Washington — Senator John McCain delivered some harsh criticism of Senator Barack Obama’s foreign policy at the opening session of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference Monday.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee told the crowd at the annual policy conference of the pro-Israel lobbying powerhouse that his Democratic rival’s talk of negotiating with Iran would lead to no results “except an earful of antisemitic rants.”
The Arizona senator received a standing ovation when he blasted Obama for not supporting a Senate resolution demanding the designation of Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terror group. At the time of that vote, Obama said he believed that the resolution, with its talk of structuring the American military presence in Iraq so as to combat Iranian influence there, would send the “wrong message, not only to the world but also to the region, where we should be pursuing direct diplomacy.”
“But here, too, he is mistaken,” McCain told the 7,000 attendees at the Aipac conference. “Holding Iran’s influence in check, and holding a terrorist organization accountable, sends exactly the right message — to Iran, to the region and to the world.”
John McCain was the first presidential candidate to speak in front of the Aipac meeting, which will host Obama and fellow Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton in its closing session Wednesday. Conference attendees were urged in a letter sent out last week, and in opening remarks by Aipac leaders, to provide a warm welcome to all politicians speaking at the conference.
In his speech, McCain focused on the issue of Iran and made an apparent reference to Obama when he mocked the “bold new idea” of directly negotiating with the Iranian government.
“Rather than sitting down unconditionally with the Iranian president or supreme leader in the hope that we can talk sense into them, we must create the real-world pressures that will peacefully but decisively change the path they are on,” McCain said to scattered applause from the crowd.
On the issue of the Iraq war, McCain made an attempt to present the current situation in relation to Israel’s security, arguing that Obama’s call for a gradual troop reduction would cause a “catastrophe” that would “profoundly affect the security of the United States, Israel and our other friends.”
McCain’s reference to the possible danger a withdrawal would pose to Israel was greeted with applause from the audience. A similar case was made last year at the Aipac conference by both Vice President Dick Cheney and by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Aipac’s annual policy conference, which is traditionally one of Washington’s biggest political events, is attracting even more media attention this year, due to the expected appearance of all three presidential candidates.
Obama and Clinton are scheduled to speak at the conference on the morning after the last primary races are concluded. According to Aipac organizers, Clinton is expected to show up regardless of the outcome of the final voting rounds. In his speech at the opening plenary, McCain ignored Clinton altogether and directed his criticism only at Obama.
Nathan Guttman staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Contact Nathan at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman