McCain’s Hamas ‘Hypocrisy’
Jamie Rubin, formerly Bill Clinton’s State Department spokesman, takes to the pages of the Washington Post to call out John McCain for hypocrisy in claiming that Barack Obama wants to “appease” Hamas. Riffing on John Kerry’s famous gaffe, the piece is subtitled, “McCain Was for Talking Before He Was Against It.”
McCain is the last politician who should be attacking Obama. 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. I think the lesson is people want security and a decent life and decent future, that they want democracy. Fatah was not giving them that.”
For some Europeans in Davos, Switzerland, where the interview took place, that’s a perfectly reasonable answer. But it is an unusual if not unique response for an American politician from either party. And it is most certainly not how the newly conservative presumptive Republican nominee would reply today.
Given that exchange, the new John McCain might say that Hamas should be rooting for the old John McCain to win the presidential election. The old John McCain, it appears, was ready to do business with a Hamas-led government, while both Clinton and Obama have said that Hamas must change its policies toward Israel and terrorism before it can have diplomatic relations with the United States.
The comments from both McCain and President Bush about Obama wanting to “appease” Hamas are, at best, rather silly. Using words of praise from Hamas leaders against Obama is within the bounds of political give and take but it’s not helpful in illuminating policy differences.
In McCain’s defense, though, the facts on the ground have changed rather dramatically, making the “hypocrisy” charges questionable. Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the Hamas-led government last June. Thus, the premise of McCain’s 2006 comments — that we simply have to deal with the Palestinian government, like it or not — has been obviated.
Of course, one could apply that same argument to Iran and Cuba and McCain doesn’t take the logic that far.
UPDATE: Much more from Jim Geraghty who correctly notes that even McCain’s 2006 statements on the subject were much more nuanced than Rubin suggests.