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31 January 2008  |     mail this article   |     print   |    |  Haaretz
Why lovers of Israel should vote for McCain (according to Lieberman)
Lieberman says he believes McCain is the candidate most likely to thwart a nuclear Iran
By Shmuel Rosner
Joe Lieberman was a busy man this week, and the week before, and the one before that. Almost as busy as a candidate for the 2008 election. So busy that he did not even have the time to go back to Washington for the State of the Union address. So busy that he was trying to squeeze some interviews while driving from one event to another. One of them was with Haaretz.

He has a horse in this race. Not the horse Barack Obama was talking about yesterday.

Lieberman's is a Republican horse: Senator John McCain. Last week he was working for him in the Jewish community of Florida that will go to the polls today. This week it is mostly the Hispanic community. When I spoke to him he was getting ready for the event that prevented him from getting back to DC in time for President Bush's last annual address, an event with mostly Venezuelan-Americans.
So why McCain?

We started with Iran. McCain, Lieberman says, is the candidate to be trusted on this crucial matter. Every candidate states that he does not want Iran to become a nuclear power. The question is, Lieberman says, "how far will they go." And off course, McCain, like everybody else, wants to solve the problem peacefully, by diplomatic means, and sanctions when necessary. But "there's no question in my mind," Lieberman says, that McCain is a leader with "very strong views" when it comes to a nuclear Iran.

He does not believe that talks with Iran will make the difference. Lieberman calls this approach "just naive". You can't expect that "words" will do the trick. The Iranians will react to "strength." And in McCain Lieberman found the "principled leader in time of war" that will not be swayed by public opinion. "He is fearless" when it comes to "political popularity," Lieberman reminds the voters, and "does not change with the wind." He was fighting for the surge in Iraq when it was unpopular, which "speaks volumes to me."

And Lieberman also says that McCain understands how significant the establishment of the state of Israel was. He is an avid reader of history and also has "a sense of history." He is familiar with the story of the country. He will not do anything that will "compromise Israel's security." Lieberman has real confidence in McCain, a "total comfort level" because "I know this man."

Yes, Lieberman is familiar with this quote people are talking about, as if McCain said that he will be sending James Baker of Brent Scowcroft to be the Middle East envoy for his administration, even thought Israel would probably not like it. But he says he only heard about it recently, and is also somewhat skeptical about it. I know McCain appreciates Scowcroft, Lieberman says. But the two disagree on so many things that are fundamental to McCain's way of thinking, like the war in Iraq, that he finds it strange.

Lieberman is also skeptical about the efforts of the Bush administration to achieve something on the Israeli-Palestinian front in the last year of the administration. "The real obstacle," he says, is that Hamas controls the Gaza Strip and that Abbas can not deliver. Not that he doesn't want to. He just can't. Peace will be "very hard to achieve" this year, he says. But he also suggests cutting the president some slack. After all, Bush was one of the friendliest presidents ever when it comes to Israel, maybe even "the strongest" supporter of all presidents.

So Lieberman listens, and hears some things that are "worrisome" from the administration. But he does not yet feel alarmed. Last week, when the president came back from the trip to the Middle East, Lieberman met him with other legislators and gathered that all the president wants to do it to have some kind of "understanding," not an agreement that will be implemented. He thinks that Bush is well aware that even this task might not be practical.

On the eve of the Florida primaries Lieberman is not delusional about the Jewish vote. Most Jews here are Democrats and can't vote for McCain even if they want to, but "he will get mote than his fair share". The one candidate that might endanger such achievement is Rudy Giuliani, and it seem as if Lieberman has the hope that when the race moves on Giuliani will no longer be there to take votes from McCain.

The Jewish vote will be "a different story" when, not if, McCain's the nominee, in the general election, Lieberman believes. To him, McCain represents a "strong combination" that will have an appeal to many Jewish voters.

Evidently, one such Jewish voter he already has.

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