The explosive issue of how to handle the US’ enemies detonated into the election campaign on Thursday after US President George W. Bush implied Democrats want to appease terrorists.
Democratic White House hopeful Barack Obama fought back hard, accusing Bush of plumbing the “politics of fear” with his comments in Israel, while allies said the president transgressed by launching a partisan attack on foreign soil.
But Republican candidate John McCain joined in a tag-team attack on Obama, who favors direct negotiations with US foes, including Iran and Syria, as a key foreign policy flashpoint of November’s general election erupted.
“Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along,” Bush told the Israeli parliament. “We have heard this foolish delusion before.”
“We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history,” he said, drawing parallels with the 1930s capitulation to the Nazis.
The White House denied the comments directly targeted Obama. But the Illinois senator, who is looking to eliminate Hillary Clinton from the Democratic race and switch to a general-election footing, waded into the row.
“George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the president’s extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel,” Obama said.
“It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence to launch a false political attack,” said Obama, who daily adds to his overwhelming lead over Clinton as the Democratic nominating race draws to a close.
“Instead of tough talk and no action, we need to do what Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan did and use all elements of American power — including tough, principled and direct diplomacy — to pressure countries like Iran and Syria,” he said.
McCain then tried to turn the spat to his advantage, saying Obama had made a “serious” error in offering to talk to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a week after suggesting Obama was the favored candidate of Hamas.
“It shows naivety and inexperience and lack of judgment to say he wants to sit down across the table from an individual who leads a country that says that Israel is a stinking corpse,” McCain told reporters on his bus.
Senator Joseph Biden was one of a slew of Democrats who sprang to Obama’s defense, accusing Bush of indulging in an “ugly pattern” of using national security for political gain.
After describing the president’s remarks as “bullshit,” the Senate foreign relations committee chairman accused the Bush administration of hypocritically pursuing talks with North Korea and, in the past, Libya.
“Under George Bush, the Middle East has become much more dangerous — the United States and our allies, including Israel, are less secure. His policy has been an abject failure,” Biden told reporters.
“For him to call those who rightly see the need for change appeasers is truly delusional. And for him to do it from abroad is truly disgraceful,” Biden said.For her part, Clinton denounced Bush’s comments as “offensive and outrageous.”