In Focus: Obama's Jewish Problem?

Who said this? "We'll be [in Iraq] a century, hopefully. If it works right.

"That'd be Gen. Merrill A. "Tony" McPeak, in a 2003 interview with the Oregonian. A former chief of staff of the US Air Force and now co-chair of Barack Obama's presidential campaign, McPeak was against the war but not, you'll have noticed, the kind of sustained military occupation that every glib pundit and blogger has arraigned John McCain for advocating in 2008, when things in Iraq are beginning finally to "work right" and when his necessary precondition for a century-long garrison was that American soldiers were not being killed.

McPeak made headlines last week for accusing Bill Clinton of "McCarthyite" tactics. On any other day, this might have some legitimacy to it, but what did Clinton do to incur such a conversation-stopping epithet? He had referred to a potential match-up between his wife and McCain by saying: "[I]t would be a great thing if we had an election year where you had two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interest of this country," which of course carried the clear implication that Obama doesn't love his country and isn't devoted to its interest. This may be low and disingenuous, but the word for it, as ever, is "Clintonian" not "McCarthyite.

"At all events, what really seems to have unhorsed McPeak is this interview, conducted again with the Oregonian in 2003, and recently excavated by the American Spectator, in which he blames the stalled Arab-Israeli peace process on American Jewry:

We don't have a playbook for the Middle East. You know, for instance, obviously, a part of that long-term strategy would be getting the Israelis and the Palestinians together at . . . something other than a peace process. Process is not a substitute for achievement or settlement. And even so the process has gone off the tracks, but the process isn't enough. . . . We need to get it fixed and only we have the authority with both sides to move them towards that. Everybody knows that.

So where's the problem? State? White House?

New York City. Miami. We have a large vote - vote, here in favor of Israel. And no politician wants to run against it.

McPeak says he'd like a reversion to the 1967 map of the holy land, a recommendation that puts him squarely in sympathy with "New York City and Miami." Also, one would think that Israel and the Palestinian Authority have had some say in the matter of their own border disputes. Had he left it at that, McPeak might have avoided the suspicion of sinister motive given how naive and semi-informed he appears (not that naivete and semi-information are encouraging prospects in a military adviser to a would-be president). But McPeak didn't leave it at that:

“I’ve spent a lot of time in Israel, worked at one time very closely with the Israeli Air Force as a junior officer,” he said, “but that’s maybe the more cosmopolitan, liberal version of the Israeli population.”

McPeak also charged that Jews and Christian Zionists manipulated American foreign policy in Iraq. “Let’s say that one of your abiding concerns is the security of Israel as opposed to a purely American self-interest, then it would make sense to build a dozen or so bases in Iraq,” he said.

As to the first dunderhead observation, it perhaps owes to a sense of professional courtesy. But the "more cosmopolitan, liberal version of the Israeli population" is too laughable to be insulting.

McPeak's second remark is not so easily pardoned. It reeks of the Mearsheimer/Walt interpretation of history, which has raised eyebrows and been judged sloppy in every serious foreign policy quarter, left and right. If the U.S. went to war as a favor to Ariel Sharon, then why haven't our domestic Zionists yet managed to get George Bush to neutralize Iran -- the far greater security threat to Israel? And why, since most Israelis and their government began to weary of our war in their neighborhood before we did, do all those American garrisons still remain?

First Jeremiah Wright, now this. Does Obama have a "Jewish problem?"

Michael Goldfarb at the Weekly Standard thinks so: "[W]hether or not it's merely guilt by association is irrelevant. Politics is about perception, and the perception is that Obama's one step removed from the Nation of Islam. If he wants to get the anti-Semitic stench of Trinity United off his campaign, it's going to take more than the all-clear from Marc Ambinder and Marty Peretz."

Marc Ambinder's all-clear looked like this: "As one keen observer pointed out to me, if advocating the pre '67 border map makes one an anti-Semite, just about every iteration of the U.S. government since 1967 would qualify. Tony McPeak's verbal gymnastics do not make a "Jewish problem" for Obama."

Noam Scheiber at TNR wants Obama to jettison McPeak: "I don't think McPeak tells us much about what kind of president Barack Obama would make. And I certainly don't think Obama endorses his views on McCarthy-ism and the outsized influence of some South Florida condo commandos. (I doubt the Obama campaign even knew about the latter before yesterday.) But I do think he's become a liability for the campaign, and that he should be canned."

The juiciest part of the McPeak scandal is that it has been taken up by the Clinton camp, which has circulated the American Spectator piece. This comes in the wake of Hillary's extraordinary Q&A about Jeremiah Wright for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review; both publications are owned by conservative press baron Richard Mellon Scaife, who once accused Bill Clinton of murdering Vince Foster. (Photo of Hillary and Scaife seated next to each other available here.)

Well, who would be shocked by Clinton's embrace of the vast right-wing conspiracy, now setting its sights on her immediate opponent?

James Fallows, that's who: "I can easily believe that the Spectator would publish such an article. That the Clinton team would circulate it I'm still trying to deal with."

Michael Weiss is the New York Editor of Pajamas Media. His blog is Snarksmith.