MSNBC's Shuster's suggestion that Obama "bear[s] a certain responsibility to clarify" Jackson's Israel remarks is based on false distinction

MSNBC's Shuster's suggestion that Obama "bear[s] a certain responsibility to clarify" Jackson's Israel remarks is based on false distinction

››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER, MARK BOCHKIS & MORGAN WEILAND

MSNBC's David Shuster baselessly suggested Sen. Barack Obama "bear[s] a little bit of responsibility" for Jesse Jackson's reported comments about how U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would change under an Obama administration -- even though Jackson is not part of the Obama campaign -- because during the previous debate, Shuster said, Sen. John McCain was "pretty clear" in answering the question of whether the U.S. would commit troops to Israel if it was attacked by Iran, whereas Obama was not. In fact, Obama and McCain gave similar responses in key respects.

On the October 15 edition of MSNBC Live, host David Shuster baselessly suggested that Sen. Barack Obama "bear[s] a certain responsibility to clarify" recent comments Rev. Jesse Jackson reportedly made about how U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would change under an Obama administration -- even though, according to the Obama campaign, Jackson does not speak for or advise the Obama campaign. Shuster said of Jackson's remarks: "[D]oesn't Barack Obama bear a little bit of responsibility? I mean, at the last debate, there was a clear question that was posed by a voter to both [Sen. John] McCain and Obama about whether -- if Iran attacked Israel, would the United States send troops to help defend Israel? John McCain was pretty clear in saying yes. Barack Obama didn't, sort of, really answer the question. And I think that's -- seems to have left a lot of questions in the air, at least among Jewish voters." In fact, the October 7 debate question to which Shuster referred was whether the candidates would be "willing to" commit troops to Israel, not whether they "would ... send troops," as Shuster claimed. And contrary to Shuster's purported distinction between McCain's and Obama's responses, the two candidates gave similar replies, both saying that the United States should not give the United Nations veto power over its actions with respect to Israel and both stressing the need to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Obama also stated that "we will never take military options off the table."

In his October 14 New York Post column, author and conservative columnist Amir Taheri asserted that Jackson said the following about how Obama would deal with Israel as president:

He [Jackson] promised "fundamental changes" in US foreign policy -- saying America must "heal wounds" it has caused to other nations, revive its alliances and apologize for the "arrogance of the Bush administration."

The most important change would occur in the Middle East, where "decades of putting Israel's interests first" would end.

Jackson believes that, although "Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades" remain strong, they'll lose a great deal of their clout when Barack Obama enters the White House.

Prior to Shuster's addressing Taheri's column on MSNBC, the Associated Press reported on October 15 that Jackson disputed Taheri's characterization of his remarks. The AP further reported that Obama national security spokeswoman Wendy Morigi "said Jackson does not advise Obama and is 'in no position to interpret or share Barack Obama's views on Israel and foreign policy.' " The AP also quoted Morigi as saying, "Barack Obama has a fundamental commitment to a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. ... As president, he will ensure that Israel can defend itself from every threat it faces, stand with Israel in his quest for a secure peace with its neighbors, and use all elements of American power to end Iran's illicit nuclear program."

On MSNBC Live, Shuster asked Obama campaign senior adviser Stephanie Cutter for "the Obama campaign reaction" to Jackson's reported remarks. Cutter responded: "Pretty simple. Jesse Jackson is not an adviser to the campaign. He doesn't speak for our campaign, and he's actually -- absolutely not right on this issue. Barack's support for Israel is pretty clear and strong. ... And Jesse Jackson, he doesn't speak for the campaign. He's not an adviser to the campaign. This is just another red herring. You know, what we should be talking about is tonight's debate, how we're going to get the economy moving again. But those are the types of things that the McCain campaign just doesn't want to talk about." Shuster then said:

SHUSTER: But doesn't Barack Obama bear a little bit of responsibility? I mean, at the last debate, there was a clear question that was posed by a voter to both McCain and Obama about whether -- if Iran attacked Israel, would the United States send troops to help defend Israel? John McCain was pretty clear in saying yes. Barack Obama didn't, sort of, really answer the question. And I think that's -- seems to have left a lot of questions in the air, at least among Jewish voters. So doesn't Barack Obama bear a certain responsibility to clarify this?

In fact, Shuster misstated the October 7 debate question McCain and Obama were asked and drew a false distinction between their responses, which he cited as a purported rationale for why Obama "bear[s] some responsibility to clarify" Jackson's remarks.

During the October 7 debate, audience member Terry Shirey asked: "If, despite your best diplomatic efforts, Iran attacks Israel, would you be willing to commit U.S. troops in support and defense of Israel? Or would you wait on approval from the U.N. Security Council?" McCain replied in part: "Let me say that we obviously would not wait for the United Nations Security Council. I think the realities are that both Russia and China would probably pose significant obstacles." He then went on to discuss how to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and concluded by saying, "[W]e can never allow a second Holocaust to take place." Obama began his answer by talking about the need to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and emphasizing the United States' relationship with Israel, stating: "It would be a game-changer in the region. Not only would it threaten Israel, our strongest ally in the region and one of our strongest allies in the world, but it would also create a possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. And so, it's unacceptable. And I will do everything that's required to prevent it." Obama added: "And we will never take military options off the table. And it is important that we don't provide veto power to the United Nations or anyone else in acting in our interests."

From the October 7 presidential debate:

SHIREY: If, despite your best diplomatic efforts, Iran attacks Israel, would you be willing to commit U.S. troops in support and defense of Israel? Or would you wait on approval from the U.N. Security Council?

McCAIN: Well, thank you, Terry. And thank you for your service to the country. I want to say, everything I ever learned about leadership I learned from a chief petty officer. And I thank you, and I thank you, my friend. Thanks for serving.

Let me say that we obviously would not wait for the United Nations Security Council. I think the realities are that both Russia and China would probably pose significant obstacles.

And our challenge right now is the Iranians continue on the path to acquiring nuclear weapons, and it's a great threat. It's not just a threat to the state of Israel. It's a threat to the stability of the entire Middle East. If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, all the other countries will acquire them, too. The tensions will be ratcheted up.

What would you do if you were the Israelis and the president of a country says that they are -- they are determined to wipe you off the map, calls your country a stinking corpse?

Now, Senator Obama, without precondition, wants to sit down and negotiate with them, without preconditions. That's what he stated, again, a matter of record.

I want to make sure that the Iranians are put enough -- that we put enough pressure on the Iranians by joining with our allies, imposing significant, tough sanctions to modify their behavior. And I think we can do that. I think, joining with our allies and friends in a league of democracies, that we can effectively abridge their behavior, and hopefully, they would abandon this quest that they are on for nuclear weapons.

But, at the end of the day, my friend, I have to tell you again, and you know what it's like to serve, and you know what it's like to sacrifice, but we can never allow a second Holocaust to take place.

TOM BROKAW (moderator): Senator Obama?

OBAMA: Well, Terry, first of all, we honor your service, and we're grateful for it.

We cannot allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. It would be a game-changer in the region. Not only would it threaten Israel, our strongest ally in the region and one of our strongest allies in the world, but it would also create a possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. And so, it's unacceptable. And I will do everything that's required to prevent it. And we will never take military options off the table. And it is important that we don't provide veto power to the United Nations or anyone else in acting in our interests.

It is important, though, for us to use all the tools at our disposal to prevent the scenario where we've got to make those kinds of choices.

And that's why I have consistently said that, if we can work more effectively with other countries diplomatically to tighten sanctions on Iran, if we can reduce our energy consumption through alternative energy, so that Iran has less money, if we can impose the kinds of sanctions that, say, for example, Iran right now imports gasoline, even though it's an oil-producer, because its oil infrastructure has broken down, if we can prevent them from importing the gasoline that they need and the refined petroleum products, that starts changing their cost-benefit analysis. That starts putting the squeeze on them.

Now, it is true, though, that I believe that we should have direct talks -- not just with our friends, but also with our enemies -- to deliver a tough, direct message to Iran that, if you don't change your behavior, then there will be dire consequences. If you do change your behavior, then it is possible for you to rejoin the community of nations.

Now, it may not work. But one of the things we've learned is, is that when we take that approach, whether it's in North Korea or in Iran, then we have a better chance at better outcomes.

When President Bush decided we're not going to talk to Iran, we're not going to talk to North Korea, you know what happened? Iran went from zero centrifuges to develop nuclear weapons to 4,000. North Korea quadrupled its nuclear capability. We've got to try to have talks, understanding that we're not taking military options off the table.

From the 3 p.m. ET hour of the October 15 edition of MSNBC Live:

SHUSTER: All right. I want to ask you about something -- foreign policy -- that's cropped up. Reverend Jesse Jackson made some remarks to the World Policy Forum, picked up by the New York Post, which is reporting: "The most important change would occur in the Middle East, where 'decades of putting Israel's interests first' would end. Jackson believes that although," quote, " 'Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades' remain strong, they'll lose a great deal of their clout when Barack Obama enters the White House." And this prompted Randy Scheunemann, the McCain senior foreign policy adviser, to tell reporters today that "Barack Obama claims to be a strong supporter of Israel, but his supporters -- here and abroad -- know better." What's the Obama campaign reaction?

CUTTER: Pretty simple. Jesse Jackson is not an adviser to the campaign. He doesn't speak for our campaign, and he's actually -- absolutely not right on this issue.

SHUSTER: Right. But one of the --

CUTTER: Barack's support for Israel is pretty clear and strong. And, you know, he's made it clear that he wants to take steps to stabilize the Middle East, protect our friends in Israel, but also do the big, important things like end the war in Iraq, take the fight to terrorism head on. And Jesse Jackson, he doesn't speak for the campaign. He's not an adviser to the campaign. This is just another red herring. You know, what we should be talking about is tonight's debate, how we're going to get the economy moving again. But those are the types of things that the McCain campaign just doesn't want to talk about.

SHUSTER: But doesn't Barack Obama bear a little bit of responsibility? I mean, at the last debate, there was a clear question that was posed by a voter to both McCain and Obama about whether -- if Iran attacked Israel, would the United States send troops to help defend Israel? John McCain was pretty clear in saying yes. Barack Obama didn't, sort of, really answer the question. And I think that's -- seems to have left a lot of questions in the air, at least among Jewish voters. So doesn't Barack Obama bear --

CUTTER: Well --

SHUSTER: -- a certain responsibility to clarify this?

CUTTER: David, I don't -- I've not heard any questions from Jewish voters. And, you know, I think the polls across the country bear truth in terms of the type of support that we're getting. I don't think that anybody is questioning Barack Obama's support for Israel. Haven't heard it.

SHUSTER: All right. Fair enough. Stephanie Cutter, spokesman for the Obama campaign, chief of staff to Michelle Obama. Stephanie, thanks for coming on.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, International Conflicts
Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
David Shuster
Show/Publication
MSNBC Live with Dan Abrams
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, John McCain, 2008 Elections
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