Friday, May 16, 2008

Bush-McCain Politics as Usual

The President’s sudden interest in the Middle East peace process last year was clearly nothing more than a desperate political ploy to allow him to say, like many Presidents before him, that he tried. It was naïve, it was contrary to his previous seven years of indifference to the issue, and it was obviously far too little, far too late. But before the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of the state of Israel, surely the President would use the opportunity to speak of healing old wounds and bringing opposing sides together in the name of peace. Far from it.

Instead, he chose to engage in fear-mongering, to create divisions back home, and to discredit an American presidential candidate in the eyes of a foreign government. In doing so, he inexcusably took a political shot at Barack Obama by not only insinuating that he was naïve and weak but by also calling him as an appeaser, not unlike those who allowed the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany. That's right, he engaged in partisan domestic politics while addressing a foreign government, and, in criticizing his political opponent, made a Hitler analogy in the heart of Israel. So much for “politics stops at the water’s edge!”

Washington Post: 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.
Despite the absurdity and inappropriateness of the President’s comments, it may actually benefit Barack Obama. After all, the Democrats should take every opportunity they can to talk about the failed Bush-McCain foreign policy of the last 7 years because it’s an important distinction in this election. It’s the Bush policy that has emboldened Iran and it is the Bush approach to foreign policy and other issues that has polarized the country. McCain offers more of the same while Obama, agree or disagree with his policy, offers a new approach that is sorely needed.

On this issue, Obama's approach and mindset are reflective of Presidential foreign policy luminaries such as Kennedy (“We should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate”), Nixon (see China), and Regan (see Soviet Union), and are supported by most foreign policy experts and many in the President’s own administration, including the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense. The President's rhetoric highlights the past flaws and current missteps of Bush-McCain Republicans and highlights the vastly different way they approach the issues of our time. Americans are ready to move on.

President Bush: "Some seem to believe we should negotiate with the 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."

Barack Obama: "It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 6Oth anniversary of Israel's independence to launch a false political attack. It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel. Instead of tough talk and no action, we need to do what Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan did and use all elements of American power - including tough, principled, and direct diplomacy - to pressure countries like Iran and Syria. George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the President's extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel."

Senator Joe Biden’s informal statement: “This is bullshit. This is malarkey. This is outrageous. Outrageous for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, sit in the Knesset…and make this kind of ridiculous statement. He’s the guy who’s weakened us. He’s the guy that’s increased the number of terrorists in the world. His policies have produced this vulnerability the United States has. His intelligence community pointed that out not me. The NIE has pointed that out and what are you talking about, is he going to fire Condi Rice? Condi Rice has talked about the need to sit down. So his first two appeasers are Rice and Gates. I hope he comes home and does something.”

Senator Joe Biden’s formal statement: “There is an emerging, ugly pattern in this campaign that is deeply disturbing and also terribly damaging to our national security. Three weeks ago, the presumptive Republican nominee for President said: “I think it's very clear who Hamas wants to be the next president of the United States. So apparently has Danny Ortega and several others… If Senator Obama is favored by Hamas, I think people can make judgments accordingly.”

In recent days, his surrogates have repeated that outrageous statement. And now, today, the President of the United States, speaking in the Israeli Knesset, had this to say: “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.”

White House aides told reporters on background that the President’s remarks are a reference to calls by Senator Obama and other Democrats for the U.S. president to engage countries like Iran. This kind of political attack rhetoric masquerading as policy is exactly why we’re in such trouble around the world, why we’re less secure and our adversaries are stronger. Instead of trying to fool the American people and demonize Democrats, the President should be spending his time trying to get us out of the hole he’s dug.

I try to refrain from criticizing a President when he’s traveling. But for the President to leave the country and unleash a political attack on Barack Obama and Democrats cannot go unanswered. We are not going to tolerate long distance swift boating. The President said that a willingness to talk to adversaries like Iran is a ‘foolish delusion’ and alleged that those who advocate engagement offer ‘the false comfort of appeasement.’ If the President really believes that, I assume that the first thing he will do when he gets home is to fire his cabinet. His own Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State favor negotiations with Iran.

For example, Secretary Gates said just yesterday: “We need to figure out a way to develop some leverage… and then sit down and talk with them. 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 they need anything from us.”

Secretary Rice last year repeatedly called for negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program:

February 25, 2007: “We’re leaving open the track of negotiations because the best way to resolve this would be for Iran to come to the table.”

October 12, 2007: “The whole purpose… is to convince Iran that the best way to achieve its stated goal of civil nuclear power is to engage in negotiations… the United States has made it clear that [if Iran suspends enrichment] we would reverse 28 years of American policy and engage fully in discussions with Iran… about anything Iran wants to put on the table. I would close by saying I think the question is not, as I’ve been asked sometimes, ‘why will the United States not talk to Iran?’ The question really is: ‘why will Iran not talk to the United States?”

And of course, this is a President who made a deal with Libya’s leader Qadafi and writes polite letters to Kim Jong Il in North Korea. Under George Bush’s watch, it’s Iran, not freedom that has been on the march: Iran is much closer to the bomb now than it was seven years ago; Iran’s influence in Iraq has gone from zero to sixty because this President’s misguided war gave Shi’ite religious parties inspired and nurtured by Iran a path to power and opened the door to Tehran. When Iran’s President goes to Iraq, our ally there, Prime Minister Maliki, embraces him on both cheeks. Whose policy produced that?; Iran’s terrorist proxy Hezbollah is ascendant.

And beyond Iran, the world has become a much more dangerous place for America because of the failures of this administration’s foreign policy. According to our own intelligence services, Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan – the people who actually attacked us on 09-11 – is stronger now than at any time since 9-11 and planning new attacks. Around the world, terrorist recruitment is on the rise and there were more attacks in 2007 than in 2006, and more attacks in 2006 than in 2005.Hamas – which came to power in elections the administration insisted take place -- controls Gaza and launches rockets at Israel every day. Lebanon is on the verge of civil war.

And of course, 140,000 American troops remain stuck in Iraq with no end in sight. In short, under George Bush, the entire Middle East has become more dangerous and the United States and our allies, including Israel, less secure. His policy has been an abject failure. So for him to call those who rightly see the need for change ‘appeasers’ is truly delusional. For him to do it abroad is disgraceful. I believe that as we rally our allies and Russia and China to increase pressure on Iran to end its dangerous nuclear program, we also have to do much more to reach out to Iran – including through direct talks. That’s the best way to exploit cracks within the ruling elite and between Iran’s rulers and its people, who are struggling economically and stifled politically.

The Iranian people need to know that their government, not the United States, is choosing confrontation over cooperation. The President’s saber rattling is the most self-defeating policy imaginable. It forces Iranians who despise the regime to rally behind their leaders and spurs instability in the Middle East, which adds to the price of oil, with the proceeds going right into Tehran’s pockets. The worst nightmare for a regime that thrives on isolation and tension is an America ready, willing and able to engage. And by the way, since when has talking removed the word “no” from our vocabulary? It’s amazing how little faith this administration has in the power of America’s ideas and ideals.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "We have a protocol . . . around here that we don't criticize the president when he is on foreign soil. One would think that that would apply to the president, that he would not criticize Americans when he is on foreign soil. I think what the president did in that regard is beneath the dignity of the office of president and unworthy of our representation at that observance in Israel."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: “Not surprisingly, the engineer of the worst foreign policy in our nation’s history has fired yet another reckless and reprehensible round. More than seven years into his Presidency and in the sixth year of the directionless Iraq war, President Bush has yet to learn that his brand of divisive partisan rhetoric is precisely what has made America and our allies less secure. And for the President to make this statement before the government of our closest ally as it celebrates a remarkable milestone demeans this historic moment with partisan politics.

“President Bush’s own actions demonstrate that he believes negotiations – at the right moment, under the right conditions and with the right leaders – can both show strength and produce results. He has relied on negotiations with North Korea and Libya, two state sponsors of terror. And by conducting discussions with Russia, China, Libya, North Korea and Iran in recent years, President Bush has demonstrated his belief that negotiations can be a tool to advance America and Israel’s national security interests. I call on the President to explain the inconsistency between his Administration’s actions and his words today.”

"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."

John McCain in 2008: "Yes, there have been appeasers in the past. The president is absolutely right." Asked whether he thought Obama was one of them, he said he didn't know. He didn't know!

John McCain in 2006: When 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."

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. Even if McCain had not favored doing business with Hamas two years ago, he had no business smearing Barack Obama. But given his stated position then, it is either the height of hypocrisy or a case of political amnesia for McCain to inject Hamas into the American election.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA): "The president swallows the microphone every time he opens his mouth."

As the Times reports:
Thursday was not the first time the term “appeasement” has cropped up in the Bush administration lexicon. In 2006, in advance of the midterm elections, Vice President Dick Cheney and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld invoked the analogy as a line of attack against critics of the war in Iraq. Then, as now, it was controversial.

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