The debate over President Bush’s speech to the Israeli Knesset continued Friday as Sen. Barack Obama categorized remarks by Republican leaders as “dishonest, divisive attacks” during a town hall meeting in South Dakota.
On Thursday, Obama accused President Bush of launching “a false political attack” against him during a speech to Israeli lawmakers. In the address, Mr. Bush took an indirect swipe at the Democratic presidential hopeful’s promise to meet with hostile foreign leaders such as Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, calling such engagement a “foolish delusion.”
While White House spokesman Ed Gillespie denied any implied relevance to Obama’s foreign policy views, presumptive GOP nominee Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., waded into the fray, saying Obama’s stance “shows naivete and inexperience and lack of judgment … that he wants to sit down across the table from an individual who leads a country that says Israel is a stinking corpse, that is dedicated to the extinction of the state of Israel,” the Associated Press reported.
“There was a little dust-up yesterday about foreign policy,” Obama said on Friday at the town hall meeting. “If George Bush and John McCain want to have a debate about protecting the U.S., that is a debate I am willing to have any time, any place, and that is a debate that I will win because George Bush and John McCain have a lot to answer for.”
“I’m a strong believer in civility and I’m a strong believer in a bipartisan foreign policy, but that cause is not served with dishonest, divisive attacks of the sort that we’ve seen out of George Bush and John McCain over the last couple days,” Obama said, according to media reports.
In an opinion piece in Friday’s Washington Post, James P. Rubin, who supports Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign, wrote that “McCain is the last politician who should be attacking Obama” about engaging entities like the Palestinian group Hamas. Rubin wrote that he asked McCain in a 2006 interview, “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 replied: “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.”
According to the New York Times, the McCain campaign said in a statement Friday: “It was remarkable to see Barack Obama’s hysterical diatribe in response to a speech in which his name wasn’t even mentioned. These are serious issues that deserve a serious debate, not the same tired partisan rants we heard today from Senator Obama.”
In another twist, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates also waded into the issue of whether to hold talks with Iran this week.
Speaking to the Washington Post, Gates said he believes the U.S. military is “stretched” by the two ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that the United States should construct a combination of incentives and pressure to engage Iran.