Obama, McPeak and Israel

By Lee Speigel

Mar 30, 2008 6:59pm

How is it that Gen. Merrill "Tony" McPeak (Ret.) gave an interview to Shalom TV — "America’s first national Jewish cable television network covering the panorama of Jewish life"?

It starts when the Clinton campaign sent around a story by The American Spectator.

(That gives you an idea of where the Clinton campaign is, right now, given the fact that the Spectator at one point was devoted to exploring the Clintons’ transgressions, personal and political.  The magazine continues to be quite a source of criticism, as with a recent column by magazine founder and editor in chief R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., who recently wrote of Bill and Hillary Clinton: "They skirt the law. They defy ethical standards. Most brazenly, they lie when there is no reason to lie, and they deploy a whopper when a little white lie would be perfectly adequate and even understandable." Or see the January 1994 "Living With the Clintons: Bill’s Arkansas bodyguards tell the story the press missed", a story of some historical significance.)

So, the Clinton campaign sent out an American Spectator story by Robert Goldberg, vice president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, which assailed McPeak, a foreign policy adviser to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., as "anti-Israel and anti-Jewish."

Goldberg took issue, not with anything Obama had said, but with comments McPeak had made in a 2003 interview with the Oregonion in which McPeak says he would put the North Korean crisis as a higher priority than Iraq.

"I don’t think we have anything like a strategy for the Middle East," McPeak says as one of the reasons why North Korea should be a higher priority. "And what we’re doing in Iraq ought to be a piece of a larger undertaking. And it has all the aspects of a kind of a slapdash pickup fight, you know, where – I mean you always call audibles in war, but we’re drawing the plays on the ground in the huddle here. We don’t have a playbook for the Middle East. You know, for instance, obviously, a part of that long-term strategy would be getting the Israelis and the Palestinians together at . . . something other than a peace process. Process is not a substitute for achievement or settlement. And even so the process has gone off the tracks, but the process isn’t enough. . . . We need to get it fixed and only we have the authority with both sides to move them towards that. Everybody knows that."

The Oregonian reporter asks: "So where’s the problem? State? White House?"

"New York City," replied McPeak. "Miami. We have a large vote – vote, here in favor of Israel. And no politician wants to run against it."

Says the reporter: "Actually I was thinking of the larger lack of a Middle East strategy. Does that emanate out of the State Department or out of the White House, combination of both, is it a personality struggle, what’s – what’s going on?"

McPeak: "I think that everybody understands that a settlement of the Arab-Israeli problem would require the Israelis to stop settling the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and maybe even withdraw some of the settlements that’ve already been put there. And nobody wants to take on that problem. It’s just too tough politically. So that means we can’t . . . you can’t develop a Middle East strategy. It’s impossible."

Reporter: "Do you think . . . there’s an element within Hamas, Hezbollah, that doesn’t want Israel to exist at all and always will be there?"

McPeak: "Absolutely."

Reporter: "Yeah. So this is – this is multilateral."

McPeak: "There’s an element in Oregon, you know, that’s always going to be radical in some pernicious way, and likely to clothe it in religious garments, so it makes it harder to attack. So there’s craziness all over the place. I think there is enough good will on the Israeli side – I’ve spent a lot of time in Israel, worked at one time very closely with the Israeli air force as a junior officer, and so – but that’s maybe the more cosmopolitan, liberal version of the Israeli population – I think there’s enough good will there – I don’t know if there is still on the Palestinian side, because they’ve been radicalized pretty well. But there’s enough good will, I would hope, on both sides that you can get the majority into some kind of a big tent, and make something better than what you’ve got now. If you do that, you’ll still have radicals on both sides doing stupid things, but that is basically a problem in internal security. Hopefully. You can handle it with police. But if you don’t do that, I don’t see any way to put together a strategy for the Middle East. I mean it’s just kind of a linchpin…"

Goldberg’s other evidence was an article McPeak wrote about Israel’s borders in Foreign Affairs Magazine in 1976.

The Republican Jewish Coalition called for Obama to fire McPeak.

"By choosing to have a military advisor and national campaign co-chairman like Gen. McPeak, serious questions and doubts are once again being raised about Sen. Obama’s positions and judgment on Middle East issues," said RJC executive director Matt Brooks.

Brooks said McPeak had "resorted to old stereotypes and unfortunate language by blaming the lack of progress with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process on the undue political influence of American Jewry … Rather than putting the blame where it belongs — on the Palestinian leadership and their continued reliance on terror, Gen. McPeak finds it more convenient to blame American Jewry and their perceived influence," said Brooks. "This is the same dangerous and disturbing canard being promoted by the likes of Jimmy Carter and authors Mearsheimer and Walt in their book, ‘The Israel Lobby.’"

In a follow-up story in the Oregonian, Obama spokesman Nick Shapiro said, "Neither Senator Clinton nor Senator Obama agrees with every position their advisers take" and Obama disagrees with what McPeak said about the power of pro-Israeli voters.

Hence, now we have Gen. McPeak going on Shalom TV. "I decided a long time ago that I was on Israel’s side," declares Gen. McPeak. "I’m a long-term admirer of Israel and consider myself a friend of Israel."

McPeak says, "It would serve everyone’s purposes for Israel to remove itself from occupied territories in conditions that represent a negotiated solution agreeable to both sides. What Israel’s security requires is peace with its neighbors, and a failure to get to a negotiated solution on the occupied territories has prevented peace. There’s enough blame on both sides, and even blame for the United States. I would like the United States to play a constructive role to bring about progress in the [peace] process."

Of the influence of Jews on policy in Israel, McPeak said, "American Jewry has some influence, just like [American] Irish have influence about Ireland policy, just like the National Rifle Association has something to say about our arms policy. I don’t object to interest groups or lobbying groups exercising influence. I think our government takes account of the various kinds of competing interests that are represented in our country, and then acts in a way that is consistent with our own best interest."

Regarding the RJC, McPeak says, "You’ll have to check with them [on] what they’re trying to do here. Or with the Clinton campaign. This has the smell of politics, doesn’t it?"

What do you think?

- jpt

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