On Sunday Sen. Charles Schumer keynoted the Agudath Israel Legislative Breakfast and delivered a strong defense of President Obama’s drone strikes into the Afghanistan-Pakistani border, along with calling for increased pressure on Iran and Palestine.
The address came two days after the Yemen bomb scare. Schumer singled out President Barack Obama for praise, and said that terrorism cells had moved to places like Yemen and Somalia because Obama’s drone strikes had been so successful along the Af/Pak border.
President Obama in January 2009, said we are going to allow our drones, in other words the unmanned satellites and predator missile to go into Pakistan. Al Qaeda has shifted across the border…So he said go after them. President Bush said not to do it for understandable reasons–the Pakistanis were against it, we were invading their sovereign space. But Obama said safety comes first and he will do it. He can’t brag about it because that gets Pakistan mad. But these drones are amazing. There could be 10,000 feet above this building and they can’t see in it, they wouldn’t see us inside, but they could follow everyone of us if we walked out the door and for six months, wherever we went. You know you’d have a million eyes and each would follow a different person wherever they went. And if there was a terrorist, they would wait until they were nearly alone because you can’t shoot up a whole building of 500 people just to kill one terrorist, and they would take them out.
Schumer said 17 top Qaeda lieutenants have been killed along the Af/Pak border in the past year due to the drone strikes.
“That’s not classified anymore and it’s amazing,” he said. ”So what Al Qaeda has done is try to shift their base of operations to places like Somalia and Yemen and we are going to have to have the same kind of vigilance there. The actions we take [there] will be decided later on.”
He also praised the sanctions on Iran, specifically mentioning a bill the Senate passed that clamped down on companies that do business with Iranian government by preventing them from doing business with the U.S. government. He said the sanctions have hurt the Islamic Republic in two key ways: by limiting the oil and gas companies from doing business over there, and by discouraging banks from setting up shop in Iran. Schumer said that if the U.S. stuck by these sanctions, they may lead to the overthrow of the Iranian regime.
These sanctions go to the heart of the Iranian economy. Iran is fragile. In other words we think it is such a strong country, it is weak underneath because they do not really like the mullahs that are the leaders over there. The actual Iranian people are secular and pro American. And they are not poor. They are rising into the middle class…If we can squeeze them economically you might get them to take to the streets again and at the very minimum put pressure on their government to back off their nuclear escapade and at the very best overthrow the government. It’s possible. And so the sanctions were aimed to do that. To squeeze economically. They succeeded beyond what our intelligence estimates thought they would.
Critics have said that the sanctions are not effective and often end up hurting the most vulnerable populations, but Schumer said that the sanctions should continue even if the Iranians are willing to come to the table and negotiate over their nuclear program.
Now the Iranians are saying maybe we should talk, maybe we should talk. I don’t put any faith in them. None. And so when they say they want to sit down and talk I’m happy to have us talk to them. Don’t lift the sanctions. Don’t ease the sanctions. Continue to squeeze them and squeeze them and squeeze them until they come clean on nuclear weapons at a minimum and maybe the government will be overthrown.
Finally, Schumer took some of the Obama administration’s positions to task on Israel, calling the administration at one point “to the left of the Palestinian Authority.”
My basic view is very simple. The reason we don’t have peace in the Middle East is because a large percentage of…Palestinians and Arabs do not believe there should be a Jewish state, period. That’s why when Prime Minister Netanyahu said let them recognize Israel as Jewish state, just a week or two ago it was. They said no. So that’s the reason. And the irony is every President goes through this. By getting the Palestinian and Arab world to hope that they can break the tie between us and Israel, you don’t further the cause of peace, you set back the cause of peace. As long as they think they can break that tie, the tougher they will be. But if they think the tie is immutable, they will say maybe we should throw in the towel and have some kind peace with Israel…And so what we have to do is give them that impression. My view was when the president said the settlements were the reason we don’t have peace and Israel should back off the settlements, it was counter-productive. And I told him that privately and I said it publicly. And it’s very simple. First, at one point the U.S. position was to the left of the [Palestinian Authority,] not of Hamas but of the Palestinian Authority. But second anyone who thinks the settlements are the cause of the problem, all they have to do is look at Gaza. People forget so quickly and our society moves so fast that you forget history of a year or two ago.
Schumer mentioned the pull-out of Gaza in 2005 as proof that settlements are not a deterrent to peace.
“What was the response” from Palestinians,” he asked. “Missiles into [the Israeli city] of Sderot. Settlements are not the issue.”
This is not the first time that Schumer has delivered the kind of defense of Israel that has left some of his liberal allies stunned. In April, he went on a conservative Jewish radio show and accused the Obama administration of having a “counter-productive” Israel policy. This led some liberal bloggers like the Washington Note’s Steve Clemmons to say that Schumer sounds “as if he is more a Senator working in the Knesset than working in the United States Senate” and to add that Schumer can’t continue to speak out like that and hope to become majority leader of the U.S. Senate.
The speech came on a day Schumer spent doing some last minute campaigning for his fellow Democrats. He left the breakfast and joined Eric Schneiderman on the Upper West Side, then stumped for State Senate candidate Tony Avella in Queens. The question of whether or not he even gets a chance to become majority leader will have to wait for a few more hours yet.
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