Saturday, April 29, 2006

Watch Sen. Obama and Cong. Bean play dodgeball with the Press

Additional links added to this post at 6:00 pm on Sunday, April 30.
Senator Obama: What I said was is that the consequences of such an attack would be enormous. And, that we had not exhausted our diplomatic approaches to dealing with Iran.

Jeff Berkowitz: ... Given that statement, is there still a window of opportunity, even though you are saying the consequences would be enormous; Is there a time at which you would like to go through that window of opportunity?
The "Public Affairs," dodgeball podcast episode makes its debut with Senator Obama, Congresswoman Bean and the Chicago Press Corps. [See here, anytime].

In addition to Obama-Bean, you have a choice of 20 different episodes of “Public Affairs," to watch on your computer, right now,
including State Senate 27th Dist. Republican Nominee Matt Murphy [Palatine], Republican State Treasurer nominee, State Senator and heroine of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board Christine Radogno, NBC-5 News' Dick Kay, the Republican nominee and Democratic incumbent in the 8th CD, David McSweeney and Congresswoman Bean, respectively; Tony Peraica, Republican nominee for Cook County Board President; Forrest Claypool, who came close to beating John Stroger in the 2006 Democratic Primary for Cook County Board President; Cong. Jan Schakowsky [D-Evanston, 9th CD] [See here].
Do you need something exciting in your life? Well, then, my gentle readers and viewers, watch Senator Barack Obama and Cong. Bean on your computer; then read the partial transcript, below; then read the analysis. It doesn’t get much better than that. As they say, the best things in life are free. Except for lunch, of course.
Senator Obama: I am deeply concerned about Iran. I don’t think there is any doubt that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons and that would be enormously de-stabilizing. And, I believe that we shouldn’t take any options off the table, theoretically. As a practical matter, the notion that we would launch nuclear weapons into Iran or invade Iran, I think, is a recipe for disaster. And, we have to make sure that we are approaching the problem of Iran and its nuclear capacity with the most forceful diplomatic approaches possible. That diplomacy has not been exhausted. I agree with my Republican colleague on the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Dick Lugar, that we need to have direct talks with Iranians, something that we have not even attempted to do. We need to work closely with the Russians and Chinese, Indians and others that have better relationships with Iran than we do, to try to figure out how to break this impasse but to the extent that we are seriously proposing some of the strategies that have been reported in Seymour Hersh’s article, for example, I think that would be disastrous.
Senator Obama: We don’t have enough troops for an invasion [of Iran]. The potential repercussions of even an air bombing campaign, for example, presumes that you actually know where these target sites [in Iran involved in the building of a nuclear weapon capability] are. Many of these potential nuclear sites are in civilian areas. Many of them are underground bunkers. You would be talking about enormous civilian casualties. This isn’t some clean surgical strike of the sort that Israel launched against Iraq back in the early 90s [Ed. Note. I think Sen. Obama meant to say early 80s, as in 1981]. This would be an extraordinarily serious and difficult military task and so we need to make sure that we are re-doubling our efforts diplomatically, thinking about how can we ratchet up sanctions and put a squeeze on Iranians, but also give them a place to land if they are willing to stand down.
Mary Frances Bragiel [WBBM 780 AM Radio]: Congressman [sic], do you think the Bush tax cuts should be made permanent?

Congresswoman Melissa Bean: I have supported the tax cuts that have come before me since I have been in Congress [But, see here, for her opponent's view of Cong. Bean on tax cuts].

Jeff Berkowitz: Do you think they should be made permanent?

Senator Barack Obama: Let’s finish up here [Senator Obama directed the questioning back to the topic of separate legislation sponsored by Cong. Bean and him to prevent third party tax return preparers from disclosing or disseminating to other third parties information the tax return preparers received or used to fill out their clients’ tax returns, even if the client whose tax return is being filed signs a written consent to such disclosure or dissemination.].
Mary Frances Bragiel: Congressman [sic], do you want to answer again-- continue answering in regard to [whether] the Bush tax cuts should be made permanent?

Congresswoman Melissa Bean: I have supported the tax cuts that have come to me so far. We haven’t seen anything proposed yet to further that. [See here for an additional exchange with Cong. Bean on tax cuts and here for an exchange with Cong. Bean on trade and additional links to other discussions with Cong. Bean].

Jeff Berkowitz: Congresswoman, can I ask you one thing on Iran?

Cong. Bean: You can ask me offline [Ed. Note: Offline ?]

Jeff Berkowitz: Well, can I ask you now since the Senator just commented? Can I ask you to comment on the Senator’s statement that conventional arms, bombing, not nuclear, [to take out Iran’s developing nuclear capability] would be inappropriate at this time?

Senator Obama: That’s not what I said, Jeff. Don’t put words in my mouth and then ask Melissa to comment.

Jeff Berkowitz: Well, let me ask you Senator. It sounded as if you were saying [use of] nuclear arms, even tactical, by the United States would be certainly inappropriate. It sounded as if you said conventional arms, bombing, would involve great civilian damage [in Iran] and therefore [would] also [be] inappropriate, at this time.

Senator Obama: What I said was is that the consequences of such an attack would be enormous. And, that we had not exhausted our diplomatic approaches to dealing with Iran.

Jeff Berkowitz: Could I ask you a question on that. Given that statement, is there still a window of opportunity, even though you are saying the consequences would be enormous; Is there a time at which you would like to go through that window of opportunity?

Senator Obama: Jeff, I am not going to speculate on that.

Julian Green [Obama press secretary]: Jeff, come on, we’re not going to do that.

Senator Obama: I am not going to speculate on the scenarios.

Another reporter: One last thing, can you tell us about Alexi?

Senator Obama: What I’ll do is, why don’t we break it up…I’m going to defer to my press secretary. Do you want to? Are you done?

Cong. Bean: I have to go. I’ll just say on the discussion of diplomacy, I echo his [Sen. Obama’s] opinions on that. I do have to depart, but thank you all very much for attending and we’ll answer some follow-up questions. Thanks. [at which point, Cong. Bean left Sen. Obama and the podium and stopped in the back of the room to answer a few questions from those reporters who chose to leave Sen. Obama to question Cong. Bean. Senator Obama then proceeded to answer questions about the Democratic Party nominee for State Treasurer, Alexi Giannoulias, whom Obama had endorsed big time in the Democratic Primary. Giannoulias is under siege in the press for [a] loans made by his family bank to “borrowers of questionable background,” who some in the press have argued are “part of the Outfit” and [b] for Alexi’s involvement or asserted involvement in issuing such loans. Senator Obama also proceeded to answer questions about whether he was calling for Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld to step down].
Senator Barack Obama [D- IL] and Congresswoman Melissa Bean [D-Barrington, 8th CD], speaking at a Joint Press Conference, Chicago Loop, April 17, 2006.
The issue that the above highlights is whether Senator Obama is currently willing to take a clear, cogent position on significant public policy issues or whether he is becoming an equivocator. He seemed to come close to taking a clear position on the issue of taking military action regarding Iran, before I questioned him.

That is, as indicated, above, Senator Obama essentially said it would be a mistake, at this time, for the U. S. to try to take out, by bombing with conventional weapons, the “nuclear capability,” of Iran. The consequences in terms of civilian damage, etc., would be enormous, he said. The military operation might not succeed. And, besides, we haven’t exhausted diplomatic efforts, Senator Obama said.

When Sen. Obama said that, first term Congresswoman Bean [D-Barrington] was standing right next to him. She was there to see if Obama could spread a little of his brilliance on her, and get good press in the 8th CD as a result. The obvious question, it seemed to me, was “Does Bean agree with Obama on Iran." The 8th CD is quite a bit more conservative than the State of Illinois, in general, and thus the Congresswoman might not want to parrot the good Senator’s views on foreign policy. Or, she might. That is the point of a press conference. The press gets to ask questions to get answers.

So, apparently sensing that my question put Cong. Bean in a tough position, Sen. Obama played her knight in shining armor and deflected the question. Obama said I was putting “words in his mouth,” and then I had asked Cong. Bean to comment on that. Really? So, Obama is saying it might be appropriate, at this time, for the U. S. to use conventional arms to take out the growing capability of Iran to produce nuclear weapons? I don’t think he would agree to that. And, yet he got upset when I paraphrased him as saying that such action would be “inappropriate, at this time.”

Thus, what is the space that Sen. Obama occupies between not saying the action is appropriate now and not saying the action is inappropriate now. It would seem to be the same space that Senator Kerry occupies when he says, “I voted for the military spending bill for Iraq just before I voted against it.” That is the kind of Senator Barack Obama seems to want to be. It took Kerry twenty years in the U. S. Senate to get there and Obama got there in only one. That’s a remarkable, if depressing, achievement.

For those of us who know and admire Senator Obama, it is a sad sight to see. Since he had appeared on our television show “Public Affairs,” seven times in the five years preceding his election to the U. S. Senate, I got a pretty good idea of his ability and willingness to answer questions directly, thoughtfully and articulately. You might not always agree with then- State Senator Barack Obama, but you knew where he stood.

Remember, this was the Democratic Primary candidate for the U. S. Senate who took a clear, loud, articulate position against the Iraq War in the fall of 2002. When I asked Obama on my show in 2003 and again in 2004, before the 2004 U. S. Senate primary election, how he would differentiate himself from his opponents, since they all opposed the war in Iraq and they all had expressed “concerns,” previously, State Senator Obama said, “anybody can have concerns, we all have concerns.” He went on to argue that what the people of Illinois needed was a U. S. Senator who would take a position, argue the position articulately and vigorously, and neither waffle nor simply express “concerns.”

Now, U. S. Senator Obama has become an artful dodger. That is, Senator Obama treats a press conference like a dodgeball game, at least on the tough public policy questions, and he now plays dodgeball very well.

The real question about Iran is what if the U. S. pursues diplomacy with the help of China and Russia, as the Senator recommends, and it doesn’t pan out, say, in two years. And, assume the sanctions don’t pan out, as well. That is, either the U. S. can’t get them imposed by the U. N. or they have little impact, whether they have the support of the U. N. or not.

Let’s assume it will take five years for Iran to develop its nuclear weapon capability, as some argue [others argue it will be a considerably longer or shorter time period]. In two years, the Iran nuclear program will have been further developed and the civilian damage and other complications in Iran no doubt greater if the U. S. were then to seek to “take it out.”

Would the good senator oppose the U. S. using conventional military operations in Iran at that time? We don’t know. He wouldn’t want to “speculate,” he says. But, you know what, Senator Obama has “lots of concerns.”

Chicago Tribune columnist and blogger Eric Zorn says now [2008] might be the time for Senator Obama to run for President. And, as usual, Zorn might be right. At the rate at which Obama is transforming himself, after Obama has been Senator for another 10 years, you might not even recognize him, at least intellectually, what with all those concerns but with very few clear positions.

Perhaps Senator Obama better run for President before he becomes another Senator Kerry. Because at that time, the nation’s voters might say, “I voted for Barack Obama just before I voted against him.”
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at