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McCain: Uh, Sunni? Er, Shi’ite?

March 19th, 2008by Gershom Gorenberg · 2 Comments · Uncategorized

John McCain, running for US president on his security credentials, showed in Amman on Tuesday that he does not attention to the difference between Shi’a and Sunni extremists in Iraq. This isn’t flunking Iraq 101, it’s flunking the entrance quiz to get into the course.

Earlier, the three candidates for president sent their proxy fighters to meet with Jewish leaders. McCain’s man, former secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger, said that his candidate

will not talk with the Syrians, will not talk with the Iranians, will not talk with Hamas and Hezbollah. . .

This was supposed to reassure the Jews. Heaven knows why. Eagleburger was promising that McCain would enter geopolitics after giving up in advance on an essential tool – like a boxer with one arm tied to his side.

As so often happens, an American candidate was demonstrating that he was “pro-Israel” by promising to be more hawkish and less pragmatic than mainstream Israel experts. Shlomo Brom, ex-head of the Strategic Planning Division of Israel’s General Staff, has told me that the US should be ready to conduct direct talks with Teheran. “You have to use all the tools, and one tool is diplomatic engagement…. There are enough threats. I believe in using both the carrot and the stick.”

Ephraim Halevy, ex-head of the Mossad, says both the US and Israel should talk with Hamas, as Laura Rozen reports here. Former foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami says that dialogue with Hamas is needed to reach a ceasefire in Gaza. None of these men are radical, or naive. But they do not have to seek votes from Americans eager to fight to the last Israeli.

Update: I’ve been reminded that the inability to distinguish between Shi’ites and Sunnis is pretty common among people making US Mideast policy. See this 2006 NY Times oped.

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