Obama’s Press Conference (with video)

While the completely predictable unfolds on TV, I’d like to spend just a couple of minutes talking about the president’s press conference this afternoon.

One of the first topics that the president addressed was Syria. Syria is smack dab in the region of pain. It is surrounded by Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea. Armenia, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan are also in the region. As I predicted several weeks ago, the killings will continue. I see no incentive for the besieged president to stop killing his people. Members of the international community, led by the league of Arab States with support from China and Russia, are going to have to put pressure on Syria to stop the violence. The United States and Europe can help in whatever diplomatic actions are decided upon, but it is crucial that we do not take the lead on this. Please note what the president said. (See video or transcript.)

Iran. The president’s posture today is similar to what he said in an Atlantic Monthly interview that came out late last week. From a political standpoint, the president is not allowing any of the Republican candidates to get to the right of his position. First and foremost, the president has reaffirmed our commitment to, friendship with and love for Israel. This is unwavering. He has left no room for any of the Republican candidates on this issue. Each has tried to say that he would have been a better friend, but in actuality they’ve offered no new solutions. Secondly, the president reiterated that there is no scenario in which we will let Iran obtain a nuclear weapon. This statement is cemented in stone. The president said, “My policy is not containment; my policy is to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon — because if they get a nuclear weapon that could trigger an arms race in the region, it would undermine our non-proliferation goals, it could potentially fall into the hands of terrorists. And we’ve been in close consultation with all our allies, including Israel, in moving this strategy forward.” If we consider nightmare scenarios and what could possibly happen if Iran were to obtain a nuclear weapon, we must conclude that that would be an extremely destabilizing event in an already volatile region. The president’s thoughtful and deliberate statements on this issue have added clarity.

Finally, the president was asked about Sandra Fluke and Rush Limbaugh. The president was 100% correct in stating that we need to improve the public discourse. Here’s exactly what he said. “I’m not going to comment on what sponsors decide to do. I’m not going to comment on either the economics or the politics of it. I don’t know what’s in Rush Limbaugh’s heart, so I’m not going to comment on the sincerity of his apology. What I can comment on is the fact that all decent folks can agree that the remarks that were made don’t have any place in the public discourse.

And the reason I called Ms. Fluke is because I thought about Malia and Sasha, and one of the things I want them to do as they get older is to engage in issues they care about, even ones I may not agree with them on. I want them to be able to speak their mind in a civil and thoughtful way. And I don’t want them attacked or called horrible names because they’re being good citizens. And I wanted Sandra to know that I thought her parents should be proud of her, and that we want to send a message to all our young people that being part of a democracy involves argument and disagreements and debate, and we want you to be engaged, and there’s a way to do it that doesn’t involve you being demeaned and insulted, particularly when you’re a private citizen.”

Let me just underline and stress the point that we need to improve our public discourse. On major issues of policy, whether it be the Middle East, abortion, health care or end-of-life issues, it is extremely common for us to vilify anyone with whom we disagree. This simply does not help us. As a matter fact, it usually causes the discussion to stagnate and before you know it the political discourse has dissolved into a scene from Animal House. If we are truly going to tackle some of the difficult problems that face us, we are going to have to be able to talk through these issues. We have to come to some resolution. For the last 15-20 years, we seem to have been delaying important decisions. Weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels, figuring out a way to pay for increasing health care coverage, and many more topics seem to be wallowing in the mud. We need to thoroughly debate these topics, make a decision and then move on.

What are your thoughts on the president’s news conference this afternoon?