For Obama, it was advisor (and former ambassador to Israel) Daniel Kurtzer. For Clinton, it was senior advisor Ann Lewis. McCain dispatched the most senior speaker of the three, former secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger. I will write more about this event later, but this first installment will be dedicated solely to the person speaking on behalf of McCain. With his abrupt, grumpy style, he stole the show, and also made some rather interesting comments.
Here is one prediction: that mouth of his might get the candidate in some trouble.
Yes, it can.
Eagleburger was trying to have fun. He was mocking his fellow panelist Kurtzer, sitting to the left of the others ("where he belongs"), and making noises and funny, impatient faces, while Ann Lewis was speaking. But more importantly, he did not mince his words. In a response to a question about the religious right, an important component of the Republican coalition, he said that it was, indeed "a serious problem," and reminded his listeners that he now lives in Charlottesville, surrounded by such people that he needs to fight.
One would think that this is not exactly what McCain needs, while he is trying to win over this reluctant constituency. But Eagleburger calmed these young Jews by promising that McCain will not change his ways to please anyone. And he did not forget to take a swipe on Rush Limbaugh - not for the first time - even while forgetting, or pretending to forget, his name.
Whenever Eagleburger was called upon to respond to a question or a comment, he provided something for the audience to chew on, as if writing a new chapter of the McCain straight-talk book. How can he, a member of the controversial Iraq Study Group, endorse the champion of the surge? Eagleburger has no problem in admitting he was the one making the mistake. He did not believe that the Bush administration could pull it off. He should have known better and either have submitted a dissenting report or quit the group altogether.
And talking about a more senior member of the Iraq Study Group, another McCain supporter James Baker, Eagleburger admits that Baker was not always considered best friend of Israel. But Eagleburger does not have a problem with talking about the dispute between the first Bush administration and the Israeli government over the loan guarantees. Friendly countries do not always agree, he said. And such disputes can "become unpleasant." Bush, he said, was wrong to complain that he was standing alone against the all-powerful pro-Israel lobby.
Eagleburger does not seem to like the "pernicious ideas" of Walt and Mearsheimer. Nevertheless, he believes Israel supporters should cut Bush senior some slack. After all, he was the one fighting Iraq and kicking Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.
The former secretary of state believes that those people who might want to "cut and run" from Iraq now are endangering Israel. If you're worried about Israel, he said, "just think" about the consequences of leaving Iraq, essentially making Iran stronger. As I predicted many times in the past, in this election Israel might find itself in the center of an internal American debate over the Middle East. The McCain camp is definitely going to use Israel as a way of convincing people that leaving Iraq prematurely would have grave consequences.
And why else should American Jews vote for McCain he was asked. His answer: For all the reasons all Americans should be voting for him. What you see is what you get. He will not talk to Iran, or to Syria (no matter what others might say), or to Hamas, or to Hezbollah. Countries and organizations calling for the destruction of Israel do not deserve to honor of speaking to an American president.
Oh, and one last thing: McCain also "has no interest" in hearing the opinions of Zbigniew Brezinski.