John McCain went directly after Barack Obama today before a key pro-Israel group on Middle East policy.
Before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's policy conference, the presumptive Republican nominee hit the likely Democratic nominee for voting against declaring Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. McCain, and Obama's Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, voted for the resolution, which critics said gave the Bush administration too much license to consider military action.
"Over three quarters of the Senate supported this obvious step, but not Senator Obama," McCain said, according to prepared remarks. "He opposed this resolution because its support for countering Iranian influence in Iraq was, he said, a 'wrong message nt only to the world, but also to the region.' But here, too, he is mistaken. 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."
McCain also continued the war of words over Iraq and the so-called surge of troops that he championed.
"It’s worth recalling that America’s progress in Iraq is the direct result of the new strategy that Senator Obama opposed," McCain said. "It was the strategy he predicted would fail, when he voted cut off funds for our forces in Iraq. He now says he intends to withdraw combat troops from Iraq -- one to two brigades per month until they are all removed. He will do so regardless of the conditions in Iraq, regardless of the consequences for our national security, regardless of Israel’s security, and in disregard of the best advice of our commanders on the ground.
"This course would surely result in a catastrophe," McCain continued. "If our troops are ordered to make a forced retreat, we risk all-out civil war, genocide, and a failed state in the heart of the Middle East. Al Qaeda terrorists would rejoice in the defeat of the United States."
AIPAC is an influential group among Jewish voters, whom McCain is courting and whom Obama has been trying to reassure. In recent polls, Obama has not been faring as well among them as recent Democratic presidential candidates.
UPDATE: The Obama campaign issued this response to McCain's speech:
“John McCain stubbornly insists on continuing a dangerous and failed foreign policy that has clearly made the United States and Israel less secure. Here are the results of the policies that John McCain has supported, and would continue. During the Bush Administration, Iran has dramatically expanded its nuclear program, going from zero centrifuges to more than 3000 centrifuges. During the Bush Administration, Iran has expanded its influence throughout a vitally important region, plying Hamas and Hezbollah with money and arms. During the Bush Administration, Hamas took over Gaza. Most importantly, the war in Iraq that John McCain supported and promises to continue indefinitely has done more to dramatically strengthen and embolden Iran than anything in a generation.
“Confronted with that reality, John McCain promises four more years of the same policies that have strengthened Iran, making the United States and Israel less safe. He promises to continue a war in Iraq that has emboldened Iran and strengthened its hand. He promises sanctions that the Bush Administration has been unable to persuade the Security Council to deliver. He promises a divestment campaign, even though he refused to sign on to Barack Obama's bipartisan divestment bill, refused to get his colleagues to lift an anonymous hold on the bill, and willfully ignores the fact that trade and investment between Iran and Iraq continue to expand. He stubbornly refuses to engage in aggressive diplomacy, ruling it out unconditionally as a tool of American power.
“Instead of recognizing reality, John McCain continues to run on a platform of doubling down on George Bush's failed policies, while carrying on his divisive brand of politics. The United States and Israel cannot afford four more years of an unwillingness to change course,” said Obama campaign spokesman Hari Sevugan.
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.