In another one of those Gotcha moments in this presidential campaign of never-ending Gotcah moments, John McCain’s bullies er, surrogates, are going after an Obama Middle East advisor because he–get this–attended a conference hosted by the American Bar Association in Syria. During the visit he–again, get this–encouraged the Syrian foreign minister to advance the Israel-Syria peace negotiations, a policy publicly embraced by Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert. Omigod, where does Dan Kurtzer get the unmitigated chutzpah to agree with the stated policy of an Israeli government? Call out the dogs, something must be done, off with his head!
The McCainites even had the audacity to accuse Kurtzer of pursuing his own neogiations with Syria:
Sen. McCain (R-Ariz.) suggest[ed] in a conference call that Kurtzer was engaged in covert negotiations with Syria.
What else irks McCain and other Jewish neocons? The conference was organized in part by the British Syrian Society, whose founder is Bashir Assad’s father-in-law. Also, the funding for the conference came in part from Syrian corporations and a Canadian oil company. This of course means both Kurtzer and Obama are in the pocket of the Syrians:
…The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies’ Tony Badran said the conference Mr. Kurtzer attended in Damascus was part of a Syrian campaign to build up good will with the West…”It’s not a secret that the Syrians are openly banking on Barack Obama. It’s not surprising that they would build bridges in advance and do this through the window of the peace process.”
Getting lost in the hue and cry is the subject of the conference Kurtzer attended, which was strengthening the rule of law in Syrian society. I guess McCain doesn’t much care for it.
One of McCain’s flunkies got off a medium quality zinger about the trip:
The deputy communications director for the McCain campaign, Michael Goldfarb, quipped yesterday: “If one of Senator Obama’s advisers has been to Damascus, we just wonder how many have been to Tehran.”
Heaven forfend that the McCain campaign should understand that Syria and Iran are quite different countries with much different sets of interests and that Syria, unlike Iran, has actually shown great interest in breaking out of its alliance with Iran and joining the west. And God forbid that Obama SHOULD send representatives to meet the Iranians. Imagine what could happen? Peace might break out and then where would the neocon agenda be?? They lost the Evil Empire in 1989. They lost Saddam. Now they have Iran. It reminds me of the old saying: “If there was no God, humans would have to invent Him.” What will they do when they don’t have Iran to demonize?
JTA nicely pointed out that each of the McCain flunkies who excoriated Kurtzer–Rudy Giuliani and Randy Scheuneman–aren’t exactly choir boys when it comes to being bought and paid for lobbyists for shabby foreign governments:
They said this did not compare to Giuliani’s law firm’s past representation of Citgo, the Venezuela-owned oil refiner, and of the Saudi oil ministry, nor with Scheunemann’s past lobbying for Georgia. Scheunemann said his lobbying and Giuliani’s lawyering were all part of the public record, although Giuliani’s clients were uncovered by the Associated Press last year after his own presidential campaign declined disclosure requests.
“It is no secret, in fact it’s known openly that I worked for the Georgians,” Scheunemann said. “It was a secret until this story broke that Ambassador Kurtzer before he accompanied Sen. Obama on his Middle East trip was in Syria talking to senior Syrian officials.” It’s not clear that Kurtzer made any effort to hide the visit.
The Obama campaign accused the McCain campaign of hypocrisy. “Senator McCain’s top aide, Charlie Black, was paid to lobby on behalf of dictators guilty of terrible human rights abuses, and the McCain campaign throws a fit about an unpaid advisor encouraging progress in the ongoing Israeli-Syrian peace talks during his free time?” Tommy Vietor, an Obama spokesman, said in an email message. He was referring to Black’s past lobbying for Angolan, Somali, Zairean and other figures.
This is one of those bizarre moments in a presidential campaign. A candidate’s representative actually does something relatively trivial, but well-meaning to advance the cause of peace. And the opponent flays him for his trouble. What does McCain want? 100 years of hatred between the U.S. and Syria (like the 100 years of war in Iraq he’s prepared to accept)? A perpetual alliance between Iran and Syria against Israel? Lebanon eternally torn asunder by warring sects? Is that what his policy would be?
Given that Randy Scheuneman was one of the original neocon proponents of overthrowing Saddam and that Giuliani campaign advisor Norman Podhoretz advocated nuking Iran, my guess is that they and McCain would be quite satisfied with the U.S. on a perpetual war footing against some enemy or another. Call it: winning and governing by fear. Bush has perfected the art though he’s been faltering lately and fewer Americans seem to be buying it. Which is why this McCain Gotcha moment will, with any luck, have the shelf life of a piece of stale bread.
This is the McCain campaign practicing a particularly lame form of wedge politics to pander to pro-Israel Jewish voters. But perhaps someone should tell McCain that a J Street poll reveals that 58% of American Jews favor a deal between Israel and Syria that involves giving up the Golan in return for full peace with Syria–precisely the purpose of the peace talks Kurtzer was attempting to advance. I guess McCain believes he’ll score a few points with the 42% who don’t favor such a deal between Israel and Syria. That’s an awfully small wedge if you ask me.
A slightly different version of this post was published at Comment is Free.