June 2nd, 2008
10:30 AM ET
14 years ago

McCain slams Obama over Middle East at pro-Israel forum

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/06/02/art.aipac.ap.jpg caption="McCain addressed AIPAC Monday."]WASHINGTON (CNN) - John McCain Monday called for tougher worldwide pressure on Iran and painted his potential rival Barack Obama as naive about the Middle East.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee called for "targeted sanctions that will impose a heavy cost on the regime's leaders," such as limiting Iran's ability to import gasoline, denying travel visas to its leaders, freezing their assets and imposing financial sanctions on its Central Bank.

McCain was speaking at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the influential pro-Israel lobbying organization.

In a clear sign McCain has begun fighting the general election campaign, the speech was peppered with attacks on Obama, the Illinois senator who is the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. McCain made his target unmistakable, mentioning Obama by name in two of the three criticisms.

The Obama campaign fired back immediately, sending reporters a lengthy e-mail rebutting McCain's points one by one as McCain began speaking.

McCain took Obama to task for the latter's stated willingness to meet with the leaders of countries like Iran, which the Arizona Republican described as the greatest threat facing Israel.

"We hear talk of a meeting with the Iranian leadership offered up as if it were some sudden inspiration, a bold new idea that somehow nobody has ever thought of before," McCain said without naming Obama.

"Yet it's hard to see what such a summit with (Iranian) President (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad would actually gain, except an earful of anti-Semitic rants, and a worldwide audience for a man who denies one Holocaust and talks before frenzied crowds about starting another. Such a spectacle would harm Iranian moderates and dissidents, as the radicals and hardliners strengthen their position and suddenly acquire the appearance of respectability."

He blasted Obama for voting against a measure to label Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.

"Over three quarters of the Senate supported this obvious step, but not Sen. Obama," he said.

"He opposed this resolution because its support for countering Iranian influence in Iraq was, he said, a 'wrong message not 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 jabbed Obama over Iraq, saying America's counter-insurgency strategy there was succeeding.

"It's worth recalling that America's progress in Iraq is the direct result of the new strategy that Sen. Obama opposed. It was the strategy he predicted would fail, when he voted cut off funds for our forces in Iraq," McCain said.

"He now says he intends to withdraw combat troops from Iraq - one to two brigades per month until they are all removed.... This course would surely result in a catastrophe."

The Obama campaign, in response, sought to tie McCain to President Bush, who it said had failed to contain Iranian influence over the past seven years.

"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," the statement said.

The Obama campaign accused McCain of misrepresenting the Democrat's positions and offering only empty rhetoric himself.

McCain "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."

The campaign said Obama is in favor of divestment from Iran and of labeling the Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. It said Republicans had blocked Obama's own divestment bill, and that the senator had voted against a bill about the Revolutionary Guard because it contained other provisions about Iraq to which he objected.

It also said Obama would base decisions about withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq on facts on the ground. Obama is due to address AIPAC on Wednesday.

McCain laid out specific actions he would take against Iran, but not say how he would achieve them.

"Over a year ago I proposed applying sanctions to restrict Iran's ability to import refined petroleum products, on which it is highly dependent, and the time has come for an international campaign to do just that. A severe limit on Iranian imports of gasoline would d create immediate pressure on (Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to change course, and to cease in the pursuit of nuclear weapons," he said.

"As a further measure to contain and deter Iran, the United States should impose financial sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran, which aids in Iran's terrorism and weapons proliferation. We must apply the full force of law to prevent business dealings with Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps," he added.

The United States has imposed sanctions on some Iranian commercial banks, but not on the country's central bank.

McCain also called for an international campaign to withdraw investment from Iran on the model of the South Africa campaign of the 1980s.

"We should privatize the sanctions against Iran by launching a worldwide divestment campaign" so " the radical elite who run that country will become even more unpopular than they are already."

The speech - one of a series of addresses laying out policies McCain would pursue as president - included a nod to the United Nations, but the candidate made clear he would press ahead with or without the world body's support.

"Essential to this strategy is the UN Security Council, which should impose progressively tougher political and economic sanctions. Should the Security Council continue to delay in this responsibility, the United States must lead like-minded countries in imposing multilateral sanctions outside the
UN framework."

Filed under: Candidate Barack Obama • John McCain
soundoff (280 Responses)
  1. Anna, SW Missouri

    Interesting poll out today by Gallop that says that 67% of all Americans in favor of our President talking with leaders of enemy countries. It also shows that 59% say our President should sit down with the President of Iran for talks. McCain has some work cut out for him. McCain and Clinton are both on the wrong side of this issue.

    June 2, 2008 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  2. Joanne

    No Hillary !!!!!!!!!! Go McCain 08

    June 2, 2008 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  3. Tim

    Also, could we try to use some basic grammar and punctuation in our posts? Is it too much to ask to present your argument in a way that doesn't read like an uneducated 5 year old was typing?

    June 2, 2008 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  4. Lawrence - Virginia Beach, VA

    Does this guy have a clue? All this tough talk gets you nothing but dead Americans. Our military, which I was a part of for 23 years, has been so weakened that it's depressing. "Obama 08" DIPLOMACY WORKS.

    June 2, 2008 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  5. Kelby from Houston, TX

    John McCain is a lamb to slaughter and he doesn't realize it. He is marching lock step with the Republican party and they do not admit to mistakes nor do they take steps to correct them. They just try to cover it up.
    The reason why there has been such heavy participation in the Democratic party is because America is tired of failed Republican policy and they desperately want to return to the days of peace and prosperity that the democrat party can provide.
    t is time to end this age of anti-intellecutalism and start doing the smart thing. The time of darkness and dispair is coming to and end. HOPE is on the way. And the first thing we have to do is CHANGE. We must CHANGE the way we think and the way we do things.

    OBMAMA '08

    June 2, 2008 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  6. The Bu

    An insane person does the same thing over and over and over again, but they expect a different result. I'm not quite sure if McCain is insane or just plain OLD crazy!!!!! This policy has gotten us nowhere fast for the past eight years and he just wants to keep it going, huh? Hhhhhhhmmmmm!!!! Sounds like McSame to me!

    June 2, 2008 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  7. JOE - VA

    McCain just makes up stuff, about world events and what Barack Obama's knowledge base. McCain is useless. Another Bush! I will be voting Democratic this fall. No more Puff the Magic Dragon policies and deceptions.

    June 2, 2008 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  8. Dave

    What's naive is the idea that we can continue on with our disastrous foreign policy and expect no repercussions. We need a 180 degree about face and neither McCain or Hillary is offering that.

    June 2, 2008 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  9. Beverly, NYC

    Dear Mr. McSame:

    Before you go talking tough on Iran, kindly remember that they DO have nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad will not be the pushover Saddam was. He does not spend his money on palaces and statues to himself but on his army, unlike the US, our troop still do not have the equiptment Rumsfeld promised. Your rhetoric is the quickest way to continued war. Guess you're jealous of Bush's section of Arlington and you want a larger section.

    June 2, 2008 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  10. CMitch, FW TX

    He is clueless and removed from everyday living of american people struggles. Another Bush clueless

    June 2, 2008 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  11. John McCain For President

    its a shame how many liberal idiots comment on the forums and articles....i don't really think you people understand exactly how delicate this situation is with Iran Nuclear Ambitions....This is a great threat to our country. It is a known fact that Obama isn't understanding of how ugly this is. Even Hiliary knew, Democrats made a grave mistake in not voting for her.....

    June 2, 2008 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  12. Diane

    Every vote for McCain puts more soldiers in harms way. All he knows is war.. he was a soldier but it does NOT make him president material. He is so out of touch and his mental instability could become an issue. He is not mentally fit to run a country especially one in such dire need of a strong leader.

    June 2, 2008 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  13. Enlightened Voter

    It is most disturbing that the only thing this man talks about is war and foreign policy. He is dying for another war and I am petrified for this country. Does he realize that we have super high gas prices, high unemployment, high food prices? There are other things besides war!

    June 2, 2008 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  14. Democrats

    with Obama as president, shall we expect to see all radicals dinnig together in the White House ?

    June 2, 2008 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  15. al

    Good old John. He just does not get it. Even the Israeli gov just this weekend did a deal with "Hisbola" so "WHO DID THEY TALK TO TO GET THE DEAL DONE ??"

    People just do NOT get it. Talking is the BEST way to get a resolution and the Israelis know it and that is why even in the midst of the bombing in Syria, they are still talking through the leader in Turkey to get a final status agreement on the Golan Heights.

    John is old and that is why he will LOOSE in a BIG way. War is NOT the answer, and the American people are TIRED of the "drum beat" for war.

    They have CONNECTED all the dots that WAR profits the Corporations and Defence Contractors and "SHAFT" the American people. Look who is paying $4.00 per gallon and who is making record profits, Haliburton, Black Water, Exxon-Mobil and the list goes on.

    Go and retire to the old folks home John, its OVER.

    June 2, 2008 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  16. Young In NC

    Why all the fuss about Israel? It seems like a contest to see who supports them the most. Who cares? They can handle there own problems, but these posers (John McCain) act like they have family in Jerusalem. Its ridiculous. Why not just develop alternative energy and make the middle east irrelevant?

    June 2, 2008 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  17. Mark

    McCain, can you stop being too cheap for political gain?

    June 2, 2008 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  18. JOE











    MCCAIN 08

    June 2, 2008 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  19. frank

    The republican's definition of talking to someone is giving them everything they ask for. I dont know of any intelligent argument to support this.

    The key to winning the dialogue is actually to respect and engage the enemy. When i say respect it doesnt meet kowtow to their methods and idealogy but understand and respect what they are trying to say. Thus we move to a higher intellectual plane of discussion and engagement.

    Also anyone who agrees with the statement below, add it everytime you send a msg.


    June 2, 2008 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  20. Kevin in DC

    Limiting gas imports isn't a targeted sanction–it's a blanket sanction that will affect all Iranian people. Is this fair?

    Whether you believe it to be fair or not, the result will be an angered people, and many will direct their anger towards those who imposed the blanket sanctions.

    McCain needs to learn the difference between this sort of sanctioning and the targeted sanctions he thinks he is imposing.

    June 2, 2008 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  21. Nando, Florida

    MCCAIN FOR WAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    June 2, 2008 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  22. joe

    macain, you are definately out of touch and dementic. i do care for the fact that, millions is being spent on Iraq which honestly, will benefit the American economy.
    Also challenge Obama on something else about from war and Iran. iRAN WILL NOT PUT FOOD ON MY TABLE.

    June 2, 2008 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  23. MemeForObama

    Can someone pls tell mccain to talk about something else? Is their no other issues that are impotant to the American People?(ie Economy, Healthcare etc). I'm tired of him talking about WAR, WAR, and WAR. I guess that's all he knows how to do best. Pls no more 4-8 yrs of McBush

    CNN pls post my comments

    June 2, 2008 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  24. Leon

    Mr. McBush.

    Isn't this the same person who made a big gaffe during his last trip to the Middle East. He does not know the difference between the various groups.

    As a jew, I want peace not war.

    Obama offers the best hope for our country. The Republicans have ruined our economy, drove up the price of gas and have us in a war that is killing our sons and daughters. Come on people. I do not want to see 4 more years of Bush's policies. Vote for CHANGE, not the same-old, same-old.

    June 2, 2008 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  25. McCain '08

    McCain is absolutely right! If Obama believes he can just sit down and negotiate away Iran's nuclear ambitions, he is naive.

    Those who bash McCain seem to forget that for the past FOUR years we have relied on the UN and sanctions. The sanctions have been proven to be meaningless as Iran continues to build centrifuges and develop missles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to Israel...a nation Iran has promised to exterminate.

    What do you Obama-Bots suggest we do???? I guarantee you that Obama will not change a single thing Bush has done regarding Iran because he does not want to be the president responsible for Iran's developing a nuclear weapon.

    Sanctions have not worked. Promising economic aid, as Bush has done repeatedly, has not worked. Does Obama have some special powers of persuasion??? Does he have some secret message??? Of course not.

    Iran must not have a nuclear weapon. Obama is the wrong leader because he has NO PLAN and is only telling you lemmings what you want to hear.

    Obama = Jimmy Carter

    June 2, 2008 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
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