Obama: Bush speech a 'political attack'

US presidential hopeful bristles at perceived Bush implication that he supports talks with terrorists.

obama points 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
obama points 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Though the fight might be over votes in America, the US presidential campaign made its way to Israel on Thursday, as Democratic candidate Barack Obama rejected comments US President George W. Bush made to the Knesset that the former characterized as a political attack. Speaking to parliamentarians on the occasion of Israel's 60th anniversary, Bush warned against engagement with terrorists and other enemies. "Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along," Bush said. "We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.'" To applause, Bush told the audience, "We have an obligation to call this what it is - the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history." Obama, an Illinois senator favored to win the Democratic presidential nomination, took Bush's words as a political attack. Obama has called for direct, top-level meetings with rogue leaders including Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but not with terrorist groups such as Hamas. "It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel's independence to launch a false political attack," he said in a statement. "Instead of tough talk and no action, we need to do what Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan did and use all elements of American power - including tough, principled, and direct diplomacy - to pressure countries like Iran and Syria." Obama added that Bush was aware that the candidate had never supported talking to terrorists, "and the president's extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel." White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino, however, denied that Bush had been attacking Obama. "I understand when you're running for office you sometimes think the world revolves around you - that is not always true and it is not true in this case," she said during a briefing with reporters in Jerusalem. Perino described Bush's remarks as a re-articulation of long-standing American policy, and said that he had on many other occasions taken issue with those who called for engagement with terrorist or rogue leaders. The president is due to wrap up his trip to Israel on Friday, leaving at the same time that a Congressional delegation, also coming in honor of the state's 60th birthday, is scheduled to arrive. While Bush brought with him more than 70 former US statesmen, Jewish leaders and rabbis, the unusually large delegation included a heavy contingent of major Republican party donors and activists, along with nonpartisan national heads of organizations. Few if any Democrats were included. The tables will be turned when US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California arrives on Friday. Her 13-strong delegation is set to include 11 other Democrats, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois. The Republican contingent was supposed to be led by House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, but he canceled at the last minute due to complications from back surgery he underwent last month. The highest-ranking Republican to come will instead be Republican Conference chairman Adam Putnam of Florida. Another US delegation to the Holy Land was announced on Thursday, this one to be headed by Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt. He will be leading five individuals, including American Task Force for Palestine president Ziad Asali and Walter Isaacson, chair of the US-Palestinian Partnership, to Bethlehem for an international investors conference, the first of its kind, from May 21 to 23.