list. He then quoted the Illinois Senator as saying, "No one is suffering more than the Palestinian people," and asked if he stood by that comment. (Obama made the remark in response to a question at a March campaign event in Iowa, and was pilloried for it.) Obama responded to Williams, putting the remark in context and acknowledging Israel as "one of our most important allies around the world."

Justin Sullivan/AFP

Last night’s Democratic debate was a snoozer, in part because there’s no drama if nobody except the media and political activists are watching. Ordinary U.S. citizens aren’t tuning in yet. But there are some threads worth watching in the (many) months ahead. The war in Iraq and President Bush dominated the discussion, and it was no surprise that the candidates don’t like either one of those things. Illinois Senator Barack Obama continues his efforts to brand himself as the candidate who opposed the Iraq war from the start (contenders Hillary Clinton and John Edwards voted for the 2002 bill that gave President Bush the authority to go to war).

Expect Obama’s opponents to hit back with the charge that he is weak-kneed when it comes to Israel’s security. Moderator Brian Williams asked Obama which countries he considered the United States’ top three allies, and he came back with “the European Union as a whole” and Japan, with a nod to China as a state that is “neither our enemy nor our friend” but requires more “military-to-military contact.” That’s not exactly right—Canada, the UK, and Japan are probably the top three when you consider the full panoply of relations. Williams sensed an opening, immediately noting that Obama left Israel out of his list. He then quoted the Illinois Senator as saying, “No one is suffering more than the Palestinian people,” and asked if he stood by that comment. (Obama made the remark in response to a question at a March campaign event in Iowa, and was pilloried for it.) Obama responded to Williams, putting the remark in context and acknowledging Israel as “one of our most important allies around the world.”

You can bet that the issue won’t die there. Every word Obama utters on this topic is going to be scrutinized for slip-ups. In U.S. political races, at least, that has come to mean any criticism of Israel at all—even if it comes in the spirit of honest advice to a good friend or, in this case, a slip-up by omission. A president or a pundit has much more leeway to kindly nudge Israel, but Obama’s rhetorical trick of pointing out that every issue has two sides isn’t worth the trouble as a candidate.

(Hat tip: Matt Yglesias)

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