Khaled Meshaal, The American President Is On Line Three

Jamie Rubin, writing in the Washington Post, detects a contradiction in the way Sen. John McCain prefers to relate to Hamas today. Here is McCain in 2006:

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."

"Deal with them." To put it another way, it's in our national interest to cultivate a relationship with Hamas -- or it was, in 2006, before Barack Obama's foreign policy was received pleasantly by a Hamas spokesperson. There are two points here, easily tangled up in one another. One is whether the United States ought to reach out and establish contact with Hamas. On this the score is clear: McCain says yes and Obama says yes (but condicio sine qua non if they renounce violence, recognize Israel's right to exist, etc.) So we are not really discussing Hamas in the constricted geopolitical confines of greater Israel. What we're debating -- and where there is a difference -- is whether the United States should submit to the reality that Iran is a permanent, major political power in the region, one emboldened, as Obama might argue, by the U.S. occupation of Iraq, and a force that is better reconciled with than ignored (through strength.) This second point relates to the reason why Hamas "endorsed" Obama in the first place: his identification with an approach to the world that is not arrogant or colonial.

("We don’t mind — actually we like Mr. Obama. We hope he will [win] the election and I do believe he is like John Kennedy, great man with great principle, and he has a vision to change America to make it in a position to lead the world community but not with domination and arrogance.”)

Why would the Hamas spokesperson say this? We're taught never to take the word of terrorists at face value, so let's assume that there's an ulterior motive at work. Does Hamas want the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq? Tricky: though a Sunni group, Hamas receives advise and counsel and financial support from Iran; a precipitous U.S. draw down might lead to a massacre of Sunnis; Saudi Arabia and Iran would fight a proxy war; Hamas would be caught in the middle. Etc. The answer is fairly simple: an Obama administration would talk with Iran (and by the umbrella property), Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Hamas patron -- and a McCain administration would not. I also suspect that Hamas, like many Republicans, believes that a Democratic administration would push Israel to bargain, hard, with Hamas in a way that the previous administration resolutely refuses to do. To preserve the standard of intellectual honesty, for starters, McCain needs to explain the difference between Hamas and Iran and why he is open to accepting the legitimacy of the one, but not the other; or he must explain why he did not say what it appears he had said; Obama must contend with a terrorist organization that is content to use his name, his party, and his approach to the world as a propaganda tool, one that the McCain campaign is eager to exploit and believes that it is their duty to point out.