Thursday, May 22, 2008

Who are the Bad Guys Actually Rooting For?

On the heels of Knesset-Gate and John McCain’s ridiculous assertion that terrorists are endorsing Obama because McCain is their worst nightmare and Obama is soft, Joe Klein explores the question of “who are the bad guys rooting for in 2008” in this week’s TIME.

Who are the bad guys rooting for in 2008? John McCain would have you believe the answer is clear. Barack Obama wants to meet with the leaders of enemy states, especially Iran, "which would increase their prestige," McCain says, and convey the impression of American weakness. To punctuate the point, McCain persistently barks that Obama wants to meet with the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a flagrant anti-Semite but a relatively powerless figurehead. Obama did say during a debate last summer that he would meet with foreign leaders without preconditions.

"He shorthanded the answer," Senator Joe Biden recently said. Ever since, Obama has been creatively fuzzy when asked directly if he would meet with Ahmadinejad — and he has begun to point out that the real leaders of Iran are the clerics led by the Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei, who controls Iran's foreign policy and its nuclear program. Obama has also been explicit about the need to start with lower-level talks, a presidential summit coming only if there were progress in those negotiations. In his previous, straight-talking incarnation, McCain would have allowed Obama the modifications to his shorthand answer and debated the issue on the merits. Not this year.

When I asked McCain on May 19 why he kept linking Obama to Ahmadinejad, he said that Ahmadinejad represents Iran at the U.N., which is a fair point, and that the "average American" thinks he's the leader of Iran, which he isn't. Indeed, it could be argued that McCain's Ahmadinejad obsession "increases the prestige" of a relatively powerless loudmouth for domestic political gain. Linking Obama to the world's most famous anti-Semite certainly doesn't hurt McCain among Jewish retirees in Florida, a swing state.

In any case, don't be surprised if Ahmadinejad pulls a bin Laden and "denounces" McCain just before the election this year. Why? Because the last thing Iran's leaders want is an American President who doesn't play the role of the Great Satan. They need the mirage of an implacable, saber-rattling foe to distract their population from the utter incompetence of their government. An American President who said, "Let's talk," would lead an awful lot of Iranians to ask their leaders, "Why aren't you talking?"

...(McCain) is all bluster and impatience. If nothing else, his assault on Obama has renewed questions about whether McCain has the temperament to be President. A few years ago, in friendlier times, the Senator and I talked about the Cuban missile crisis. At a crucial moment, John F. Kennedy received two messages from the Soviets — one bellicose, one accommodating. He chose to ignore the bellicose message and very likely saved the world. "You probably would've chosen the wrong message," I teased McCain. "I probably would have," he laughed. He was joking, but given his behavior of late, you've got to wonder.

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