That was the message delivered over the weekend by two McCain advisers — Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Richard Williamson, the Bush administration’s special envoy to Sudan — during a retreat hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy at the Lansdowne Resort in rural Virginia.
One of Barack Obama’s representatives — Richard Danzig, a Clinton administration Navy secretary — said the Democratic presidential candidate would take the opposite approach on both issues.
In an interview with the Atlantic magazine over the summer, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) insisted that in his presidency he would serve as the chief negotiator in the peace process. But at the retreat, Boot said pursuing an Israeli-Palestinian deal would not be a top priority in a McCain administration, adding that as many as 30 crises across the globe require more urgent attention.
Boot called the Bush administration’s renewed efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian talks a mistake.
He also cast Israel’s talks with Syria as betraying the stake that the United States has invested in Lebanon’s fragile democracy.
“John McCain is not going to betray the lawfully elected government of Lebanon,” Boot said.
Williamson was slightly more nuanced in addressing the issue of how the message would be sent.
“Israel should not be dictated to in dealing with Syria or dealing with Lebanon,” he said, addressing Israeli and some pro-Israel resentment in recent years at pressure by the Bush administration to stifle such negotiations. “Hopefully as friends they will listen to us.”
That Williamson was endorsing such views at all signified how closely the McCain campaign has allied itself with neo-conservatives. A veteran of the Reagan and first Bush administrations, Williamson in other circumstances would be more closely identified with Republican “realists” who have vociferously eschewed the grand claims of neo-conservatives to a new American empire.
Yet here he was echoing their talking points on several fronts.
McCain until the last year or so has kept feet in both the realist and neo-conservative camps. The session at Lansdowne appeared to suggest that the Republican presidential nominee has chosen sides, opting for policies backed by the outgoing Bush administration and its neo-conservative foreign policy architects.
Both McCain advisers insisted, however, that their candidate was synthesizing the two camps as a “realistic idealist.”
McCain would be a “leader who will press for more liberal democratic change [and] is realistic about the prospects of diplomacy and just as importantly its limits,” said Boot, echoing what has become the twin walking and talking points of neo-conservatism: a muscular foreign policy and an affinity for promoting democracy.