McCain: ‘We Are Going to Have to Deal With’ Hamas

By Saira Anees

May 16, 2008 1:19pm


This hiccup just in from John McCain’s attempts to blast Barack Obama over his supposed eagerness to meet with terrorist leaders: McCain wants to meet with them, too.

Well — sort of, and not quite. Jamie Rubin, whom you may remember as a State Department spokesman during the Clinton administration, uses a Washington Post op-ed today to relate this interview he conducted with McCain two years ago, shortly after Hamas took over the Palestinian government.

Rubin: "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: "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."

Huffington Post has the VIDEO HERE.

The Democratic National Committee is putting this out there actively.

And liberal bloggers jumping on this. At Huffington Post, Max Bergmann, deputy policy director at the National  Security Network, sprinkles in some quotes where McCain supports direct talks with the Syrians to come to this  conclusion:

"McCain is directly contradicting himself by attacking Senator Obama on his plan to confront Iran at the negotiating  table. A pattern is emerging. While McCain claims to be a deep foreign policy thinker with positions carefully  developed from his quarter century in Washington, the reality seems to be that his positions — when not outright  crazy — are often knee-jerk and contradictory — often dictated by what his temperament is at that moment or  influenced by how the political winds are moving."

Rubin — a supporter of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s candidacy — writes that McCain "is guilty of hypocrisy."

The McCain campaign is clearly concerned about this — I got this identical response three separate times from the campaign this morning: "There should be no confusion, John McCain has always believed that serious engagement would require mandatory conditions and Hamas must change itself fundamentally — renounce violence, abandon its goal of eradicating Israel and accept a two state solution." — Campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds.

Bounds continues with the contrast: "John McCain’s position is clear and has always been clear, the President of the United States should not unconditionally meet with leaders of Iran, Hamas or Hezbollah. Barack Obama has made his position equally clear, and has pledged to meet unconditionally with Iran’s leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the leaders of other rogue regimes, which shows incredibly dangerous and weak judgment."

McCain’s 2005 answer about Hamas is certainly interesting — and doesn’t exactly sound like something that would come out of his mouth as a presidential candidate. But I’m not convinced it’s "hypocrisy," either.

But in that quote, McCain is not saying specifically how he would engage Hamas; critically, he is not advocating direct negotiations without preconditions.

Conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin writes at Commentary: "This is supposed to be a gotcha quote? It doesn’t appear that McCain was saying we should talk to Hamas immediately and without preconditions, or that we should talk directly to their state sponsor Iran (the latter has been the real point of contention of late)."

As to whether McCain and Obama have a real difference here, recall the key quote that the McCain campaign hopes to hang around Obama’s neck. Last July, Obama was asked at a Democratic debate whether he would "meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea."

Obama’s answer: "I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous."

More recently, Obama has been clear that he would not meet with Hamas, and criticized former President Jimmy Carter’s decision to do so. His pledge to meet with the leaders of rogue states, he told ABC’s David Wright last month, "does not include Hamas. They are not heads of state and they don’t recognize Israel. You can’t negotiate with somebody who doesn’t recognize the right of the country to exist. So I understand why Israel doesn’t meet with Hamas."

Obama has said he would be willing to meet with the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, as president.

– Rick Klein

UPDATE: The McCain campaign has secured a more complete clip from the Rubin-McCain interview — and it seems to back up the McCain position, that he was not advocating direct negotiations with Hamas. View that clip HERE.

Rubin:  "So should we — the United States — be dealing with that new reality through normal diplomatic contacts to get the job done for the United States?"

McCain:  "I think the United States should take a step back, see what they do when they form their government, see what their policies are, and see the ways that we can engage with them.  And if there aren’t any, there may be a hiatus. But, I think part of the relationship is going to be dictated by how Hamas acts, not by how the United States acts."

From the McCain campaign: "As the entire video — just posted on SkyNews — clearly shows, John McCain absolutely did not advocate unconditional engagement with Hamas. Indeed, Rubin conveniently cut off his follow-up question to which McCain was clear that any engagement with Hamas would be conditioned on their actions and policies — that any actions would be "dictated by how Hamas acts, not how the United States acts."

UPDATE II: With the McCain campaign and the RNC in full attack mode — subject line of the McCain campaign e-mail: "JAMIE RUBIN LIED" — Jamie Rubin reached out to defend himself on Saturday.

He stands by his assertion that McCain was guilty of "hypocrisy" here — and points out (rightly) that he never said in his op-ed that McCain favored direct negotiations with Hamas without preconditions. He wrote in the op-ed that McCain appeared "ready to do business with a Hamas-led government" in the two-year-old interview; he did not say that McCain embraced direct, immediate talks.

Rubin said Saturday: "There is an obvious difference between the John McCain of two years ago, and how he was talking about Hamas, and the John McCain of today, and how he was talking about Hamas. … Someone who says that Obama is the preferred candidate of Hamas, that’s a political smear, and it’s hypocritical given that he was far more open to negotiating with Hamas than he is today."

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