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. Cheryl

    Oh, who really cares? McClain is a loser, he does not have a chance. If there is anyone on earth who doubts that, I believe the first debate with O'bama will quickly settle any questions.

    Actually, I feel nothing but pity for this man – he is in way over his head and unfortunately made his first wrong decision when he decided to become a repukelican.

    June 2, 2008 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  2. Donna in Sebastopol

    This man is scary. He cannot even keep surge numbers and the various factions straight... he would be a disaster in the white house.

    too old, too cranky, too senile, too BUSH.

    June 2, 2008 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  3. Debbie

    Did McCain admit he doesn't know much about the middle east?
    – McCain forgets how many troops are in Iraq.
    – McCain thinks gun fire in a market means it's safe.
    – McCain repeatedly confuses Shiite and Sunni, thinking they are the same. These two religious factions have been fighting each other for years, but McCain refused to listen when Petreaus repeatedly told him the difference.

    June 2, 2008 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  4. jonny

    McCain is so clueless.

    June 2, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  5. mia

    Great. This is obviously the best shot at Obama that McCain has to offer, seeing as he repeats it constantly, and Obama is slamming him even on that one.
    Way to go, if anybody is actually listening to the two before voting, I think Obama will trounce McCain so badly it'll bring tears to the GOP's eyes.

    June 2, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  6. jack

    Mccain needs to get a life! Why can't John Mccain talk about the economy...the mortgage crisis, our foreign policy not Iraq war, our middle east policy, weak dollar, etc? I am sick and tired of Mccain talking about war and more war nothing else. Who cares about a commander-in-chief who does not know about the economy, not me or most americans. We need a president who can be tough but yet diplomatic and who knows about the economy. It is time for a change in our political scene.
    God Bless America!

    June 2, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  7. Paul Miller

    This would be just what the Iranian hardliners would want – an excuse for why their economy is hurting. With debilitating sanctions imposed, the regime could paint the US as a ruthless bully intent on destroying their economy. Sanctions would do nothing but backfire. The Iranian economy is already in the tank and the populus is getting sick and tired of the hardliners; sanctions will not help. What a simplistic foreign policy McCain offers....

    June 2, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  8. Jaybrown NY/NJ

    Stiffarmstrong sticks to Iraq and the middle east debates because he thinks that's his strongest area. He knows nothing else about anything else. But personally I've been impressed with Obama's retaliation and I think the republicans will soon see they need to brush Stiffarmstrong on other areas. The current Republican party thinks they are the specialist on foreign policy. Well it's obvious they are not, We are hated throughout most of the world, Our dollar is weaker, terrorist are stronger, and even our allies don't agree with our current policies. Obama will be just fine.

    June 2, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  9. Tim

    Does anyone else notice how furious McCain gets when he is asked a tough question (particularly about foreign policy)? He looks like he's just going to burst into a murderous rage. The last thing we need is a hot-headed trigger happy commander in chief right now.

    June 2, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  10. MoveOn

    I love statistics!

    There's a book that everyone should read – "Figures lie and Liers Figure – How to prove Anything With Statistics". The title sayys it all.

    Then, the next time you see someone spout off 'statistics' about anything trying to 'prove' their point, you'll realize that you should only take them with a grain of salt – if that.

    June 2, 2008 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  11. JA Cook

    Hey! What happened to the Gas Tax Holiday?

    Or was that pandering from McCain?

    June 2, 2008 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  12. Bruce

    Anna...maybe we should let the people who participated in the survey run the State Department?

    I bet they would be awesome at it! They could round up George Clooney and Tim Robbins and send them over to "sit down" with Iran. Brilliant, I tell you! Peace, Love, Dope '08. Soon, Iran will have a copy of "O' Brother Where Art Thou?" on every shelf as homage for the sudden enlightenmnet the liberals will provide.

    Obama is under-informed, under-experienced, and anyone who suggests Iran's fundamentalists are waiting for a bear hug from Obama are crazy...or just liberal.

    Anyone but Obama '08

    June 2, 2008 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  13. Ralph

    Go McCain...If Hillary isn't the nominee...McCain will WIN by a landslide in November!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    June 2, 2008 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  14. shirley

    We do not need to 'jump the gun' on Iran. Let's try diplomacy, it must be harder than going to war because McCain and Bush would much rather send in the big guns first. I don't want my Country to be seen as the bully of the world and this does not imply that I object to protecting our borders from real threats.

    June 2, 2008 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  15. HAGTBG

    McCain called for no war; nor for a single bullet shot nor a person dead, nor one soldier deployed. He called for further economic and, if possible, diplomatic, sanctions. Against a nation calling for the destruction of another and which is building up its army to deal with US forces. But because he talked about US enemies in the Middle East and not only giving them what they want some of you here call him a warmonger for his words today. If you are the best supporters Mr. Obama has, he should be quite worried.

    June 2, 2008 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  16. ANGIE

    dont let him use fear anymore americans dont let him use fearmongering ways like bush did we fell for it and look where we and our troops our today only one thing mccain cares about WAR REMEMBER HE WILL NEVER SURRENDER IN IRAQ MY FRIENDS NEVER

    June 2, 2008 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  17. Foreign observer

    He likes to have another war with Iran ! Compared to what the U.S. experienced with Irak the Iran war will fully destroy the American foundations.

    June 2, 2008 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  18. Don, Michigan

    It was interesting that he mentioned, he world-wide pressure that ended South Africa's apartheid, but is oblivious to Israel's policy of apartheid.

    June 2, 2008 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  19. Kevin in DC

    Targeted sanctioning? 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 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  20. James, SC

    Interesting. The only pro-McCain posts are coming from disgruntle Hillary supporters.

    June 2, 2008 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  21. Chris Banner

    McCain, instead of speaking about our economy, you always bring up the Iraq-Middle-East-Iran stuff which is not really our main concern right now. What we need to know, is how our next president will address the economy issue, bring down the gas price, re-instate a solid plan for mortgages and a susbstantial health care plan

    Once you've come up with these, then you can compete with Obama, otherwise you have No Chance

    June 2, 2008 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  22. Smiley from Conyers, GA

    I don't want to sound ignorant, but why does the US kiss Israel's butt so much? Are they somehow indebted to them? I am asking this question in all seriousness and without sarcasm.

    I don't understand the relationship between the US and Israel. I just need to know because it seems like the US bends over backwards to appease Israel. Someone please explain.

    June 2, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  23. JennyM

    Old man yells at cloud

    June 2, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  24. Jane, College Park, MD

    Democrats, Please do not let Republicans know they are on to a losing strategy. Let McWar keep digging himself in.

    Even the Israeli's are in secret talks with Syria. What a joke!!

    June 2, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  25. Capt. Smash, Salt Lake City, Utah

    Bush, McCain, GOP and CLINTON voted to send 4100 troops to there death and for what? That is the real story here!

    1. Is Iran stronger or weaker since Bush/McCain’s invasions of Iraq?

    2. Has Osama bin Laden been killed or captured since Bush/McCain’s invasion of Iraq?

    3. Are we paying more for gas now or before Bush/McCain’s invasion of Iraq?

    4. Is our economy better of now or before Bush/McCain’s invasion of Iraq?

    5. Is the White Houses creditability better now or before Bush/McCain’s invasion of Iraq?

    6. Is the budget deficit higher now or before Bush/McCain’s invasion of Iraq?

    7. Is the Middle East more peaceful now or before Bush/McCain’s invasion of Iraq?

    8. Do we have more American Solders dead or before Bush/McCain’s invasion of I

    June 2, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12