Thursday, June 4, 2020 -
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Naming the advisers: Who has the ear of McCain?

WASHINGTON — When the question of recognizing Israel landed on President Harry Truman’s desk in May, 1948, he had to balance the advice of his old friend, Clark Clifford, against the general he deeply admired, George Marshall.

In the end Truman went with his friend, recognizing the new Jewish state.Joe Lieberman

As a longtime veteran of Washington, John McCain has accumulated his own list of confidants.

During the lead up to the 2000 presidential primaries, McCain was quoted as saying that he would turn to Brzezinski for advice.

This time around, he voiced admiration for two veterans of the Bush administration, Brent Scowcroft and James Baker, who are associated with the realist camp that advocated for pressure on Israel.

Neither has played a meaningful roll in the McCain campaign or in forming McCain’s policy agenda.

While McCain favors a two-state solution and support for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, he has demonstrated no intention to pressure Israel on the Jerusalem issue.

And he has diverged from the realist camp in supporting the Iraq war and taking a hard line on Iran.

The foreign-policy advisers most associated with McCain’s campaign hail from the neo-conservative camp.

• McCain has said his top foreign policy adviser would be his closest friend in the Senate, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

McCain is said to have sorely wanted Lieberman, an ardent supporter of the Iraq war, on the ticket as his vice president; now McCain’s reportedly considering the self-described Independent Democrat for secretary of state.

Lieberman’s longstanding friendship with McCain and a shared commitment to a tough interventionist neo-conservative foreign policy led to an endorsement a year ago that helped McCain resuscitate his campaign in New Hampshire.

James Woolsey• James Woolsey, like Lieberman, is one of a small army of “Scoop” Jackson Democrats at the core of the McCain campaign.

Like their late idol Sen. Henry Jackson (D-Wash.), who ran a couple of abortive presidential campaigns in the 1970s, they are domestic liberals who have set aside social differences to join conservatives in pressing what they consider the more urgent matter: American preeminence overseas.

Woolsey, a Clinton administration CIA director, is a tough-minded environmentalist. According to Mother Jones, a website devoted to investigative journalism,

Woolsey drives a hybrid car plastered with the sticker “Bin Laden Hates This Car.”

Early on he pressed for the Iraq war, and he is notorious for being among the first to blame Iraq — erroneously — for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

He also exemplifies how the McCain campaign talks tough about confronting Iran while emphasizing behind-the-scenes that the military option should be a last resort.

• Randy Scheunemann, like Shapiro in the Obama campaign, straddles policy and politics in the McCain campaign.

A veteran of years on Capitol Hill who worked principally for former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), and an icon among neo-conservatives, Scheunemann has shaped some of the toughest campaign attacks on Obama, including those related to Obama’s stated willingness to sit with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Sheunemann also led efforts to pitch the Iraq war to the American public prior to the invasion.

In recent years, Scheunemann has lobbied for a number of nations seeking membership in NATO.

His expertise on Georgia helped McCain gain the upper hand over a flustered Obama during the crisis over the summer when Russia invaded Georgia.

Scheunemann is also close to the pro-Israel community.

Working with Lott, he authored the 1995 legislation that would move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. A year later, Scheunemann’s advice led Bob Dole — the Republican presidential candidate that year — to pledge to do so. This year, McCain has picked up that pledge.

Randy Scheunemann• Max Boot is too young to have been an architect of neo-conservatism; at times he embraces the term and at times he chafes at it.

A historian who is probably the McCain adviser most steeped in theory and least steeped in policy-making, Boot wrote the definitive article arguing for the expansion of American power in the wake of 9/11.

At a recent retreat organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Boot said a McCain administration would de-emphasize Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Syrian talks (though McCain and his running mate both have suggested that the Arab-Israeli peace process would be a top priority).

Boot, currently a Council on Foreign Relations fellow, says the late push by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is regrettable.

• Richard Williamson is President Bush’s special envoy to Sudan.

His work pressing the regime to end the genocide in its Darfur region have deepened his ties with the Jewish community, which date back to Williamson’s time as a member of the Reagan administration’s UN team.

Williamson’s pre-campaign writings are very much in the realist camp. A veteran of disarmament talks, he wrote an article in 2003 for the Chicago Journal of International Law praising the efficacy of multilateral treaties, a bugbear of neo-conservatives.

But Williamson’s shift at the recent Washington Institute retreat to neo-conservative talking points could be a signal of how much McCain has invested in that camp.

At the retreat, Williamson suggested that a McCain administration would not avidly pursue Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Syrian peace, and he touted McCain’s proposal for a “league of democracies,” a repudiation of conventional thinking on multilateralism.

Read who Democrat rival Barack Obama is considering as potential advisers.

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