After Senator Barack Obama made his historic, intelligent, mesmerizing and frank speech about race in American this week, I mused about whether the American people are able to live up to the Senator’s expectations of us to be adult, intelligent and engage in loftier debate in politics rather than the usual down and dirty politics of destruction. Of course the jury is still out and I hope the American people are ready for some intelligence.
This week they didn’t get it from the heir apparent to the Republican nomination, Senator John McCain. Three particularly egregious gaffes that made his campaign seem offensive, out of touch and not well educated on Iraq- the issue that is the cornerstone of his campaign.
Senator John McCain mistakenly said Tuesday that Iran was allowing al-Qaeda fighters into the country to be trained and returned to Iraq; he expressed concern about Iran’s rising sway in the Mideast and said, “Al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and is receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran.” Iran is a predominantly Shiite Muslim country and has been at pains to close its borders to al-Qaeda fighters of the rival Sunni sect. The Senator’s comments made no sense. Iran has been accused by the United States of funding, training and arming Iraqi Shiite militants in their uprising against the U.S. But there has been no evidence that al-Qaeda has benefited from Iranian assistance.
He made the comments Tuesday at a news conference in Jordan; he made similar comments earlier to Hugh Hewitt, an American radio talk-show host.
But what was more embarrassing was that at a press conference it was only after Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) who was traveling with McCain, stepped forward to whisper in the candidate’s ear, McCain said: “I’m sorry; the Iranians are training the extremists, not al-Qaeda. Not al-Qaeda. I’m sorry.”
“Not only is Senator McCain wrong on Iraq once again, but he showed he either doesn’t understand the challenges facing Iraq and the region or is willing to ignore the facts on the ground,” said Karen Finney the Democratic National Committee’s communications director.
Senator Obama, in a speech marking the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War, criticized Senator McCain, saying the Republican presidential candidate had confused Iran and Al Qaeda and Sunnis and Shiites and maybe that confusion led him to vote to go to war in Iraq. A senior foreign policy adviser to Senator Obama, Susan Rice, yesterday told the Sun, “It’s very bizarre.” She noted that Mr. McCain had “made the same statement three times in as many days. Surely he must know, as Senator Lieberman reminded him, that Iran is not engaged with Al Qaeda in Iraq. I don’t know if he is confused, or is he cynically trying to conflate Al Qaeda and Iran as Cheney and Bush did Al Qaeda and Iraq in 2002 and 2003?”
Whatever the case, Senator McCain’s confusion leads one to believe that he really doesn’t have a very good grasp of the international tension the complexities of the Arab world and the millennial old dynamics in this part of the world. It was precisely this lack of understanding, in addition to lies and deceit that got us into this mess to begin with.
I truly hope the American people do not mix up the experience of being a war hero with that of being commander in chief- which requires not only an understanding of the military, but an understanding of the world, international relations, and diplomacy. It is clear that Senator McCain doesn’t understand this more inclusive role for the President- and defines it in terms that are purely military each time that he says that the current surge is working. True there may be less violence (it does seem odd to measure success in terms of levels of violence from horrific to horrible) but the whole point of the surge was to give the Iraqi government breathing room to make political progress. That has failed. Simple logic tells one that if the reason for an action has not occurred, the action has in fact failed. But Senator McCain can only look at this in the prism of military success not political and diplomatic success. That is troubling.
Next is the issue of Pastor John Hagee’s endorsement of Senator McCain. While Senator Obama has had to endure a firestorm over remarks of his pastor Jeremiah Wright- remarks taken out of the context of decades of a ministry that has been universally respected in religious and secular circles. Many prominent Chicagoans attend Trinity United Church of Christ including, Senator Obama, Oprah Winfrey and many Chicago politicos- white and black. Wright’s comments were despicable and I rebuke them, but they have unfairly tarnished a ministry praised for its work on behalf of the homeless, the sick, those that Christ told us to minister to. The ministry as a whole has not been examined and there would be little to criticize if the media examined its history. Besides many of the leaders of the religious right said that the American people brought 9/11 onto ourselves- there wasn’t a great uproar aimed at Mr. Falwell or Mr. Robertson.
But Mr. McCain has sought endorsement from a man who has called Catholicism the “Great Whore” and who, while being a staunch supporter of Israel and is supportive of a war with Iran, has very disturbing motives for both of those positions. Of course any action against Iran is totally absurd. Our military is stretched and we have done enough damage in the region- it is a time to work diplomacy in the region not empire militarism.
Reverend Hagee’s reason for supporting Israel and a war with Iran is based on his desire to bring on biblical Armageddon. Hagee wants the United States to facilitate and fast track taking the world to “end times” and bring on “the rapture” where, according to fundamentalists, true believers will be literally raised into the sky and heaven while the non-believers will be left on earth to live through a hellish nightmare with some antichrist.
Mr. Hagee has become somewhat a folk hero to some Jewish Zionists who seem not to look behind the curtain to see the real man. the persecution of Jews throughout history, and even the Holocaust, was caused by their own “disobedience”. Hagee has written,
“It was the disobedience and rebellion of the Jews, God’s chosen people, to their covenantal responsibility to serve only the one true God, Jehovah, that gave rise to the opposition and persecution that they experienced beginning in Canaan and continuing to this very day… Their own rebellion had birthed the seed of anti-Semitism that would arise and bring destruction to them for centuries to come…. it rises from the judgment of God upon his rebellious chosen people.”
This is a man that Senator McCain sought out for an endorsement. According to a piece to be published in tomorrow’s “New York Times Magazine” and already available on the newspaper’s website Mr. Hagee did not seek out Senator McCain, but instead Mr. McCain sought out Mr. Hagee. This is either poor judgment, a colassal lack of research on this man and his dangerous theology and/or shameful pandering to the religious right in the Republican party.
Mr. Wright may have been a problem for Mr. Obama’s campaign this week, but Mr. Obama superbly and intelligently used the fracas to frankly address the issue of racial divide in this country- a necessary step towards unity. Besides Reverend Wright’s ministry as a whole has been one of social welfare and activism. But Mr. McCain seeking out a hateful man as a supporter with sinister theological motivation for his political leanings is scary at best and naïve at worst.
Finally there was Senator McCain’s comparison of the Jewish holiday Purim to Halloween. Maybe not the biggest mistake he has made- but it sure is worrisome when you look at the litany of gaffes made recently by Senator McCain.
Lieberman once again intervened when McCain made an incorrect reference about the Jewish holiday Purim — by calling the holiday “their version of Halloween here.”
McCain made the incorrect statement during a press conference with Defense Minister Ehud Barak after touring the Israeli city of Sderot to view buildings damaged by Hamas rocket fire. McCain was discussing the numerous rock attacks on the city. “Nine hundred rocket attacks in less than three months, an average of one every one to two hours. Obviously this puts an enormous and hard to understand strain on the people here, especially the children. As they celebrate their version of Halloween here, they are somewhere close to a 15-second warning, which is the amount of time they have from the time the rocket is launched to get to safety. That’s not a way for people to live obviously.”
Purim is not the equivalent of an Israeli Halloween. The holiday — although a joyous one — commemorates a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from mass execution. Halloween was traditionally a celebration of the end of the harvest and one where pagan rituals to scare away evil spirits by dressing in costume became part of the tradition. Later the Catholic Church took it on as All Hallows Eve – the evening before All Saints Day and linked the pagan rituals with ridding evil spirits before the day of the saints.
I think that Esther would have a thing or two about Mr. Mcain’s remarks. Linking a Jewish holiday that commemorates salvation from mass execution to a holiday based in pagan rituals might be somewhat offensive to Esther- and the holiday of Haddassah. Oddly enough Haddassah is Mrs. Lieberman’s name.
Haven’t we seen enough buffonary on the national stage since President Bush took office. Do we need four more years of this sort of international embarassment and shocking lack of understanding the world of diplomacy.
Mr. McCain has no personal understanding of religion- and while his lack of religion doesn’t bother me at all, he is tip toeing through a world where religion matters very much to the dynamics at play in the world- especially in the complicated world of the middle East.
We cannot survive another four years of such colossal misunderstanding of the dynamics at play in the world. We do not need a warrior, even a heroic one, to lead this country to a better place; we need a President who intuitively understands these complicated dynamics and how to address them thoughtfully.
We do not need another President who is constantly misspeaking, doesn’t undersand the real world, and values politics over pandering.