Yes, Virginia, there are Republicans who are extremely knowledgeable about foreign affairs. Senators Richard Lugar, Chuck Hagel and John Warner come to mind, as do former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and Colin Powell. One might be forgiven, however, if one does not instinctively include Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in their midst. (According to the very Republican and highly respected Senator Hagel, Governor Palin "doesn't have any foreign policy credentials. . . . I think it's a stretch to, in any way, to say that she's got the experience to be president of the United States.")
It should follow that if one was looking for a Republican to take part in tomorrow's protest rally outside the United Nations against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's nuclear ambitions and anti-Semitism, the event's organizers might have gone to, say, Lugar, Hagel, Warner, Kissinger, Shultz or Powell. One might also be forgiven if, using the same logic, one were to conclude that the decision to invite Sarah Palin to address the demonstration was little more than a not particularly subtle attempt to help her win Jewish votes for the GOP ticket.
It seemed fairly clever at first -- perhaps a bit too clever. Every even semi-competent head of a tax exempt 501(c)(3) organization knows that featuring the Republican vice presidential candidate six weeks before Election Day without at least offering equal time to the Democratic ticket could seriously jeopardize the group's tax-exempt status. But Senator Hillary Clinton had already agreed to speak at the rally back in August, and the organizers must have felt that this gave them the necessary cover to include Governor Palin without having to ask anyone from the Obama-Biden campaign. (Incidentally, one of Governor Palin's advisers, Mark Wallace, just happens to be both the executive director of United Against Nuclear Iran and the husband of McCain campaign Communications Director Nicole Wallace; and if you believe this is a mere coincidence, I know of lots of subprime mortgages you might want to add to your portfolio.)
When Senator Clinton found out that the Republican Vice Presidential nominee had been invited, she understood that she was being set up. There was every likelihood that Governor Palin would have attacked Senator Obama, and contrasted Senator Clinton's presence at the rally with the fact that Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden were not there. It was equally foreseeable that no one would have bothered to point out that neither Obama nor Biden had been invited. The Obama campaign's explanation and legitimately outraged reaction would then have been lost in the next news cycle. Senator Clinton was having none of this, and promptly withdrew from the demonstration.
It was only after Senator Clinton had pulled out that the rally's organizers first contacted the Obama campaign and asked them to participate in the event. This was on Wednesday, September 17th, five days before the rally. The Obama campaign accepted the invitation and said that it would send Representative Robert Wexler, a prominent Jewish Member of Congress from Florida who sits on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs (he is chairman of its Sub-Committee on Europe) as its surrogate. The following day, the organizers decided that the rally had suddenly become too political and disinvited Governor Palin and all other "American political personalities."
Let's be perfectly clear. The organizers had initially invited Governor Palin without ever contacting, let alone inviting, anyone from the Obama campaign. When they finally issued a belated invitation to the Obama side, it was accepted, and a prominent Democratic Member of Congress was going to speak at the rally. The organizers then disinvited both Governor Palin and Representative Wexler. And whom does the GOP hold responsible for this fiasco? Barack Obama, of course.
Never mind that the Obama campaign was ready, willing and able to participate in the rally. Never mind that neither Senator Obama nor his campaign had had anything to do with the organizers' decisions to invite and then disinvite Governor Palin. Never mind that the McCain-Palin campaign had been perfectly content to have Governor Palin speak at the rally without anyone representing the Obama campaign. Lamenting the rally organizers' withdrawal of the Palin invitation, the McCain campaign charged that "Senator Obama's campaign had the opportunity to join us. Senator Obama chose politics rather than the national interest."
If John McCain and his GOP flacks thought they could get away with it, they would blame Barack Obama for the Great Depression, the 1876 massacre at Little Big Horn, the bubonic pandemic of the 1340s, and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. And they would probably run ads alleging that Mrs. O'Leary, whose legendary cow is alleged to have started the Chicago fire, was an Obama public safety adviser.
Contrary to the McCain campaign's insinuation, Senator Obama and his campaign did absolutely nothing to politicize either the rally or the sensitive issue of how best to isolate and defuse the threat posed by the Iranian regime. In June, Senator Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, that he would "use all elements of American power to pressure Iran," and that "I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon." "Allowing Iran, a radical theocracy that supports terrorism and openly threatens its neighbors, to acquire nuclear weapons is a risk we cannot take," he explained on another occasion. And his position on the U.S.-Israeli relationship is equally unambiguous: "Israel's security is sacrosanct," he told AIPAC. "It is nonnegotiable."
Senators Obama and McCain will have an opportunity to explain their respective positions on Iran and other foreign policy questions during next Friday's debate. We must not allow ourselves to be distracted by a clumsy attempt to exploit an international powder keg for partisan political purposes.
Menachem Rosensaft is a lawyer in New York City.