30 October 2008

* McCain's Irresponsible Syria Response

So how does the McCain campaign respond to sporadic news reports that U.S. special forces carried out an attack in Syrian territory?  Well a responsible campaign (i.e. the Obama campaign) would follow the White House's lead and offer no comment until they got more information.  But instead the McCain campaign opts for blatant politicization. Here is McCain spokesman Michael Goldfarb:

"Syria is a state sponsor of terror and a sanctuary for terrorists that target U.S. troops in Iraq, yet Barack Obama has pledged to meet personally and unconditionally with Syria's leaders during his first year in office. While John McCain has been demanding that Syria do more to crack down on terrorists moving from its territory into Iraq, Barack Obama allowed one of his closest foreign policy advisers to travel to Syria for discussions with the leaders of that rogue regime. Barack Obama opposed the surge, voted against funding for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and demanded the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. If Barack Obama had his way, U.S. forces would not have been in a position to launch this strike. So does Barack Obama support this action -- an action that would not even have been possible if his policies had been implemented?"
This is so absurd.  Let me count the ways.  First, McCain is once again demonstrating the recklessness and impulsiveness that makes one question whether he can in fact be commander in chief.  There is only one proper response to this.  The same response that the Obama campaign gave, which is that you just simply don't discuss a military operation if the White House and the military are refusing to comment.  The issue is a sensitive one and a question of national security.  You take your lead from them and wait until you have all the facts, instead of trying to score cheap political points.
Second, here is the McCain campaign accusing Senator Obama of supposedly not being willing to crossover into Syria, even though he has rightly not commented on it at all.  But Senator McCain has previously mocked Senator Obama for being willing to go into Pakistan and go after high value Al Qaeda targets.  The intelligence community tells us that the greatest threat to the homeland and the place where an attack would most likely be planned is on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.  But the McCain campaign seems to be arguing that smuggling routes from Syria into Iraq are a higher priority target than terrorist training camps in Pakistan.  That is an exact rehash of invading Iraq to fight terrorism, while taking your eye off of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.  We've tried it before.  It didn't work.
Finally, there is the argument about not meeting with Syria.  Here is the thing.  Israeli PM Olmert has stated publicly that Israel should move to direct negotiations directly with the Syrians and the Israelis are currently in talks through a Turkish mediator.  Ambassador Nick Burns, who was Bush's point man on Iran for three years, had a piece out this weekend arguing for direct talks with our enemies.  Colin Powell, James Baker, the Iraq Study Group, and numerous Republican foreign policy experts have all called for talks with Syria.  McCain is the odd man out on this one.
And yet, his campaign, which claims national security as its greatest strength, is irresponsibly politicizing this story one week before the election.
Update:  Max Bergmann has previously pointed out that McCain himself was for talking to the Syrians before he was against it.


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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.