THE BLOG
07/09/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

McCain, Iran, and the Jewish Vote

Senator John McCain's favorite former president is Teddy Roosevelt. However, when it comes to policy towards Iran, McCain is no Teddy Roosevelt -- he speaks loudly and carries a small stick. A few days ago, my organization, the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), joined Senator Frank Lautenberg, Senator Ben Cardin, and five members of the House, in a press conference to point out McCain's hypocrisy when he talks tough on Iran, but votes against Iranian sanctions in order to protect corporations like Halliburton.

McCain has run a campaign in the Jewish community in which he claims to be Iran's worst nightmare while proclaiming Senator Barack Obama as dangerously naive. In McCain's interview with Jeffery Goldberg of the Atlantic, Goldberg reported that "McCain took a vociferously hard line on Iran" and he was applauded by many of his supporters for a speech he gave to a largely Jewish audience last month. However, a few years ago, McCain voted against an amendment (S.Amdt. 1351 to S. 1042) introduced by Lautenberg that would have made "U.S. businesses and their subsidiaries liable to prosecution for dealing with foreign businesses which have links to terrorism or whose parent country supports terrorism." Instead of voting to strengthen sanctions against Iran, McCain sided with most of his Republican colleagues to vote against the amendment and protect the Republican Party's favorite company, Halliburton (Obama voted for the amendment). McCain's campaign defends this vote by claiming that his meaningless support of the Collins amendment, which had no material impact on Vice President Dick Cheney's Halliburton, was equivalent to voting for the Lautenberg Amendment (the neoconservative columnist, Frank Gaffney, and the Center for Security Policy disagree).

McCain's demagoguery in the Jewish community goes beyond just charging Obama with being untested. The McCain campaign and its conservative allies have turned 'guilt by association' into an art form by detailing the imperfections of every Obama supporter, adviser, or friend that the community disagrees with. However, by these standards McCain himself has his own Iran problems. McCain's Chief Economic Adviser, Carly Fiorina, was CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HP) when the company surreptitiously avoided the trade boycott of Iran. McCain, who has been calling for further divestment from Iran, picked Fiorina to be his top adviser on the economy while she is also serving as head of the Republican National Committee Victory Fund. It was under Fiorina's leadership as CEO that, according to an April 19, 2004, Forbes article titled "Trading With The Enemy," HP traded with the Iranians.

If you want to get around export controls, just sell the product to a front company in Dubai. The middlemen will take it from there... Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Microsoft, among many other U.S. companies, keep Dubai offices and are favorites these days among Iranian traders in Dubai. (Swibel, Forbes, 4/19/04)

If the McCain campaign continues to attack Obama with charges of 'guilt by association,' they should also address questions surrounding his Chief Strategist, Charlie Black. Black has lobbied congress on behalf of companies that do business with Iran, including Chinese oil conglomerate CNOOC. In fact, the deal Black lobbied for was defeated by Congress in part because of CNOOC's ties to Iran.

Charlie Black, working for his firm Black, Kelly, Scruggs & Healey, was paid $60,000 to lobby the U.S. government on behalf of the Chinese oil conglomerate CNOOC...But the bid ultimately fell through, in part because of objections over the China oil industry's ties to Iran, a country in which it had already invested tens of millions of dollars. (Stein, Huffington Post, 6/2/08)

The CNOOC deal even elicited outrage from über conservative Representative Joe Barton, then Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In a June 27, 2005 letter to President Bush, he was "compelled to express deep concern about the proposed acquisition of Unocal by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation" and that "this transaction poses a clear threat to the energy and national security of the United States." Given their roles in the campaign what kind of positions would Fiorina and Black have in a McCain administration?

McCain and the bully boys on the right employ a strategy to paint Obama as weak on Iran and an enemy of the Jewish community. They use 'guilt by association' to scare Jewish voters. However, the Jewish community has a clear choice in this presidential election. On the one hand we have two candidates (based on voting records and public positions) who are supportive of a strong U.S. - Israel relationship and a two-state peace process. On the other hand we have a choice between one profoundly conservative candidate who opposes reproductive freedom and believes the United States is a Christian nation and a staunchly progressive candidate who is pro-choice and a believer in the separation of church and state.

Given McCain's 'tough guy' posturing it is fitting to point out that Mr. Straight Talk prefers protecting the Halliburtons of the world to really getting serious about the Iranian threat. In coming months, the NJDC intends to continue to bring the full story of Republican hypocrisy and smear mongering to Jewish voters.