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Posted by on May 16, 2008 in At TMV | 27 comments

John McCain: For Talking to Hamas Before He Was Against It

In what could prove to be a damaging moment for the McCain campaign, Former Clinton Administration State Department spokesman James Rubin has written an op-ed highlighting an interview he conducted with McCain a few years ago for Sky News in the UK. In the interview, conducted shortly after Hamas’ victory in Palestinian elections, the following exchange occurred:

[Rubin] 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.”

Here is the video of the interview:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=icooZ4PTM60&eurl=http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/5/16/15639/1519/929/516718

There are a couple of striking things about this revelation.

1) McCain’s charge today that Barack Obama’s willingness to meet with foreign dictators is a sign of naivete and unfitness for office looks like pure hypocrisy. Ironically enough, Barack Obama has actually drawn the line at Hamas, refusing to go along with Jimmy Carter. Obama will only meet with Hamas after they renounce terrorism and their commitment to the destruction of Israel. McCain now has egg on his face for supporting negotiations in the past that he now opposes.

It isn’t like the situation between Hamas and Israel is substantively different now than two years ago either. Hamas is just as dangerous to Israel now as then. The only difference seems to be that John McCain thought he could skewer Barack Obama for his support for diplomacy. It looks like McCain skewered himself.

2) Another striking aspect of McCain’s comments is his seeming rationalization for Hamas’ election. McCain sympathizes with the Hamas voter, it seems, citing the Palestinians’ desperation for prosperity and security that Fatah could not deliver. Well, Fatah may not have been able to deliver it, but that doesn’t mean Hamas was the answer.

If the McCain of 2008 had answered James Rubin’s question he would have said, “No, we will not treat Hamas diplomatically the way we did Palestinian governments of the past. Hamas is a terrorist organization and until they renounce terrorism and recognize Israel we have nothing to negotiate with them.”

Instead, McCain cited the “new reality in the Middle East,” and the need to “deal with [Hamas] one way or another.” And the context of the interview clearly suggests that McCain did not mean dealing with Hamas through force.

It seems the only new reality John McCain faces is his own hypocrisy.

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Copyright 2008 The Moderate Voice
  • daveinboca

    Of course, lil Jamie Rubin is CNN’s Iran-luvin’ ditz Amanpour’s hubby & what McCain said to him in Rubin’s self-promoting little Sky News interview shortly after the Hamas victory hardly amounts to “talking without preconditions.” McCain implied both retaliation & back-door dealing, not sit-down negotiations. This silly “pure hypocrisy” charge is pure hyperventilating hyperbole.

    Elrod reads way too much into Rubin’s self-promoting two minutes with McCain—that interview was literally in the winter of 2006 just after Hamas was elected and before Hamas started its terror tactics, two details Rubin [and Elrod] conveniently leave out.

    The bare fact is that Democrats like Obama “can’t handle the truth,” as they’re all a bunch of second-rate trial lawyers unable to figure out that bad people are not defendants whom you can plea-bargain into good behavior..

    Bad people are ‘splodin’ dudes who HAVE TO BE STOPPED. McCain said “deal with” and “one way or another” could mean taking them down if they keep rocketing Israeli civilians. No “pure hypocrisy” there, two years later when McCain is a declared candidate & Hamas has definitively declared itself a terrorist entity.

    Bush & McCain should keep attacking on that line & bring in Pelosi with her ridiculous burka plucking the hem of terrorist-chieflet Bashar Assad’s robe in Damascus. That is what borders on treason, as Syria is a declared supporter of international terrorism & supports Hezbollah and Hamas, allowing Khaled Mashaal and Ibn Mugniyah to reside in Damascus .

    And of course Obama keeps floating like a butterfly on these issues without being called to account by non-journalist Obamaniacs in the MSM. Taking both sides of an issue and instinctively defending culprits and mass-murderers is one of those Democrat bad habits that Bush & McCain should keep pointing out.

  • Neocon

    Whoa. I have to agree with Dave here.

    There is no hint at all of appeasing or for that matter talking to Hamas.

    What he said was sooner or later were going to have to deal with them. Right now the world is dealing with Iran. That does not mean we are signing over the deed to the middle east to them because its the easier thing to do. We are DEALING with them.

  • runasim

    Daveinboca.

    If would be easier to follow your thinking, if you just calmed down and refrained from simply ranting about every political figure you dislike. Otherwise, readers have to solve this puzzle of disjointed pieces in order to find the main arguments you are trying to make.

    From what I gather your main complaint is that you find this criticism of McCain unfair, when related to how Obama and other Democrats are treated (by whom, I’m not sure).

    In re current events, no one disputes that Hamas is a terrorist organization, not a single one of the people that you mention. All agree about the dangerous nature of Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah.
    The only disagreemnts around concern tactics, not goals.

    Acrimony starts when those who disagree about tactics are portrayed as morally flawed, unpatriotic , in league with the enemy and in other equally disparaging ways.
    Once someone like McCain lobs the first smear ball,which he did riding on the coattails of Bush’s speech, return fire is inevitable and it’s too late to then suddenly yell ‘unfair’.

    If there is something untrue, that’s a legitimate complaint., but that’s not the case here.
    Your mention of the time frame of McCain’s remarks has borderline significance.
    It counts for something, but given that foreign policy is the centerpiece of his candidacy, nothing related can be totally off-limits..

    If McCain has an explanation for his change of mind, he’ll have plenty of oppotunities to say what ti is.

    While he’s at it, he might explain what he meant by running a campaign on the issues, not personal attacks. From his behavior so far, he is simply treating the personnal attacks he lets fly as ‘issues’, while switching definitions to call mere questions about himself like attacks.

    I call that politics as usual. No change there. At all.

  • runasim

    Neocon,

    One of the ways we are dealing witth Iran, right now, is by talking to them. Not Bush persoanlly, but we are talking.
    The way we dealt with N.Koreas was to talk to them.
    The way we dealt wih Qadafi was to talk to him.

    It doesn’t make sense to redefine terms like ‘deal with’ according to the political convenience of the moment.

  • RememberNovember

    Typical political analysis by skimming:

    Neocon wrote:”What he said was sooner or later were going to have to deal with them. ”

    For you “deal with ” means sending a daisycutter.

    However, there is much more to the answer.

    “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 .”

    He acknowledges them as a government- they were after all , elected. There was no coup, no junta. As such the mandate of foreign policy applies, until such time as it becomes inconvenient to follow the rule of law. I guess if you can label a foreign governments army a terrorist organization you can call a zebra a horse.

  • JSpencer

    Some folks will always prefer the military “solution”, even though it is rarely a solution in itself, and even though the sacrifices are almost always made on the backs of others. I have to believe there is a certain disdain for history among that group as well, since so many of the lessons have to be relearned periodically. War has often been referred to as a failure of dipolomacy, and the American people have finally figured out what that means… but probably only for a little while.

  • Being a leader in the present day Republican party requires that you abandon virtually all moderation. Especially when it comes to matters of foreign policy. If you’re not willing to send other people off to war to die at the slightest provocation, then you’re a weakling.

  • CStanley

    If there is something untrue, that’s a legitimate complaint., but that’s not the case here.
    Your mention of the time frame of McCain’s remarks has borderline significance.
    It counts for something, but given that foreign policy is the centerpiece of his candidacy, nothing related can be totally off-limits..

    Runasim, I agree with you that this was the main area where Dave had a point, but expressed himself in a way that will probably lead to many people missing the point- so let me attempt to state it in a more calm manner.

    The point is twofold really:
    First, the context of time- right after the elections, everyone (most particularly the Bush administration, I think) was taken aback by Hamas’ win and it was a difficult position to not call into question the legitimacy of the election but to still express our dissatisfaction with Hamas as a govt since it’s almost impossible to reconcile a group’s stated charter which does not allow for the existence of two states in the region but is supposed to be in negotiations for that two state solution. As the weeks went by and Hamas repeatedly refused to change its charter and recognize Israel’s right to exist, it became much clearer that this would be a stumbling block to negotiations (that Jimmy Carter’s postulate about putting terrorist groups in positions of authority would make them rise to the occasion was once again proving untrue.)

    That backdrop, that this conversation took place during the time period when Hamas was still being assessed for its real intentions, is important.

    And even more salient is that McCain’s words are being misrepresented, as his words did not specifically say that he’d favor negotiations without precondition- it’s a far cry from “We will have to deal with them, one way or the other,’ to, “We should be holding diplomatic talks with Hamas at this moment in time.” As it is, McCain’s words there are not necessarily inconsistent with his current position at all- it’s only because he’s pointing out NOW that Hamas does see more room for them to make strategic gains under an Obama administration than they do under a McCain administration, that makes Rubin wish to pretend that Hamas would have read McCain’s statement then as a show of support for them.

  • elrod

    CStanley,
    McCain was clearly differentiating his own position from that of Bush (and Clinton). The official position of the US and Israeli government was that Hamas was not to be “dealt with” diplomatically at all. McCain was saying that that view needs to change because of the “new reality in the Middle East,” wherein Hamas is now an elected government.

    Also, note that McCain does not mention any conditions for talks with Hamas either. The easy and official point he could have said was, “We will only meet with Hamas diplomatically when they recognize Israel and renounce terrorism.” Even Obama said that about Hamas. The Bush Administration asserted that point RIGHT AFTER HAMAS WAS ELECTED.

  • CStanley

    Elrod, he didn’t say one way or another whether he’d favor diplomatic talks with Hamas without precondition of their recognition of Israel. I agree it would have been more clear if he would have- but there’s no reason to think that your interpretation and Rubin’s is more correct than one where McCain was just stating the obvious- an encapsulation of the problem that we faced as a result of the election of Hamas.

    And clearly Hamas didn’t get the message that you and Rubin read into his statements there- but they have read into Obama’s stated policies that he’d take a different approach than what Bush and Israel have insisted on and they find that more favorable, of course, to their own ambitions.

  • DLS

    “And clearly Hamas didn’t get the message that you and Rubin read into his statements there- but they have read into Obama’s stated policies that he’d take a different approach than what Bush and Israel have insisted on and they find that more favorable, of course, to their own ambitions.”

    A friendlier, richer growth medium for those organisms is definitely more favorable.

  • DLS

    “Bush & McCain should keep attacking on that line & bring in Pelosi with her ridiculous burka plucking the hem of terrorist-chieflet Bashar Assad’s robe in Damascus. That is what borders on treason, as Syria is a declared supporter of international terrorism & supports Hezbollah and Hamas, allowing Khaled Mashaal and Ibn Mugniyah to reside in Damascus .”

    “Taking both sides of an issue and instinctively defending culprits and mass-murderers is one of those Democrat bad habits that Bush & McCain should keep pointing out.”

    Indeed, the obscessive insistence on avoiding confrontation and any necessary use of force, by us and the West, and defending the other side, is creepily similar to the US-Western-disarmament, pro-Soviet leftist and liberal activism in the 1980s.

    Same song, different decade. It’s nihilistically self-destructive and self-loathing (for no legitimate reason) and perverse given the evil other side is defended.

  • DLS

    There will be plenty of people who will consider Hizballah morally equivalent and frequently superior to the USA, Israel, and the West, if Hizballah someday becomes the “government” of Lebanon.

  • CStanley

    BTW, I just read Ed Morrissey’s post about this and he includes two contemporaneous quotes from McCain where he DID say that he didn’t feel that negotiations with Hamas would be possible unless they’d recognize Israel. Here’s one of the quotes, from a press release he issued the day after the elections:
    In the wake of yesterday’s Palestinian elections, Hamas must change itself fundamentally – renounce violence, abandon its goal of eradicating Israel and accept the two-state solution. These elections are evidence that democracy is indeed spreading in the Middle East, but Hamas is not a partner for peace so long as they advocate the overthrow of Israel.

    So we have Rubin taking a vague quote about ‘dealing with Hamas’ and making a definitive assertion that McCain meant that to mean negotiation without precondition, up against two clear statements by McCain that he wouldn’t advocate that.

    Game over, I’d say. Will you consider an update, Elrod?

  • Neocon

    One of the ways we are dealing witth Iran, right now, is by talking to them. Not Bush persoanlly, but we are talking.
    The way we dealt with N.Koreas was to talk to them.
    The way we dealt wih Qadafi was to talk to him.

    Not directly but thru third party negotiators so that we make it clear we are not willing to give them much of anything. IN other words we are not going to appease them for the sake of an agreement. This seems to be an acceptable route for you. Which is exactly what the GOP has been doing for the last 30 years. Now suddenly its okay to do it this way if we can just somehow skirt around Obama’s sincere desire to flee the middle east.

    Dealing with them does not mean sitting down and talking to people whose sole goal in life is to rid the world of Israel and the United States.

    “If only I could have talked to them.” Famous last words. Barak Obama foreign policy consists of “I, me, the head honcho, numero uno, the big cheese, your daddy, the man with the plan, know it all, elitist” I have the answers. When 2000 years of failures have rolled thru the centuries.

    I< ME has the answers

  • Neocon,
    I’m looking for a bit of coherency and consistency in your post, but I can’t seem to find it.

    Let me try to outline what you said:
    . It’s okay to talk to radicals behind closed doors
    . Obama wants to flee the Middle East
    . It’s not okay to talk to radicals if we’re sitting down
    . Obama is an elitist
    . The Middle East has been screwed up for 2000 years

    Huh?

  • runasim

    CStanley,

    I agree on one thing, and one thing only: that context does matter.
    What the exhaustive context (other statemtns by McCain and the official US position) that you provide amounts to is a mixed bag. of alternative interpretaions.

    The bottom line problem for the US, at the time, was the need to reconcile US and Israeli animosity to Hamas and the fact that Hamas was democratically elected.
    That is precisely why this paritcular statement is important. in the context of McCain’s candidacy.

    Is he capable of recognizing the complexity of real life situations before switching over to a purely political position? If the answer is yes, that could actually speak in his favor, especially as he is running as the not-Bush candidate.

    Far from clarifying McCain’s thinking, the arguments defending him further muddy the waters through which everyone is trying to get a clear picture of him.

  • runasim

    I have to join in Chris WWW’s confusion as t what Neocon is trying to say.

    He is defending current talks with Iran, but opposed to them if a Dem is doing the talking? So, its not the talking but who does the talking?
    Okay, what then if Obama adds Republicans to the talking ranks?
    Obama has made it clear that he intends to include Republicans in the administrative areas of Government, so that’s a very realistic scenario.

    Basically, all I can gather from the confused arguments, is that they are based on an irrational, visceral assertion that Obama is not a responsible man and will hand the world over to Iran and Hamas the minute he arrives in the WH.

    Since that is not an argument based on policy, principle or historical evidence , there is nowhere to go with it.

    I’m not professionally qualified to talk anyone out of their phobias.

  • pacatrue

    I also think that there is a different context in McCain’s quote from two years ago and today. At that time, they had just been elected to office by the Palestinian people. Now, they’ve reverted to sort of, well not really a government but just an organized group of people in charge, in Gaza. I think it makes more sense to talk to Hamas as the elected leaders of the Palestinian people than it does to talk to them as organized thugs (yes, I know that simplifies the situation). So one can, I think, coherently believe that we might need to have diplomatic relations with Hamas then, but not now. That, however, doesn’t cohere nicely with McCain’s position with Iran, where Iran is at least as legitimate a government today as Hamas was two years ago.

    For the record, I don’t mind McCain changing his mind either. I do mind assaulting others however as idiotic for an idea you once thought had potential merit before you gained further information.

  • CStanley

    Pacatrue: I’m confused about your statements about McCain’s position on Iran being somehow different. Can you elaborate? I’m listening to a clip of him right now, for instance, where he’s very clear that he won’t sit down with Iran’s leaders for presidential level negotiations as long as they continue to threaten Israel’s existence and support terrorist attacks on Israel as well as supporting those groups who are currently killing American troops in Iraq. It’s not about whether or not those leaders are the true government representing Iran, and it wasn’t (then or now) about whether or not Hamas was legitimately elected. It’s about whether or not they are agents that we can engage in negotiations toward peace in the region if they haven’t renounced terrorism.

  • CStanley

    Far from clarifying McCain’s thinking, the arguments defending him further muddy the waters through which everyone is trying to get a clear picture of him.
    What is muddy?

  • It’s about whether or not they are agents that we can engage in negotiations toward peace in the region if they haven’t renounced terrorism.

    Seems more than a little unrealistic to require peace as a precursor to negotiations for peace. A cease-fire would be different.

  • runasim

    CStanley: “What is muddy?’

    What i said in my comment.
    Can he grasp the complexities (democratic elecitons+terrorism) when he’s not towing the administration line?

    The statement being parsed to death seems to indicate that he can. Subsequent statements and the arguments in his defense smother that possibility.
    That leaves his intellectual abilities in the face of complexities very much under muddy waters.

  • pacatrue

    CStanley, it seems to not match because I got the clear implication from McCain’s two-year-old statement that we might be forced to negotiate with (deal with / have talks with where we beat each other with sticks) Hamas as the elected government of the Palestinian people. However, I agree it isn’t clear what the conditions are for such talks or at what level. But he certainly seemed to be indicating that something about the way we would deal with Hamas had changed since they had been elected, and we couldn’t merely treat them as a terrorist group. However, with Iran, we seem to be completely ruling out negotiation (dealing/beating with sticks). Of course the issue of presidential negotiations, in the paraphrase you provided, is different from no negotiations at any level.

    We could seemingly parse these statements forever. There seem to be two questions. 1) What is the best practical way to deal with Hamas and Iran? Can negotiations play any useful role and at what level should they occur? 2) Has McCain illegitimately criticized Obama for making statements similar to one he previously made himself, which is entirely a political discussion? If we are only debating topic 2, McCain seems at political fault if he is criticizing Obama for suggesting any diplomacy at all since he seems to have considered it an unfortunate necessity a couple years back. McCain seems to have a political out still if the criticism is only of diplomacy at a presidential level. I do hope that if the topic comes up in debates in the future that it concentrates on topic 1 and not topic 2.

  • Neocon

    Let me try to outline what you said:
    . It’s okay to talk to radicals behind closed doors
    . Obama wants to flee the Middle East
    . It’s not okay to talk to radicals if we’re sitting down
    . Obama is an elitist
    . The Middle East has been screwed up for 2000 years

    Huh?

    Which part do you not understand?

    • Neocon,
      It makes more sense with each shot of whiskey I take.

  • CStanley

    Paca- I agree sort of with the two points you stated, except that I continue to be incredulous that anyone can think that McCain’s meaning back then was ambiguous- since he made ONE ambiguous comment and then within (I think the same 24 hour period- maybe 48) he made at least two statements which left no doubt that he was saying that negotiating with Hamas would have to occur ONLY if they’d change their stance on recognition of Israel.

    So the continued parsing is what puzzles me- there’s nothing left to parse! And yet you, and runa, seem to be saying, “well, if only we know what he really meant.” That’s like looking at one speech where one paragraph speaks in generalities and then goes on to give the specifics, and you guys are looking at the one general one and saying “well, he could have meant X” even though the following two paragraphs specifically say, “In the preceding paragraph, Y is my specific view on that, not X”.

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