Was Rubin Distorting?

The McCain campaign has been pushing back on the Rubin argument that McCain once supported talking to Hamas and now says such a position is "unacceptable." Here's the full quote that allegedly exposes Rubin:

Rubin: "Do you think that American diplomats should be operating the way they have in the past, working with the Palestinian government if Hamas is now in charge?"

McCain: "They're the government; sooner or later we are going to have to deal with them, one way or another, and I understand why this administration and previous administrations had such antipathy towards Hamas because of their dedication to violence and the things that they not only espouse but practice, so . . . but it's a new reality in the Middle East. I think the lesson is people want security and a decent life and decent future, that they want democracy. Fatah was not giving them that."

Rubin: “So should the United States be dealing with that new reality through normal diplomatic contacts to get the job done for the United States?”

Sen. McCain: “I think the United States should take a step back, see what they do when they form their government, see what their policies are, and see the ways that we can engage with them, and if there aren’t any, there may be a hiatus. But I think part of the relationship is going to be dictated by how Hamas acts, not how the United States acts.”

I'd say any fair assessment would show that McCain was intelligently prepared to see whether the US could talk to Hamas, if there could be ways to engage with them. If their behavior made that fruitless, then we shouldn't bother. That sounds perfectly sensible to me, the kind of politics McCain used to be known for, both realistic and pragmatic, and it is clearly not the rigid posture that dialogue with governments like Hamas is always unacceptable. This new position is obviously part of an attempt to paint Obama as unfit for the presidency. It's Rovian bullshit.

And, of course, with respect to Hamas, there is no daylight between Obama's position and McCain's. The only difference is with Iran. I doubt there's any way to talk to Ahmadinejad, if he's still around next year, but Khameini may be different, and other power-centers in Tehran may be different. It would be great to have a president again able to use diplomacy intelligently and pragmatically, with the leverage of military force behind him, prepared to exploit internal divisions within enemy regimes. Both McCain and Obama have this potential, but McCain has now decided to follow Bush and rule it out. That's a pity. Does he really believe Bush's intransigence has been a success?