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McCain talks the hawk talk with Jeffrey Goldberg

by Brad A. Greenberg

May 30, 2008 | 1:03 pm

Jeffrey Goldberg got his new blog off to a good start three weeks ago by publishing an interview with Barack Obama that was quoted just about everywhere in the American press. Today he follows up with conversation with John McCain. Here’s how he opens it:

The two candidates, who are scheduled to address the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C. early next week, have well-developed thoughts on the Middle East, and their differences are stark. Obama sees the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as central to America’s problems in the Middle East; McCain names Islamic extremism as the most formidable challenge. Obama sees Jewish settlements as a primary obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians; McCain downplays settlements as an issue, instead identifying Hamas’ rocket attacks on the Israeli town of Sderot as the most pressing problem. And both men take very different positions on the issue of Philip Roth.

In our conversation, McCain took a vociferously hard line on Iran (and a similarly hard line on Senator Obama’s understanding of the challenge posed by Iran). He accused Iran of not only seeking the destruction of Israel, but of sponsoring terrorist groups – Hamas and Hezbollah – that are bent on the destruction of the United States. And he said that the defense of Israel is a central tenet of American foreign policy. When I asked him why he is so concerned about Iranian threats against Israel, he said – in a statement that will surely placate Jewish voters who are particularly concerned about existential threats facing Israel – “The United States of America has committed itself to never allowing another Holocaust.”

Quite a bit drier and doing a lot of question-dodging, McCain mainly answers questions about his plan for engaging Iran and says the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a “constant sore,” as Obama said, but “a national security challenge.”

Huh?

Here’s the transcript, and a humorous exchange after McCain interpreted a question as probing for criticism of President Bush. (Yeah, he doesn’t deserve that. He’s the president!).

JG: Do you think that Israel is better off today than it was eight years ago?

JM: I think Israel, in many respects, is stronger economically, their political process shows progress – when there is corruption, they punish people who are corrupt. The economy is booming, they have a robust democracy, to say the least. Bin Laden has not limited his hatred and desire to destroy the United States to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, though Israel is one of the objects of his jihadist attitude. What you’re trying to do is get me to criticize the Bush Administration.

JG: No, I’m not, what I’m—

JM: Yeah, you are, but I’ll try to answer your question. Because of the rise of Islamic extremism, because of the failure of human rights and democracy in the Middle East, or whether there are a myriad of challenges we face in the Middle East, all of them severe, all of them pose a threat to the existence to the state of Israel, including and especially the Iranians, who have as a national policy the destruction of the state of Israel, something they’ve been dedicated to since before President Bush came to office.

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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