Published 09 Apr 08
By Abigail R. Esman
World Defense Review columnist
Obama's Questionable Judgment
Okay, I'll say it: Barack Obama makes me nervous.
I've tried to keep from writing anything here on presidential politics, but at this point, as more and more information comes out about Senator Obama's links to various people and organizations that are arguably a danger to American security, I think it's time to ask some questions – and it's time the Senator provide some answers. This isn't about "Is Barack Obama a secret Muslim?"; he's not, and even if he were, who cares? But Muslim or not, he surrounds himself with sworn enemies of the state, from William Ayers, the former Weather Underground member, to Jeremiah Wright, to others who have collaborated with Saddam Hussein (no, this is not conspiracy theory. Read on). Why does he choose such people? And how does that jibe with his wife's lack of pride in the USA? More important – what does it tell us about his judgment – that "judgment" he touts as his greatest quality, the reason he should be given the office of the presidency – and entrusted not just with America's safety and security, but with its integrity and standing in the world?
Individually, these questions may not mean very much. Together, I think they point to patterns voters will need to think about very carefully before they cast their ballots, either now or in November:
1 – Although he has never explained why he chose Christianity over his familial connection to Islam (as opposed to, say, Buddhism, Judaism, or anything else), I accept absolutely that he is, indeed, a Christian. What I wonder is why the church he chose to join is one with such close ties to Islam – or to its African-American incarnation, Nation of Islam.
2 – Although he claims he never heard any of the hate-filled speeches by his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, that have been cited in the press, he did know that Wright held anti-American and anti-Semitic attitudes and beliefs. He has acknowledged as much in his early cautions to Wright to keep a distance from the campaign – and indeed, it would be impossible not to know these things, as they are expressed (or were, until they were scrubbed recently) all over the church's web site and throughout its magazine, Trumpet. Given this, why did he choose to remain involved with someone who not only holds, but promotes and teaches these ideas? Why, did he not speak out against the honor his church bestowed on Farrakhan until after the Washington Post questioned him about it? Why did he not choose to distance himself from Wright's words until after the media had latched onto the matter?
3 – And if he somehow didn't know these things – even though they were plastered all over the Church's web site and in its literature – what does that tell us about his awareness of the qualities, beliefs, and activities of those he chooses as his advisors? Shouldn't a president know who his advisors are and what they believe? If he is that oblivious to things like this, can he be sensitive to the threats that approach America while he is in office?
4 – In a similar vein: If he didn't know Wright's beliefs, on what grounds did he select him as his advisor? On the other hand, if he was aware of them, the same question applies: Why did he choose this man as his advisor?
5 – Barack Obama claims he can no more "disown" Jeremiah Wright than he can "disown" the black community. It astounds me that no one has called him on this. What does that mean, anyway, to "disown" Wright, to "disown" a community? Was Obama deliberately using words that made no sense, hoping no one would notice the emptiness of his remarks? Or did he mean "repudiate" or "distance" – in which case, why didn't he say that?
6 – And if that is what he meant, then my response can only be: What rot. I can think of dozens of women in the world whose actions and beliefs I find thoroughly unacceptable, and I have no difficulty alienating myself from them, repudiating them in every possible way, without feeling that to do so means I am no longer a woman or part of the world's female community. There are, in fact, Americans I repudiate, but I do not repudiate America. Do those who repudiate George Bush's actions repudiate all Americans? By such standards, all who condemn Osama bin Laden condemn all Muslims. Is this where Barack Obama stands?
7 – Of all the people in the universe he could have found to help him with his real estate dealings, he connected with Toni Rezko, a Syrian who, like Wright, maintains close ties to the Nation of Islam: He has been friends and business associates for decades with the family of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Mohammad, though Mohammad's son Jabir Herbert Mohammed has, according to the Chicago Tribune, recently filed suit against him. "He worked for me for years," Jabir Herbert Mohammad is quoted as saying in the Tribune. "I gave him his start in business."
As I've shown in depth in a previous column, some Nation of Islam members have formed separatist paramilitary organizations and communes throughout the USA, where they practice war strategy, hoard weapons, and preach Islamic fundamentalist ideas. These groups constitute what experts consider to be the largest domestic terrorist threat in the country. They are, of course, members of the organization that is led by Farrakhan, who is, in turn, lauded and honored by Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's close spiritual and sometime political advisor – indeed, an advisor and member, until recently, of his campaign staff.
Why does Barack Obama so often and so closely align himself with those who maintain friendships with leaders of this organization? Why does he maintain those relationships? How many more are there?
8 – Why, though his church published a pro-Hamas statement in July of 2007, did Obama say nothing about it until March, 2008?
9 – And given #8, how does that jibe with the following note from RealClearPolitics.com's Jack Kelly?
"Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada, thinks Sen. Obama's recent pro-Israel statements have been driven by political expediency. 'The last time I spoke to Obama was in the winter of 2004 at a gathering in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood,' Mr. Abunimah wrote in a blog post March 8. 'As he came in and took off his coat, I went up to greet him. He responded warmly and volunteered: 'Hey, I'm sorry I haven't said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I hope when things calm down I can be more up front.' He referred to my activism, including columns I was contributing to the Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and U.S. policy, "Keep up the good work!"'
'Obama's about face is not surprising,' Mr. Abunimah said. 'He is merely doing what is necessary to get elected and he will continue doing it as long as it keeps him in power.'
Do Sen. Obama's recent pro-Israel statements represent a genuine change of heart? Or is Mr. Abunimah's cynicism justified?
Sen. Obama's advisers on foreign policy are a diverse group, but they share an antipathy to Israel and its supporters in the U.S."
10 – And then there is the Nadhmi Auchi question. Auchi, a British-Iraqi billionaire and a known collaborator in the Saddam Hussein oil-for-food project with proven ties to the regime, is a longtime business partner of Rezko, with whom he owns a chain of pizza parlors under the corporate umbrella of ARPizza. Auchi also loaned Rezko several million dollars only three weeks before Rezko then provided (via his wife) the funds which made Obama's real estate purchase possible – funds that, without Auchi's loan, he would not have had available. (Specifically, Auchi loaned $3.5 million to Rezko on April 28, 2005. On May 23, Mr. Auchi's company, Fintrade, registered the loan. On June 15, Rita Rezko joined the Obamas in the purchase of the Georgian mansion property.) [The Times' timeline]
Now, maybe it's just me, but if someone offered to help my buy a house I wanted, and I learned that this person was partners in business with, and had recently received millions of dollars from, a man who had been friendly with Saddam Hussein, was an integral part of the oil-for-food program and, moreover, had been convicted for his participation in the Elf Affair, which the London Times calls "the largest corporate and political scandal in post-war Europe," personally, I'd say "no, thanks."
Did Obama want this house that badly? Or did he not know of the Rezko-Auchi connection? As an aspiring candidate for the presidency, shouldn't he have checked? Why didn't he?? Would he be equally careless as president?
Or did he just not care?
And if he didn't care, what are we to make of that?
11 – One of course then has to wonder: what other connections does he have to Auchi and his ilk?
12 – Does any of this link into his connections with people like William Ayers?
Many bloggers have made mention of Obama's friendship (or acquaintance, depending on whom you ask) with Ayers, a member of the Weather Underground, a radical group responsible for several bombings during the 1970s (Ayers told the New York Times in September 2001 that "I don't regret setting bombs ... I feel we didn't do enough." While I am not entirely convinced of the depth of this connection, I mention it here anyway as part of a disturbing pattern of Barack Obama's alliances.
13 – Although he is an American, Barack Obama spent much of his childhood in Indonesia, and his stepfather was Indonesian. Currently, Indonesians are staging protests against "Fitna," the film by Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders that presents the Koran call for violence and includes clips from the events of 9/11 and the Madrid and London bombings. In Jakarta and elsewhere, they have marched with banners that say "Kill Wilders" and "Death to Holland," attacked the Dutch embassy, and threatened further action. While none of this is dangerous at this point, Indonesian Muslim extremists have been known to stage deadly terrorist attacks (like the one in Bali shortly after 9/11). Can Barack Obama remain objective enough to address any real threat in Indonesia, should one arise, even if his family and friends live there?
14 – But perhaps most disturbing of all is Barack Obama's unwillingness to declare Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. Last August, as President Bush began considering adopting a measure to do just that, the Washington Post described the Guard in an editorial as "a sprawling organization involved in myriad activities, including guarding borders, pumping oil, operating ports, smuggling, manufacturing pharmaceuticals, building Iran's nuclear program – and supplying the weapons that are killing a growing number of American soldiers in Iraq. According to the Pentagon, one-third of the U.S. troops who died in Iraq last month – 23 soldiers – were killed by "explosively formed penetrators," sophisticated bombs supplied by Tehran. [...] In effect, the Revolutionary Guard, a radical state within Iran's Islamic state, is waging war against the United States and trying to kill as many American soldiers as possible."
The vote for a non-binding amendment to declare the Guard a terrorist organization, which would freeze its access to its financial assets, came before the Senate in September, 2007. Barack Obama opposed the measure, saying it set a path for Bush to declare war against Iran. He was, in fact (he claimed) deeply opposed to the amendment.
But Obama didn't show up to vote. He didn't vote yes, and he didn't vote no. (He didn't, in fact, even vote "present," a habit for which he has often been criticized.) Why? He claimed he was busy with his campaign. But Hillary Clinton, who was also campaigning at the time, made it to the meeting (she voted to support it). As her campaign noted at the time, if he felt so strongly about the issue, why didn't he actually appear and vote against it? Why not take responsibility for his position on something he considered so important? On the other hand, one wonders why he opposed it in the first place. Does this, perhaps, relate to his refusal to meet with leaders of Hamas on the grounds that they do not recognize Israel's right to exist, but welcomes an opportunity to meet with Iranian president Ahmadinejad, even though he holds the same opinion and wants Israel, as he has said, "wiped off the map"?
And does this connect with #8 and #9 above? If not, why not?
Many of these questions, I am not alone in asking: other columnists and some bloggers have raised them, too. But the Senator says nothing, and so it seems time, to me, to call on my journalist colleagues in the so-called "mainstream media" to ask them, too.
The voices there are louder. Maybe this time, he will hear them. And if not, I'm hoping my fellow reporters will seek – and find – the answers on their own.
[An earlier version of this article suggested that Barack Obama's mother was a Muslim. This was evidently untrue, and this article has been corrected, accordingly. My apologies for the error.]
— Abigail R. Esman is an award-winning author-journalist who divides her time between New York and The Netherlands. In addition to her column in World Defense Review, her work has appeared in Foreign Policy, Salon.com, Esquire, Vogue, Glamour, Town & Country, The Christian Science Monitor, The New Republic and many others. She is currently working on a book about Muslim extremism and democracy in the West to be published by Praeger in 2010.
Visit Esman on the web at abigailesman.com.
© 2008 Abigail R. Esman
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