Who do men say that I am?, part 2

Barack Obama’s position re Hamas:  they are a terrorist organization. Until such time as Hamas renounces terrorism, the USA shouldn’t talk to them.

But the Republican attack machine isn’t going to let Obama define himself, as I recently pointed out. Obama is whoever they say he is — that’s the game. Bush and McCain are a tag team:  both saying that Obama plans to negotiate with terrorists.

It’s a bald-faced lie from the supposed straight-talker and his crooked colleagues.

President Bush was in Israel yesterday, where he addressed the Knesset (Israeli legislature) :

Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: “Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.” We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

Afterward, the President confirmed that he was referring to Obama. Here’s the Washington Post’s response:

The Obama campaign was right to criticize the president … for engaging in partisan politics while overseas. Many presidents have said things abroad that could be construed as violating this unwritten rule of American politics. But it is hard to remember any president abusing the prestige of his office in as crude a way as Bush did yesterday.

Charging your opponents with appeasement and likening them to Neville Chamberlain in the Knesset is a brutal blow. It is bad enough that Republicans use the politics of personal destruction here at home, but to deploy that kind of political weapon at an occasion as solemn as an American president addressing the parliament of a friendly government marks a new low.

McCain, meanwhile, is guilty of hypocrisy.

What? McCain is guilty of hypocrisy?

McCain has been going around saying that Obama is Hamas’s preferred candidate, whereas he (McCain) is Hamas’s worst nightmare.

Remember:  Obama opposes talks with Hamas. The Washington Post article continues:

Two years ago, just after Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections, I interviewed McCain for the British network Sky News’s “World News Tonight” program. Here is the crucial part of our exchange:

I asked: “Do you think that American diplomats should be operating the way they have in the past, working with the Palestinian government if Hamas is now in charge?”

McCain answered:  “They’re the government; sooner or later we are going to have to deal with them, one way or another, and I understand why this administration and previous administrations had such antipathy towards Hamas because of their dedication to violence and the things that they not only espouse but practice, so … But it’s a new reality in the Middle East.

Video of McCain’s “Let’s deal with Hamas” statement here. Josh Marshall comments,

There’s nothing unreasonable about McCain’s position from two years ago. It’s probably the right position. It just shows his campaign rhetoric today is dishonest posturing for political effect.

I plan to keep track of McCain and the Republicans as they try to force an identity on Obama, in stark defiance of the facts. This is an egregious example.

UPDATE:

Obama responds. McCain characterized Obama’s statement as a hysterical diatribe. Judge for yourself.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Random
    May 16, 2008 @ 20:52:10

    “Afterward, the President confirmed that he was referring to Obama.”

    Evidence, please? Because as far as I can see the White House is denying it.

    Here’s the deal – Bush makes a speech in Israel (context is not irrelevant here) about terrorism and how it is foolish and dangerous to talk to terrorist groups, and Obama reacts like a scalded cat. Obama isn’t mentioned anywhere in the speech, nor is he quoted indirectly (in fact, as the link above implies if it was talking about anybody it was Jimmy Carter, who actually has just returned from talking to Hamas). So why think this is about him? Does Obama have such a massive ego that he thinks everything must be about him, or is it a guilty conscience? Would it really have killed him to have said “I agree with the president – appeasement of terrorist groups is a foolish strategy that will only embolden our enemies”? After all, you seem to think that is basically his position anyway. Bluntly, even if this was a trap then Obama was an idiot for walking into it when he could so easily have evaded, and most people are not terribly comfortable with the idea of idiots in the White House.

    This was a speech in Israel, aimed at an Israeli audience. They tend to be realistic about terrorists over there, and like to hear that their friends understand it. Not everything is about Obama, you know.

    “McCain has been going around saying that Obama is Hamas’s preferred candidate,”

    McCain isn’t the one saying this – Hamas is:

    “Ahmed Yousuf, Hamas’ top political adviser in the Gaza Strip, delivered his endorsement in an interview with WorldNetDaily and WABC Radio in New York.

    “We like Mr. Obama, and we hope that he will win the elections,” Yousuf said.

    “I do believe [Obama] is like John Kennedy, a great man with a great principle. And he has a vision to change America, to [put] it in a position to lead the world community, but not with humiliation and arrogance.” ” (Obama’s response? He expressed pleasure at being compared to JFK.)

    “McCain characterized Obama’s statement as a hysterical diatribe.”

    Looked at it now – yep, diatribe about cuts it. For example (and I’m transcribing as I listen, so may not be word for word ) –

    “He accused me and other Democrats of wanting to negotiate with terrorists and said we were appeasers, no different from those people who appeased Adolf Hitler.”

    Ookay. Challenge time – will somebody who believes this is an honest and dispassionate statement of fact please either provide a video or a transcript of Bush’s speech and highlight the bit where Bush attacks – or even mentions – Obama and the Democrats. It shouldn’t be difficult – you guys are obviously stone cold certain it exists. (And please, try to avoid the tinfoil hat stuff of “but of course it’s obvious what he *meant*.” ) Do it, and I’ll happily apologise, but until then I have to ask again – why, when somebody attacks appeasement of terrorists (and this is hardly a new theme from Bush after all), does Obama interpret it as an attack on himself?

    As for McCain, saying you may have to deal with them (and note he was talking about Hamas as the elected Palestinian government not Hamas per se) and promising to be their worst nightmare are not automatically contradictory statements, never mind hypocritical. It all comes down to how you propose to deal with them.

    BTW if we’re going to have fun with people’s speeches, did you get to the bit in the video you linked to where Obama attacks the holding of democratic elections because somebody he disapproves of might win them? But then, he is from Chicago…

    Reply

  2. Stephen
    May 17, 2008 @ 14:35:06

    The first report I read said that Bush himself had confirmed he was referring to Obama. Either I misread the report, or the blogger got it wrong.

    You’re right, the White House is now playing coy: “Who said anything about Obama?”

    when somebody attacks appeasement of terrorists (and this is hardly a new theme from Bush after all)

    Very true. And when Bush and his colleagues talk about contemporary appeasers, who are they referring to? Ralph Nader? Ron Paul and the Libertarians? No, Bush and McCain have repeatedly accused the Democrats of surrendering to America’s enemies. So at the very least, you must surely concede that the Democrats were in view here.

    And Obama is now the presumptive leader of the Democratic Party. Moreover, Obama has said that the USA should talk to Iran’s President. To that extent, the shoe fits.

    Meanwhile, McCain (with Lieberman) is making a concerted effort to link Obama to Hamas.

    So don’t play dumb, as if the Democrats in general and likely Obama in particular were not in President Bush’s sites.

    If you want something more than inference, here’s McCain:

    But while Bush may not have named Obama, McCain showed no such restraint. On Thursday afternoon, McCain claimed Obama was “unfit” to be commander-in-chief because of his willingness to negotiate with terrorists, and called on him to explain why he’d meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

    So Obama is unfit to be commander-in-chief because he said he would talk to Iran. Is the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, also an appeaser tantamount to Chamberlain?

    We need to figure out a way to develop some leverage … and then sit down and talk with them,” Gates said. “If there is going to be a discussion, then they need something, too. We can’t go to a discussion and be completely the demander, with them not feeling that they need anything from us.

    Gates’s remarks this week are consistent with the position taken in a 2004 Task Force, chaired by Gates, which concluded that it is time for a new approach to Iran.

    Meanwhile, McCain has said that we should talk to Hamas. (Don’t obfuscate with this false distinction between Hamas the government and Hamas the terrorist organization. They are one and the same.) Does that make McCain an appeaser, too? I guess he used to be … but he got over it.

    In any event, it’s a bit rich for him to assert that Obama isn’t fit to be commander-in-chief, given McCain’s earlier position!

    As for Obama, I know what the Hamas spokesperson said — I’ve already quoted the statement in a previous post. It’s still a smear job, since Obama has specifically said that he won’t talk to Hamas unless they renounce terrorism.

    It’s just politics as usual, I know. Hamas gives McCain an inch, and he stretches it a mile. But the facts are, McCain was ready to reach out to Hamas. It’s Obama who has consistently taken a hard line on this question.

    Did you get to the bit in the video you linked to where Obama attacks the holding of democratic elections because somebody he disapproves of might win them?

    There is also video of a Q&A session at Talking Points Memo. You should check it out. Obama’s argument is:

    (1) Israel warned the USA that Hamas might win an election.
    (2) Israel therefore thought it was a mistake to hold an election.
    (3) Bush went ahead and pressed for an election despite Israel’s warning, and Hamas won.

    So Obama is right to lay the blame for the mess at Bush’s feet. The result is a duly elected government of Palestine that the USA disapproves of and refuses to talk to. Imagine how that scenario undercuts Bush’s pro-Democracy message, in the eyes of Arab countries.

    Reply

  3. Random
    May 17, 2008 @ 16:05:35

    “And when Bush and his colleagues talk about contemporary appeasers, who are they referring to?”

    Well, as I said before, on this occasion they seem to have been thinking of Jimmy Carter, who was in Syria last month talking to Hamas and came out blaming the refusal of the US and Israeli governments to talk to them for the lack of progress.

    “If you want something more than inference, here’s McCain:

    “…On Thursday afternoon, McCain claimed Obama was “unfit” to be commander-in-chief because of his willingness to negotiate with terrorists…”

    So Obama is unfit to be commander-in-chief because he said he would talk to Iran.”

    Except that McCain never said “unfit” – that was Time putting words into his mouth. Here’s Talking Points Memo (who you often quote and presumably trust) who were actually at the conference call with McCain where he allegedly said this – as you can see, “Unfit” is the journalist’s choice of words, not McCain’s. What McCain actually said is:

    “All I can say is: If Senator Obama wants to sit down across the table from the leader of a country that calls Israel a stinking corpse, and comes to New York and says they’re gonna, quote, “wipe Israel off the map,” what is it that he wants to talk about? What is it that he wants to talk about with him?

    And the belief that somehow communications and positions and willingness to sit down and have serious negotiations need to be done in a face to face fashion as Senator Obama wants to do, which then enhances the prestige of a nation that’s a sponsor of terrorists and is directly responsible for the deaths of brave young Americans, I think is an unacceptable position, and shows that Senator Obama does not have the knowledge, the experience, the background to make the kind of judgments that are necessary to preserve this nation’s security.”

    I thought even you acknowledged that it was perfectly legitimate to debate whether Obama had the “knowledge, the experience, the background” to be president (I know you believe he does, but I thought you also thought it was a fair question to raise given how thin his CV is, and not a disgraceful smear). By all means critique McCain for the words he actually used, but don’t attack him for something he never said.

    BTW, and changing the subject somewhat, there’s a very interesting paragraph in that TPM article – “I was invited to join the blogger call by the McCain campaign as part of its effort to reach out to non-conservative bloggers. McCain is the only candidate right now to hold regular blogger conference calls.” (My emphasis) Not sure what to make of this, but I hope you’d agree it’s a good thing, and that it’s a pity that Obama isn’t doing it.

    As for Gates – “We need to figure out a way to develop some leverage … and then sit down and talk with them,” is not the same thing as offering to talk to them “without preconditions”. “Leverage” is certainly not “appeasement”.

    “As for Obama, I know what the Hamas spokesperson said — I’ve already quoted the statement in a previous post. It’s still a smear job,”

    I agree, which is why I’ve never made an issue of it until now, when you seemed to be implying that McCain was inventing this.

    ” since Obama has specifically said that he won’t talk to Hamas unless they renounce terrorism.”

    Which means that his position is not substantially different from McCain’s – or indeed Bush’s. So again, why on earth react like a scalded cat? Is the Democrat Party really so toxically anti-Bush that they are not even prepared to agree with him when he says the same things they have been saying?

    “But the facts are, McCain was ready to reach out to Hamas”

    Being prepared to “deal with” is not the same thing as “ready to reach out to”. YMMV, of course.

    “It’s Obama who has consistently taken a hard line on this question.”

    While his campaign accepts the services of a known Hamas fundraiser and employed an advisor who was forced to quit after it came out he had actually had meetings with Hamas. BTW please don’t take any of the above as meaning I’m implying that Obama is anything other than sincere when he talks about isolating Hamas until they abandon terrorism, it’s merely meant to demonstrate that any cliam or implication that he is the only candidate whose record and associations with regard to Hamas are beyond reproach is simply not true.

    “So Obama is right to lay the blame for the mess at Bush’s feet. ”

    I am sure your summary of Obama’s points is perfectly accurate. It does not change the fact that he seems to believe it is legitimate to cancel (or at the very least foolish to allow to go ahead) democratic elections if you are likely to disapprove of the winners, and this is a very dangerous attitude for anyone – and especially a president of the United States, to hold. As for the refusal to talk, both the Israeli and US were very clear about this before the elections. That the Palestinian electorate voted for Hamas anyway would seem to indicate that they are the ones who should take responsibility for talks stalling.

    Reply

  4. Stephen
    May 20, 2008 @ 06:31:35

    Except that McCain never said “unfit” – that was Time putting words into his mouth.

    That assertion puzzles me. The word “unfit” is in quotation marks, indicating a direct quote. It’s possible that TPM quoted other parts of McCain’s statement, but not that specific word.

    • McCain says, If Senator Obama wants to sit down across the table from the leader of a country that calls Israel a stinking corpse, and comes to New York and says they’re gonna, quote, “wipe Israel off the map,” what is it that he wants to talk about? What is it that he wants to talk about with him?

    In a nutshell, that’s the substantive policy difference between Obama and McCain. Obama thinks that the USA’s policy toward Iran has been a failure, and has led to the alarming situation that currently exists. For Obama to say that he would talk to the Iranian president doesn’t equal appeasement: not unless he plans to make concessions akin to Chamberlain allowing Nazi Germany to annex Checkoslovakia.

    McCain, meanwhile, is huffing and puffing with indignation: “What is it that he wants to talk about?”

    I’d say that Obama hopes to thaw the relationship with a nation that can constitute a threat to US interests (not to mention Israel’s interests). Certainly Iran is going to have significant leverage in post-Saddam Iraq. If Iraq is so central to American interests in the Middle East, I would say that the USA and Iran have some things to discuss.

    But in McCain’s opinion (to use your version of the quote), that “is an unacceptable position, and shows that Senator Obama does not have the knowledge, the experience, the background to make the kind of judgments that are necessary to preserve this nation’s security.”

    That’s a ridiculous conclusion to draw from the facts. McCain might reasonably argue that he disagrees with the approach Obama has proposed. He might explain why he prefers the status quo policy of treating President Ahmadinejad as persona non grata. But to bluster that anyone who is willing to talk to Ahmadinejad is unfit to be President — which is certainly the implication of the quote, if in fact he didn’t actually use the word “unfit” — that’s offensive.

    We’ve had years of this sort of B.S. from Republican politicians, claiming that any alternative policy is off the table — not even a fit topic for debate. Which is why the USA is stuck where it is. Surely we need presidential candidates to propose how they will do things differently than the Bush administration. Whether those ideas are good ones or not, let the candidates debate them, and present the public with a clear choice.

    Instead, we get this B.S. which equates negotiation with appeasement. And although it was Bush who made the reference to Chamberlain, McCain is coming from approximately the same place in that quote you offered. Essentially, “anyone who thinks this is an appropriate policy option is unfit to be President.”

    This is why Obama characterizes the McCain candidacy as a third term for Bush.

    Reply

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