In the Arena

Stop Lying About My Record

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…as Bob Dole once said to George H.W. Bush, memorably, before getting whipped in the 1988 New Hampshire primary.

Relevance? Oh, sorry: It seems the only way the neoconservatives are able to attack Barack Obama’s foreign policy proposals is to exaggerate and misrepresent them.

The evidence? On Friday, I promised to check into whether Obama had ever said that he would negotiate–specifically, by name–with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Indeed, according to the crack Time Magazine research department and the Obama campaign, he never has. He did say that he would negotiate with the Iranian leadership–but, on matters of foreign policy and Iran’s nuclear program, the guy in charge is the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. As of today, John McCain was still accusing Obama of wanting to negotiate with Ahmadinejad. Why doesn’t the McCain campaign and other assorted Republicans ever accuse Obama of wanting to negotiate with Khamenei? Well, because Khamenei isn’t quite the flagrant anti-Semite Ahmadinejad is…and, as we keep hearing, Obama has a Jewish problem.

There’s more evidence of neocon smearing in a Wall Street Journal column today by John Bolton. Here is Bolton’s hilariously nutty account of the difference between himself, McCain and Obama on the subject of negotiating with our adversaries:

On one side are those who believe that negotiations should be used to resolve international disputes 99% of the time. That is where I am, and where I think Mr. McCain is. On the other side are those like Mr. Obama, who apparently want to use negotiations 100% of the time. It is the 100%-ers who suffer from an obsession that is naïve and dangerous.

That is palpably false, since Obama advocates the use of force against the real Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and against the Taliban in Afghanistan. On the other hand, Bolton has famously opposed negotiations with the North Koreans, the Iranians and just about anybody else that breaths a word against the United States…so where are the examples of the 99% of the time that he favors negotiations with our adversaries?…Oh, I figured it out: he may well think we should talk to the French.

Now, there is a serious and interesting debate to be had about how and when to talk to the Iranians–and, more broadly, whether the United States’ 91 year policy of selective diplomatic non-recognition has been a mistake. (I’ve always believed it was counterproductive, although I do believe that the President should only meet with foreign adversaries when the ground has been well-prepared, as was usually the case in negotiations with the Soviets.)

Speaking of debates, Bolton does make one good point:

Wittingly or not, the president may well have created a defining moment in the 2008 campaign. And Mr. Obama stepped right into the vortex by saying he was willing to debate John McCain on national security “any time, any place.” Mr. McCain should accept that challenge today.

He’s absolutely right. We need that debate this year. On domestic policy, too.

More: This, from the estimable Matt Duss, is absolutely correct about the empowerment of Ahmadinejad.