Prepared text of Barack Obama's speech for the AIPAC foreign policy forum.
Remarks of Senator Barack Obama
As Prepared for Delivery
AIPAC Policy Forum
March 2, 2007
Thank you so much for your kind introduction and the invitation to meet
with you this morning.
Last week, this event was described to me as a small gathering of
friends. Looking at all of you here today; seeing so many of you who care
about peace in this world; who care about a strong and lasting friendship
between Israel and the United States, and who care about what’s on the
next page of our shared futures, I think “a small gathering of
friends” fits this crowd just right.
I want to begin today by telling you a story.
Back in January of 2006, I made my first trip to the Holy Land. It is a
place unlike any other on this earth – a place filled with so much
promise of what we truly can be as people; a place where we’ve learned
how in a flash, violence and hatred and intolerance can turn that promise
to rubble and send too many lives to their early graves.
Most will travel to the holy sites: the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the
Dome of the Rock or the Western Wall. They make a journey to be humbled
before God. I too am blessed to have seen Israel this way, up close and
on the ground.
But I am also fortunate to have seen Israel from the air.
On my journey that January day, I flew on an IDF helicopter to the border
zone. The helicopter took us over the most troubled and dangerous areas
and that narrow strip between the West Bank and the Mediterranean Sea. At
that height, I could see the hills and the terrain that generations have
walked across. I could truly see how close everything is and why peace
through security is the only way for Israel.
Our helicopter landed in the town of Kiryat Shmona on the border. What
struck me first about the village was how familiar it looked. The houses
and streets looked like ones you might find in a suburb in America. I
could imagine young children riding their bikes down the streets. I could
imagine the sounds of their joyful play just like my own daughters. There
were cars in the driveway. The shrubs were trimmed. The families were
living their lives.
Then, I saw a house that had been hit with one of Hezbollah’s Katyusha
The family who lived in the house was lucky to be alive. They had been
asleep in another part when the rocket hit. They described the
explosion. They talked about the fire and the shrapnel. They spoke about
what might have been if the rocket had come screaming into their home at
another time when they weren’t asleep but sitting peacefully in the now
destroyed part of the house.
It is an experience I keep close to my heart. Not because it is unique,
but because we know that too many others have seen the same kind of
destruction, have lost their loved ones to suicide bombers and live in
fear of when the next attack might hit. Just six months after I visited,
Hezbollah launched four thousand rocket attacks just like the one that
destroyed the home in Kiryat Shmona, and kidnapped Israeli service
members. And we pray for all of the service members who have been
kidnapped: Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev, and Ehud Goldwasser, and I met with
his family this week. I offered to help in any way I can.
It is important to remember this history—that Israel had unilaterally
withdrawn from Lebanon only to have Iran supply Hezbollah with thousands
Our job is to never forget that the threat of violence is real. Our job
is to renew the United States’ efforts to help Israel achieve peace with
its neighbors while remaining vigilant against those who do not share this
vision. Our job is to do more than lay out another road map; our job is
to rebuild the road to real peace and lasting security throughout the
That effort begins with a clear and strong commitment to the security of
Israel: our strongest ally in the region and its only established
democracy. That will always be my starting point. And when we see all of
the growing threats in the region: from Iran to Iraq to the resurgence of
al-Qaeda to the reinvigoration of Hamas and Hezbollah, that loyalty and
that friendship will guide me as we begin to lay the stones that will
build the road that takes us from the current instability to lasting peace
It won’t be easy. Some of those stones will be heavy and tough for the
United States to carry. Others with be heavy and tough for Israel to
carry. And even more will be difficult for the world. But together, we
will begin again.
One of the heavy stones that currently rest at the United States’ feet
is Iraq. Until we lift this burden from our foreign policy, we cannot
rally the world to our values and vision.
As many of you know, I opposed this war from the beginning – in part
because I believed that giving this President the open-ended authority to
invade Iraq would lead to the open-ended occupation we find ourselves in
Now our soldiers find themselves in the crossfire of someone
else’s civil war. More than 3,100 have given the last full measure of
devotion to their country. This war has fueled terrorism and helped
galvanize terrorist organizations. And it has made the world less safe.
That is why I advocate a phased redeployment of U.S. troops out of Iraq to
begin no later than May first with the goal of removing all combat forces
from Iraq by March 2008. In a civil war where no military solution
exists, this redeployment remains our best leverage to pressure the Iraqi
government to achieve the political settlement between its warring
factions that can slow the bloodshed and promote stability.
My plan also allows for a limited number of U.S. troops to remain and
prevent Iraq from becoming a haven for international terrorism and reduce
the risk of all-out chaos. In addition, we will redeploy our troops to
other locations in the region, reassuring our allies that we will stay
engaged in the Middle East. And my plan includes a robust regional
diplomatic strategy that includes talking to Syria and Iran – something
this Administration has finally embraced.
The U.S. military has performed valiantly and brilliantly in Iraq. Our
troops have done all that we have asked them to do and more. But a
consequence of the Administration’s failed strategy in Iraq has been to
strengthen Iran’s strategic position; reduce U.S. credibility and
influence in the region; and place Israel and other nations friendly to
the United States in greater peril. These are not the signs of a
well-paved road. It is time for profound change.
As the U.S. redeploys from Iraq, we can recapture lost influence in the
Middle East. We can refocus our efforts to critical, yet neglected
priorities, such as combating international terrorism and winning the war
in Afghanistan. And we can, then, more effectively deal with one of the
greatest threats to the United States, Israel and world peace: Iran.
Iran’s President Ahmadinejad’s regime is a threat to all of us. His
words contain a chilling echo of some of the world’s most tragic
Unfortunately, history has a terrible way of repeating itself. President
Ahmadinejad has denied the Holocaust. He held a conference in his
country, claiming it was a myth. But we know the Holocaust was as real as
the 6 million who died in mass graves at Buchenwald, or the cattle cars to
Dachau or whose ashes clouded the sky at Auschwitz. We have seen the
pictures. We have walked the halls of the Holocaust museum in Washington
and Yad Vashem. We have touched the tattoos on loved-ones arms. After 60
years, it is time to deny the deniers.
In the 21^st century, it is unacceptable that a member state of the United
Nations would openly call for the elimination of another member state. But
that is exactly what he has done. Neither Israel nor the United States has
the luxury of dismissing these outrages as mere rhetoric.
The world must work to stop Iran’s uranium enrichment program and
prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is far too dangerous to
have nuclear weapons in the hands of a radical theocracy. And while we
should take no option, including military action, off the table, sustained
and aggressive diplomacy combined with tough sanctions should be our
primary means to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons.
Iranian nuclear weapons would destabilize the region and could set off a
new arms race. Some nations in the region, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia
and Turkey, could fall away from restraint and rush into a nuclear contest
that could fuel greater instability in the region—that’s not just bad
for the Middle East, but bad for the world, making it a vastly more
dangerous and unpredictable place. Other nations would feel great pressure
to accommodate Iranian demands. Terrorist groups with Iran’s backing
would feel emboldened to act even more brazenly under an Iranian nuclear
umbrella. And as the A.Q. Kahn network in Pakistan demonstrated, Iran
could spread this technology around the world.
To prevent this worst-case scenario, we need the United States to lead
This includes direct engagement with Iran similar to the meetings we
conducted with the Soviets at the height of the Cold War, laying out in
clear terms our principles and interests. Tough-minded diplomacy would
include real leverage through stronger sanctions. It would mean more
determined U.S diplomacy at the United Nations. It would mean harnessing
the collective power of our friends in Europe who are Iran’s major
trading partners. It would mean a cooperative strategy with Gulf States
who supply Iran with much of the energy resources it needs. It would mean
unifying those states to recognize the threat of Iran and increase pressure
on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment. It would mean full implementation
of U.S. sanctions laws. And over the long term, it would mean a focused
approach from us to finally end the tyranny of oil, and develop our own
alternative sources of energy to drive the price of oil down.
We must also persuade other nations such as Saudi Arabia to recognize
common interests with Israel in dealing with Iran. We should stress to the
Egyptians that they help the Iranians and do themselves no favors by
failing to adequately prevent the smuggling of weapons and cash by Iran
The United States’ leverage is strengthened when we have many nations
with us. It puts us in a place where sanctions could actually have a
profound impact on Iran’s economy. Iran is highly dependent on imports
and foreign investment, credit and technology. And an environment where
our allies see that these types of investments in Iran are not in the
world’s best interests, could help bring Iran to the table.
We have no quarrel with the Iranian people. They know that President
Ahamadinejad is reckless, irresponsible, and inattentive to their
day-to-day needs which is why they sent him a rebuke at the ballot box
this fall. And we hope more of them will speak out. There is great hope
in their ability to see his hatred for what it is: hatred and a threat to
peace in the region.
At the same time, we must preserve our total commitment to
our unique defense relationship with Israel by fully funding military
assistance and continuing work on the Arrow and related missile defense
programs. This would help Israel maintain its military edge and deter and
repel attacks from as far as Tehran and as close as Gaza. And
when Israel is attacked, we must stand up for Israel’s legitimate right
to defend itself. Last summer, Hezbollah attacked Israel. By using
Lebanon as an outpost for terrorism, and innocent people as shields,
Hezbollah has also engulfed that entire nation in violence and conflict,
and threatened the fledgling movement for democracy there. That’s why
we have to press for enforcement of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701,
which demands the cessation of arms shipments to Hezbollah, a resolution
which Syria and Iran continue to disregard. Their support and shipment of
weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas, which threatens the peace and security in
the region, must end.
These are great challenges that we face. And in moments like
these, true allies do not walk away. For six years, the administration has
missed opportunities to increase the United States’ influence in the
region and help Israel achieve the peace she wants and the security she
needs. The time has come for us to seize those opportunities.
The Israeli people, and Prime Minister Olmert, have made clear that they
are more than willing to negotiate an end to the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict that will result in two states living side by side in peace and
security. But the Israelis must trust that they have a true Palestinian
partner for peace. That is why we must strengthen the hands of
Palestinian moderates who seek peace and that is why we must maintain the
isolation of Hamas and other extremists who are committed to Israel’s
The U.S. and our partners have put before Hamas three very simple
conditions to end this isolation: recognize Israel’s right to exist;
renounce the use of violence; and abide by past agreements between Israel
and the Palestinian Authority.
We should all be concerned about the agreement negotiated among
Palestinians in Mecca last month. The reports of this agreement suggest
that Hamas, Fatah, and independent ministers would sit in a government
together, under a Hamas Prime Minister, without any recognition of Israel,
without a renunciation of violence, and with only an ambiguous promise to
“respect” previous agreements.
This should concern us all because it suggests that Mahmoud Abbas, who is
a Palestinian leader I believe is committed to peace, felt forced to
compromise with Hamas. However, if we are serious about the Quartet’s
conditions, we must tell the Palestinians this is not good enough.
But as I said at the outset, Israel will have some heavy stones to carry
as well. Its history has been full of tough choices in search of peace and
Yitzhak Rabin had the vision to reach out to longtime enemies. Ariel
Sharon had the determination to lead Israel out of Gaza. These were
difficult, painful decisions that went to the heart of Israel's identity
as a nation.
Many Israelis I talked to during my visit last year told me
that they were prepared to make sacrifices to give their children a chance
to know peace. These were people of courage who wanted a better life. And
I know these are difficult times and it can be easy to lose hope. But we
owe it to our sons and daughters, our mothers and fathers, and to all
those who have fallen, to keep searching for peace and security -- even
though it can seem distant. This search is in the best interests of
Israel. It is in the best interests of the United States. It is in the
best interests of all of us.
We can and we should help Israelis and Palestinians both fulfill their
national goals: two states living side by side in peace and security.
Both the Israeli and Palestinian people have suffered from the failure to
achieve this goal. The United States should leave no stone unturned in
working to make that goal a reality.
But in the end, we also know that we should never seek to dictate what is
best for the Israelis and their security interests. No Israeli Prime
Minister should ever feel dragged to or blocked from the negotiating table
by the United States.
We must be partners – we must be active partners. Diplomacy in the
Middle East cannot be done on the cheap. Diplomacy is measured by
patience and effort. We cannot continue to have trips consisting of
little more than photo-ops with little movement in between. Neither
Israel nor the U.S. is served by this approach.
Peace with security. That is the Israeli people’s
It is what I saw in the town of Fassouta on the border with Lebanon.
There are 3,000 residents of different faiths and histories.
There is a community center supported by Chicago’s own Roman Catholic
Archdiocese and the Jewish Federation of Metro Chicago. It is where the
education of the next generation has begun: in a small village, all faiths
and nationalities, living together with mutual respect.
I met with the people from the village and they gave me a tour of this
wonderful place. There was a moment when the young girls came in and they
played music and began to dance.
After a few moments, I thought about my own daughters, Sasha and Malia and
how they too could dream and dance in a place like this: a place of renewal
and restoration. Proof, that in the heart of so much peril, there were
signs of life and hope and promise—that the universal song for peace