Not all change is for the better

Why John McCain has earned the support of American Jewry.

us special 224 (photo credit: )
us special 224
(photo credit: )
The last time Democrats lost the Jewish vote was in the 1920 presidential election, won by Warren Harding. So why in this election - when an unpopular president and an unpopular war have left the Republicans in shambles - would there be such doubt over Barack Obama's ability? Not since Jimmy Carter's 1980 campaign have US Jews seriously questioned the foreign policy credentials of the Democratic nominee. This administration's failure to communicate the long-term sacrifices required to defeat terrorism has shifted voters' priorities. It's a sobering reality when, according to recent polls, Americans consider the economy and healthcare more important than national defense. But US Jews remember the threats, past and present, of foreign dictatorships and terrorist regimes. Only a candidate who can lead our nation under such exigent circumstances will earn their support. THE CASE for John McCain is the assurance of a transparent foreign policy, substantive dialogue and decisive leadership. In his 25 years of public service, McCain has demonstrated unwavering support for Israel, as well as a deep understanding of how America can help preserve its freedom. Sen. Obama is more conditional with his foreign policy. In fact, the more he focuses on the abstract, the better his chances of winning. Some consider it anathema to criticize Obama's theme of "Change," but the type of change we can expect under his nebulous platform merits closer scrutiny. Consider the three major foreign policy differences between him and McCain: the Iraq war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and their plans to combat terrorism. McCain, who clearly pledged to support the removal of Saddam Hussein, has long criticized the Bush administration's actions in Iraq, citing insufficient troop levels, tactical mistakes and limited access to linguists and special forces. He said, "The problem is that the Pentagon has been reacting to initiatives of the enemy, rather than taking initiatives to which the enemy must react." Obama blames a "distracted" foreign policy in Iraq - allegedly fueling terrorism - for the lack of progress in the Middle East. But he overlooks the fact that every proposed peace accord has failed because of Islamic leaders' inability, and often their refusal, to eradicate terror. For all his masterful speeches, Senator Obama can only offer anti-war rhetoric. He sponsored legislation for a full withdrawal of troops from Iraq, regardless of the military assessment. And yet he recently told Iraqi FM Hoshyar Zebari that "an Obama administration will make sure we continue with the progress that's been made in Iraq." ON ISRAEL, Obama overestimates both the potency and the appropriateness of negotiating with terrorist regimes. Speaking to Jewish leaders in Philadelphia, he described Hamas as having "developed great influence in the Palestinian territories, but they do not control the apparatus of power, they are not legitimately recognized as a state." Al-Qaida does not "control the apparatus of power," and yet Obama agrees we must eliminate it. So why should Israel accept a Palestinian state run by terrorists? Because he believes that a peace accord is more central to the Middle East conflict than eliminating Islamic terror. McCain understands that no lasting peace can come without removing the gravest threat to peace. That's why he insists on preconditions with Iran and Syria. Obama, who seeks to engage Iran without preconditions, said "We should only sit down with Hamas if they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel's right to exist and abide by past agreements." Comforting words. But why would Obama shun Hamas yet welcome diplomacy with Iran and Syria, which finance Hamas, Hizbullah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist regimes? Equally misguided are Obama's views on Israel's security barrier. In a 2004 interview with the Chicago Jewish News, he said: "The creation of a wall dividing two nations is yet another example of the neglect of this administration in brokering peace." Aside from his clumsy reference to Palestinians as a nation, Obama misses the entire purpose of the barrier - to protect innocent Israelis from homicide bombers. McCain has supported the barrier since its inception. He openly criticized Oslo proponents, who were more fixated on a Peace Prize than on lasting peace. "The Oslo Accord failed because it was based on the premise that the Palestinian and Israeli peoples could live peacefully together," said McCain. "The security fence will test whether they can live peacefully apart." THE EXPERIENCE gap must not be understated. During a time when Israel considers disarming Iranian nuclear facilities, Senator McCain remains the best hope for securing the joint interests of America and Israel. McCain has worked with every major Israeli leader over the past three decades. He understands Jewish history, believes that Zionism has preserved the sole democracy in the region, and agrees that military action is often necessary to combat the shelling of vulnerable towns. It's a significant advantage to have a president who knows the players and the landscape while serving as our chief negotiator. Obama will depend heavily on surrogates like Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser under president Carter and longtime critic of Israel. Voters will soon discover that Obama's sense of what is historically relevant translates into a delusion that radical Islamic terror can be pacified solely with financial and diplomatic pressure. Under a McCain administration, the US will maintain a leadership role in pursuing terrorism wherever it resides. McCain said: "The NATO alliance is strong, but the world in which it operates is fundamentally dangerous, insecure and chaotic." Today's challenges require a leader who has confronted such dangers and is prepared to answer the call of duty yet again; not one who has a fragmentary perspective on national security. Jewish values are consistent with McCain's belief that we must serve causes greater than ourselves in order to preserve our ideals. Is it likely that Republicans will end their 88-year drought and win the Jewish vote? Perhaps not. But more Jews than in years past will be giving the Arizona maverick a second look this November. And that's a reassuring sign of Change. The writer, a managing general partner at SymAction Communications and an adjunct professor of communication at Pepperdine University, worked for Sen. McCain in Washington DC and Phoenix, Arizona.