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McCain Adviser: Obama’s ‘Words Matter, Except When They Pose an Inconvenient Truth’

The McCain campaign hosted a conference call with reporters to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Sen. Barack Obama’s pledge that he would be willing to meet without precondition with several hostile foreign leaders. The McCain campaign had seized on the statement as a gaffe on the part of Obama, and focused on it as an example of the presumptive Democratic nominee’s naivete. Randy Scheunemann, a senior foreign-policy adviser to Sen. John McCain, took the opportunity to compare Obama’s comments from one year ago at the CNN/YouTube Democratic debate in Charleston, S.C., to those made earlier today in Sderot, Israel:

Randy Scheunemann: It’s important to highlight what [Obama] said a year ago and what he said just about an hour ago at a press conference in Israel. He was asked July 23, 2007, at the presidential debate in South Carolina: “Would you be willing to meet separately, without pre-condition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?”

Sen. Obama’s answer was: “I would.”

Today, Sen. Obama was asked: “A year ago you said you would meet in your first year as president…Is there anything you’ve heard today in your discussions with Israeli leaders to make you rethink that pledge, or are you standing by that?”

Today, Sen. Obama said: “I think you have to look at what the question was…”

I just read the question for everybody.

“…and how I responded…”

I just read his response. Sen. Obama said today: “But I think what I said in response was that I would, at my time and choosing, be willing to meet with any leader if I thought it would promote the national security interests of the United States. That continues to be my position.”

There you have it. What he said a year ago and what he said today. This is revealing about Sen. Obama in several respects. First, it shows his inexperience in making such an uncategorical statement a year ago in the presidential debate. Second, it shows his stubbornness in adhering to such a position for so long. And third, and what we’ve seen more recently, it shows his malleability in trying to rewrite history and refusal to admit a mistake in what he originally said…I guess for Sen. Obama, words matter — except when they pose an inconvenient truth.

However, Obama’s answer to the question at the debate was considerably longer and more nuanced than the two words offered by Scheunemann. From the transcript:

OBAMA: I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous. (APPLAUSE) Now, Ronald Reagan and Democratic presidents like JFK constantly spoke to Soviet Union at a time when Ronald Reagan called them an evil empire. And the reason is because they understood that we may not trust them and they may pose an extraordinary danger to this country, but we had the obligation to find areas where we can potentially move forward.

And I think that it is a disgrace that we have not spoken to them. We’ve been talking about Iraq — one of the first things that I would do in terms of moving a diplomatic effort in the region forward is to send a signal that we need to talk to Iran and Syria because they’re going to have responsibilities if Iraq collapses.

They have been acting irresponsibly up until this point. But if we tell them that we are not going to be a permanent occupying force, we are in a position to say that they are going to have to carry some weight, in terms of stabilizing the region.

The verdict: Both Obama and the McCain campaign are doing a bit of history rewriting. Obama did not really say anything about any potential meetings taking place "at the time or place" of his choosing, as he said in Israel today. But the totality of his response to the question from last year’s debate indicates that he was talking in terms of furthering the national-security interests of the United States. Scheunemann ignored this, in favor of a concise, two-word response that better serves the McCain camp’s purposes. Finally, I would almost guarantee that we will be hearing the "inconvenient truth" line from the McCain campaign again in the future.

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