Barack Obama Responses to AJC Questionnaire



1. The Iranian regime continues to push forward in its quest for nuclear arms capability, which would give it cover to pursue even more aggressively the goals of expanding its power and version of Islam throughout the region and beyond. Further, Iran refuses to comply with UN and IAEA demands to suspend its nuclear drive, threatening regional and world peace and security— especially with the defiant Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the presidency. World leaders, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and leaders of both political parties in our country, have declared that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable. Do you agree? What steps would you take to ensure that the world remains protected against the threat of a nuclear Iran? Do you think that it is possible to deter the Iranian regime should it come into the possession of nuclear weapons?

Iran's nuclear ambitions, its support for terrorist groups, and President Ahmadinejad's calls for Israel's destruction demonstrate that Iran poses a serious threat to the United States, our allies and our interests in a vital region. While the recent National Intelligence Estimate suggested Iran had suspended its weaponization program, important components of its nuclear program -- including enrichment of uranium, which has expanded tenfold during this last year of Bush Administration policy -- continue apace.

It is not in the U.S. interest or in the world's interest to permit Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. To ensure it does not develop a nuclear weapon, we need the kind of sustained, aggressive and unconditional diplomacy that I have long supported. Such diplomacy -- coupled with a clear indication that all options remain on the table -- will ensure that we can impose the tough sanctions and increased economic pressure that will be required to show Iran that its refusal to live up to its international commitments has real costs. At the same time, we should show Iran -- again through principled diplomacy -- that there will be benefits to its living up to its international obligations and ending its nuclear program.

By providing carrots in the form of potential normalized relations over time we may dissuade Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. As importantly, if such efforts fail, we will have shown our allies -- and countries like Russia and China -- that we have tried every option, thereby increasing the likelihood the world will support more coercive measures to dissuade Iran.

Israel and the Middle East

2. The United States has a strong bilateral alliance with the state of Israel, and also has played a historic role as a leader in the peace process. This dual role raises a series of questions. How would you characterize the U.S.-Israel alliance, and what role should that friendship play in U.S. Middle East policy? What role should the United States play in the peace process? What should be the role of other international leaders in the Middle East peace process? How could other states in the region help promote peace and fight terrorism? How should the U.S. balance Israeli security in an atmosphere of increasing pressure for concessions to the Palestinians? Should the United States continue its commitment to maintaining Israel’s ability to deter and defend against foreseeable combinations of threats, and maintain its qualitative military edge? What role should the United States play if Israel comes under attack and, in a worst-case-scenario, is unable to defend itself successfully?

Israel is our most reliable ally in the Middle East, and the region's only established democracy. Ensuring Israel's security will always be the starting point of my Middle East policy. To that end, I strongly support the United States continuing to provide Israel with the military assistance and defense cooperation it needs to maintain a qualitative military edge with which it can defend itself from threats that come from as far as Iran and as close as Gaza. We will always stand with Israel if it comes under attack. Ultimately, the best way to ensure Israel's security it through achieving lasting peace agreements with its neighbors.

When I am president, I will make a personal commitment to an ongoing effort by the United States to help Israel and the Palestinians achieve the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security. We should be an active partner, lending support, offering ideas, and bolstering agreements that the parties reach. In the end, any peace agreement must ultimately be forged by Israelis and Palestinians. The United States cannot dictate the terms. However, there is an important role for the United States in the process. When the U.S. disengages, as the Bush Administration did for its first seven years, the situation deteriorates.

While negotiations on the core issues of borders, Jerusalem, refugees, and security are ongoing, we should encourage both sides to take actions to improve conditions on the ground. And we should provide leadership to encourage Arab states and others to do more to strengthen moderate Palestinians who are committed to two states, to isolate extremists like Hamas, and to reach out to Israel to show that they are committed to normalizing relations.

3. Visions of a final status agreement—including those expressed by Presidents Clinton and Bush—provide for a two-state solution, with the Jewish state of Israel living side-by-side in peace and security with a Palestinian state. These proposed solutions often include adjustments to Israel’s pre-1967 borders to allow for secure and defensible borders, and to take into account major Jewish communities in the West Bank. What, if any, adjustments in the pre-1967 borders would you expect? How do you see the likely final status of Jerusalem? Within the structure of a peace process, what assurances would you expect of Palestinian leaders in fighting terrorism, dismantling the terrorist infrastructure, and ending incitement against Israel? What, if any, actions would you expect of Israel before the Palestinians fulfill these expectations? How do you envision the Palestinian refugee problem will be effectively dealt with in final status agreements? In the shorter term, what are your views on the security fence that Israel is building to protect its citizens against terrorist attacks from the West Bank?

The United States cannot dictate the terms of a final status agreement. We should support the parties as they negotiate these difficult issues, but they will have to reach agreements that they can live with. In general terms, clearly Israel must emerge in a final status agreement with secure borders. Jerusalem will remain Israel's capital, and no one should want or expect it to be re-divided. As for refugees, the Palestinians will need to reinterpret the notion of a right of return in such a way that will preserve Israel as a Jewish state, while Israel would likely contribute to international compensation for the refugees.

But these details are for the parties to decide. While negotiations are ongoing, both sides should take steps to improve conditions on the ground, so that people believe they have a stake in the process. Palestinians must live up to their security obligations and a total commitment to combating terror, and Israel should make every effort to improve daily life, including economic conditions and freedom of movement, for Palestinians. The security fence, which Israel was justified in constructing in response to a wave of suicide bombings, has clearly been effective in preventing terrorist attacks. Israel should make efforts to minimize humanitarian hardships caused by the fence on Palestinian civilians. Nothing about the fence is permanent, because borders are one of the core final status issues being negotiated by the parties.


4. The situation in the Darfur region of Western Sudan has markedly deteriorated since President Bush labeled it a genocide a few short years ago. Despite international action to authorize a hybrid United Nations-African Union force, the crisis continues, with at least 200,000 dead and another 2.5 million displaced from their homes. If elected, what steps would you take to help end this pressing humanitarian crisis? What role should the United States play in ensuring that peacekeeping troops are able to enter the country? What steps should the United States take to lead the international community towards taking swift action to pressure Sudan?

There is a real mismatch between the urgency of the genocide in Darfur, where innocent civilians are dying every day, and an international response that won’t be providing any additional protection until many months down the road.

The United States needs to lead the world in ending this genocide, including by imposing much tougher sanctions that target Sudan’s oil revenue, implementing and helping to enforce a no-fly zone, and engaging in more intense, effective diplomacy to get a political roadmap to peace. Rather than pressure the perpetrators of genocide to stop the killing, for four years we have been negotiating compromise after feckless compromise with the Khartoum regime, while it continues its campaign of atrocities.

To stop the genocide, the international community needs to deploy a large, capable force with a robust enforcement mandate to protect civilians. This force should be commanded, funded, mandated and staffed by the UN. This force is needed now, not at some point next year, and it needs to be free from restrictions and obstacles thrown up by the Government of Sudan. I await concrete evidence that the Sudanese government is finally prepared to halt atrocities, re-engage in a peace process, and allow an unfettered peacekeeping mission to do its work.

Although the Sudanese government recently accepted a UN-AU hybrid peacekeeping force, the government typically fails to fulfill its commitments. True to form, since accepting the hybrid force, Khartoum has continued to bombard civilian targets, obstruct non-African participants in the hybrid force and expel foreign diplomats. The U.S. needs urgently to change the calculus in Khartoum and stop the genocide. Therefore, the Administration should immediately implement the oil sanctions it threatened last year and still failed to impose last May. I worked with Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) on the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, a version of which was signed into law, to impose targeted sanctions on the leading perpetrators of the genocide.

With our allies and our partners in Africa, we need to take immediate steps – economic and military – to let Khartoum know we will not tolerate continued genocide. These steps should include more effective sanctions by the U.S., the EU and the UNSC. We also need to establish a no-fly zone to protect civilians and increase pressure on Khartoum to halt the killing and consent to the robust international force.

In addition to taking immediate steps to protect civilians and end the genocide, the U.S. should step up its diplomatic efforts to negotiate a lasting peace among the Darfur rebel groups and the Sudanese Government.

US Homeland Security


5. a) Recent reports suggest that Al Qaeda is as strong as it has been since 2001. Terrorist groups operating under Iran’s influence and with Syria’s support grow more powerful in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Reports also suggest that a growing terrorist infrastructure tied to Iranian proxy Hezbollah is taking hold in Latin and South America. How would you, as President, lead the global fight against terrorism? Considering the successes and failures in the years since 9/11, how would you change U.S. foreign policy to effectively combat the threat of global terrorism?

I’ve laid out a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy to secure America. First, we must bring a responsible end to this war in Iraq and refocus on the critical challenges in the broader region – on the conflict in the Middle East, where Hamas and Hezbollah feel emboldened and Israel’s prospects for a secure peace seem uncertain; on Iran, which has been strengthened by the war in Iraq; and on Afghanistan, where more American forces are needed to battle al Qaeda, track down Osama bin Laden, and stop that country from backsliding toward instability.

Second, I have proposed making U.S. military assistance to Pakistan conditional on that country making substantial progress to close down terrorist training camps, evict foreign fighters, and prevent the Taliban from using Pakistan as a staging area for attacks in Afghanistan. And I’ve called for an increase in funding for development and secular education to combat extremism in Pakistan.

Third, I have called for enhancing the capabilities of our civilian agencies to work alongside our military, and for the creation of “Mobile Development Teams” that bring together personnel from the State Department, the Pentagon, and US Agency for International Development. These teams would operate not simply in war-zones, but also in weak, unstable, and hard to access areas around the world. I have also proposed a “Shared Security Partnership Program” to increase resources by $5 billion over three years for counter-terrorism, police and intelligence cooperation in countries around the world, including information sharing, funding for training, operations, border security, anti-corruption programs, technology, and targeting terrorist financing.

Fourth, we must also work to prevent nuclear terrorism. As president, I will lead a global effort to secure all nuclear weapons and material at vulnerable sites within four years. Finally, we must dry up support for extremists. As president, I will double U.S. investments to combat instability, poverty and extremism – particularly in weak states and conflict zones – to $50 billion a year by 2012. Included in this investment is support for a $2 billion “Global Education Fund” to counter radical madrasas with secular education.

I have also called for a comprehensive public diplomacy program, including funding for “America Houses” to incorporate youth centers and libraries that are needed throughout the broader Muslim World, and the establishment of a “Voice Corps” to rapidly recruit and train fluent speakers of Arabic, Bahasa, Bahasa, Farsi, Urdu, and Turkish who can ensure our voice is heard – and that we listen – throughout the world. As President, I will lead this public diplomacy effort, beginning with a speech at a major Islamic forum in my first 100 days.

5. b) How would you balance efforts to prevent terrorism with preserving civil rights? For example, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) enacted in 1978, and recently amended, seeks to balance government’s essential need to conduct foreign intelligence surveillance with its fundamental obligation to protect rights to privacy and due process inherent in the Constitution. Does FISA need to be further amended to ensure that both these aims are achieved? Are current oversight mechanisms sufficient to ensure compliance with FISA, and, if not, what changes would you make? Do you think FISA provides the exclusive framework under which government may conduct electronic surveillance?

b) In a dangerous world, government must have the authority to collect intelligence to protect the American people. But in a free society, that authority cannot be unlimited – an independent monitor must watch the watchers to prevent abuses and to protect the civil liberties of the American people.  I supported the improvements to the FISA legislation, which restores FISA and existing criminal wiretap statutes as the exclusive means to conduct surveillance—making it clear that no president can circumvent the law and disregard the civil liberties of the American people. 

That legislation also firmly re-establishes basic judicial oversight over all domestic surveillance in the future.  As president, I will have my Attorney General conduct a comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs and make further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future.

Torture and treatment of detainees

6. Significant media attention been paid to the treatment of prisoners captured by America and its allies. Ranging from the abuses at Abu Ghraib to the narrowing of legal rights at Guantanamo Bay, the current administration has been charged with allowing violations of human rights to occur. If elected, what guidelines would you establish for the interrogation of terror suspects? What status would you give to those prisoners captured during anti-terrorism operations? How would you handle violations, by U.S. soldiers or other American personnel, of these guidelines?

America is the strongest nation on earth. Our country has emerged triumphant in revolution, civil war, two world wars, and the Cold War, without abandoning the moral high ground. We adhere to our principles and should not abandon them simply on evidence that al Qaeda or other opponents abuse or torture prisoners, strangle civil liberties, or otherwise refuse to reciprocate in the protections we accord detainees from their side. We will defeat terrorism as we have overcome great challenges in the past: through the strength of our military, the quality of our intelligence, and the power of our ideas.

As president, I will close the Guantanamo detention facility, which has only become a recruiting tool for our enemies. I would transfer the remaining prisoners to prisons in the United States and adopt an expedited and procedurally fair review process for determining who we prosecute for war crimes, who we detain as combatants under the laws of war, and who we can release. And I would promptly file charges against and prosecute any detainee who has committed crimes and ensure that the trials are conducted with the legal procedures mandated by U.S. law, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and the Geneva Conventions.

I support the restoration of habeas corpus, and opposed the Military Commissions Act because it overturned our tradition of habeas corpus. Habeas corpus is part of the foundation of our free society. It’s the most basic check on the power of our government to take away a person’s freedom. We have nothing to fear from restoring habeas corpus; on the contrary, it will help us ensure we are detaining the right people, not the wrong people, in the war against terrorists.

The practice of "extraordinary rendition" to countries that routinely abuse prisoners has been called “torture by proxy” for good reason. I will not tolerate U.S. forces torturing prisoners, and will not ask other countries to do it for us. As president, I will bar the extralegal transfer of individuals to countries that practice torture as a method of interrogation, and take the steps necessary to enforce that prohibition.


7. As some of the world’s largest oil exporters espouse extreme anti-American and anti-Western sentiments, the need for a solution to our nation’s energy crisis becomes more pressing by the day, coupled with potential effects of climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions. How would you address our dependence on foreign oil? What are viable, long-term solutions? What role should alternative energy and conservation solutions play in this plan? Would your plan include any type of measures to address the potential effects of climate change in the United States?

My plan will set a hard cap on all carbon emissions at a level that scientists say is necessary to curb global warming – an 80% reduction by 2050. To reach that goal, I will implement a 100 percent auction for carbon allowances to ensure that all polluters have to pay based on the amount of pollution they release. I will use the proceeds from that auction to invest $150 billion over the next decade in developing and deploying clean, affordable energy and creating millions of new American jobs. A part of this effort will include launching a Clean Technologies Venture Capital Fund to get the most promising clean energy technologies off the ground so the American economy can benefit from America’s innovations.

My plan also uses a variety of conservation and renewable energy policies to put America on the path of true energy independence, starting by reducing our national oil consumption by at least 35%, or 10 million barrels per day, by 2030. This will more than offset the equivalent of oil we are expected to import from OPEC nations in 2030. To meet this goal, I have called for both increasing the production of American-grown biofuels and improving the efficiency of our cars and trucks.

I have called the production of 60 billion gallons of biofuels by 2030, including advanced biofuels like cellulosic ethanol and advanced biodiesel. I have also called for ending subsidies to the oil and gas industries to help level the playing field for biofuels producers, and I have helped lead efforts in the Senate to investigate whether big oil companies are preventing biofuels from coming into the market. I am also the only candidate to call for a National Low Carbon Fuel Standard to lower the carbon content of our fuels by 10 percent by 2020 and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

And to reduce our demands for fuel, I have introduced a plan, based on my innovative bipartisan effort in the Senate, to double our fuel economy standards within 18 years and reduce oil consumption. Finally, my energy plan will both invest in advanced vehicle research and development and support efforts to build more sustainable communities to ensure a long-term strategy for energy independence.

Domestic Policy


8. At the urging of President Bush, the United States Senate recently considered comprehensive immigration reform. While the Senate’s attempt at reform ultimately failed, it highlighted the severe problems plaguing our nation’s immigration system, particularly the 10-12 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. If elected, how would you determine the fate of these 10-12 million people? What types of changes would you support to U.S. immigration policy on the whole? What safeguards would you take to ensure that those fleeing persecution will continue to be granted safe haven within our nation’s borders?

I am committed to fighting for comprehensive immigration reform during my first term as president. As president, I will put comprehensive immigration reform back on the nation's agenda, and I will not rest until it is passed once and for all. We are a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. We need comprehensive immigration reform that creates a system that is fair, consistent, compassionate, and emphasizes both maintaining the rule of law and the security of our borders while working to keep families together and putting the undocumented on an earned path to citizenship.

In the most recent immigration debate on the U.S. Senate floor, I fought to improve and pass amendments to put greater emphasis on keeping immigrant families together and to revisit a controversial new points system that never received a proper public hearing. On security, comprehensive reform has to mean gaining operational control of our borders by using better technology, improving infrastructure, and making smart choices about where we deploy resources on the Southern and Northern borders.

These actions can strengthen our security while discouraging people from taking the risk of crossing the border and a dangerous desert illegally. And at the workplace, we need a simple, but mandatory electronic system that enables employers to verify the legal status of the people they hire. We also need to bring the 12 million undocumented immigrants out of the shadows. We need to be realistic about the fact that they are here, we can't deport them, and they have become an integral part of our society. We need to give this population a chance to pay a fine, to have provisional status in the country, and to get into the back of the line for citizenship.

Religious Freedom

9. Ensuring that the government does not establish a religion is a constitutionally guaranteed right. At the same time, the constitution also protects the rights of individuals to practice their religion free from state influence or coercion. How do you think the government can simultaneously protect these two fundamental rights? Do you support federal money being allocated to religious institutions for provision of social services or to parochial schools? What restrictions, if any, would you put on these funds, whether provided by grants or vouchers? On another religious liberty matter, do you support legislation directed at strengthening the obligation of employers to provide a reasonable accommodation of an employee’s religious practice?

The separation of church and state is critical and has caused our democracy and religious practices to thrive. People tend to forget that during our founding, it wasn't the atheists or the civil libertarians who were the most effective champions of the First Amendment. It was the persecuted religious minorities, like John Leland, a Baptist. It was the forbearers of the evangelicals who were the most adamant about not mingling government with religion, because they did not want state-sponsored religion hindering their ability to practice their faith. Moreover, given the increasing diversity of America's population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.

With respect to education, I believe that we need to invest in our public schools and strengthen them, not drain their fiscal support. And for this reason I do not support vouchers. In the end, vouchers would reduce the options available, to children in need. I fear these children would truly be left behind in a private market system. However, I believe charter schools are important. We must innovate and experiment with ways of improving competition among our public schools if we are to provide all children with the quality education they deserve.

I do believe, however, that religious institutions have an important role to play in the provision of public services. I support government efforts to partner with faith-based organizations. I have said repeatedly that these organizations can be important partners in delivering social services, whether it’s helping with prisoner re-entry programs or providing job training skills. However, my administration will not pursue initiatives that permit taxpayer dollars to be used to support programs that practice discrimination in hiring.

Finally, I believe firmly that employers have an obligation to reasonably accommodate their employees’ religious practices. I would support carefully drafted legislation that strengthens Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to further protect religious freedom in the workplace.

National Service

10. Bipartisan support for national service has increased in recent years out of recognition that service programs meet important societal needs and create habits of civic engagement in those who serve. Would you, as President, support implementation, and even the expanding, of these initiatives? What steps, if any, would you take to increase incentives for young Americans to donate their time in service to their country?

I will ask the American people for their service and their active citizenship when I am is President. I will create new opportunities for all Americans to serve, and to direct that service to overcome leading national challenges. My national service plan calls for an expansion in AmeriCorps from 75,000 slots to 250,000 slots and I will focus this expansion on achieving goals like providing health care, giving our kids a world-class education, and achieving energy independence. And I will grow the Foreign Service and double the size of the Peace Corps, because the American people are the best ambassadors we have to restore our standing in the world.

I will also invest in ideas to meet our common challenges. The non-profit sector is growing, but the federal government is not supporting innovations that could benefit millions of Americans. I will establish a Social Investment Fund Network so that government gets behind good ideas, leverages private sector dollars to encourage innovation, and expands successful grassroots programs so they work across the country. And I will integrate service into education so that young Americans become active citizens.

I will set a goal of having all middle and high school students perform 50 hours of service each year, and reach that goal by using federal support to expand service opportunities. I will set a goal of having college students perform 100 hours of service each year, and reach that goal through an annual tax credit that is tied to service, and federal support for work-study programs that include service jobs. And I will extend opportunities to young Americans who are out of school and out of work, so they receive an education, serve their communities, and get on a pathway to success.

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