Asked if he thought Israel was a "drag on America's reputation overseas," he said it was not. But he said: "What I think is that this constant wound, that this constant sore does infect all of our foreign policy. The lack of resolution to this problem provides an excuse for anti-American militant jihadists to engage in inexcusable actions." (Campaign aides said later he was clearly talking about tensions in the Middle East, not about Israel.)
What Obama didn't say:
He didn't say that Israel itself was a "constant wound" or a "constant sore." He didn't even imply that. That's a simplistic spin on his response and it ignores the huge problem with what he did say. Let's zoom in:
"What I think is that this constant wound, that this constant sore does infect all of our foreign policy. The lack of resolution to this problem provides an excuse for anti-American militant jihadists to engage in inexcusable actions."
Obama was clearly talking about the "Arab-Israeli conflict" (or whatever you want to call it). But equally clearly he was not talking about "tensions in the Middle East," as the defensive spin has universally spun it. He was talking about one very specific point of tension in the Middle East: Israel's "problem" with her neighbors -- and with some who are not her neighbors. And he was blaming this "problem" (or its "lack of resolution") for both sabotaging America's foreign policy and providing an excuse for Islamist terrorism.
The argument that the conflict between the Arabs and Israel is responsible either for America's diplomatic difficulties or for the proliferation of jihadi terrorist attacks is deeply flawed and demonstrably incorrect. It betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of basic dynamics and principles of which any president of the United States should be expected to have an extremely firm grasp. The fact that Obama is making this argument is something that should cause concern. But it's being eclipsed by an easily refuted accusation, and so I'm afraid it will soon be swept under the rug and forgotten.
Please don't let it.
To be clear: 1) anti-American militant jihadists don't need an excuse to engage in inexcusable actions (note: how to include both redundancy and self-contradiction in one sentence); 2) the real "constant sore" in this picture, the one that has always ignited the fury of the Arab and Muslim world and the one that ignited the "conflict" itself is in fact Israel's very existence (see: history). The only way to "resolve the conflict" short of putting an end to the irritant (i.e., Israel) is to convince her enemies that she is there to stay and to help them get over their inability to accept that. In that limited sense, the deliberate distortion of Obama's words is a considerably more accurate representation of the situation than what he actually said.
Update: Actually, there's lots of other stuff to be concerned about in this interview.
BO: What I will say is what I’ve said previously. Settlements at this juncture are not helpful. Look, my interest is in solving this problem not only for Israel but for the United States.
You would think "settlements" were some kind of fashion fad, like lip gloss or nose rings, rather than vibrant communities where people work and play and worship and live and die and are buried. IMO the Trinity United Church of Christ (for example) is not particularly helpful -- is extremely unhelpful -- to the resolution of divisive racial conflicts among Americans. Does that mean it's going to go away? I think not.
So it's best to read both the full exchange and Obama's specific responses in their entirety. Please do.