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Like a number of weather-bound Washingtonians, I am forced to cover the AIPAC policy conference via C-Span and the AIPAC online feed (complete with crowd reaction). This morning did not disappoint. Greeted like a rock star and with multiple ovations during his speech, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) tore into the Obama administration, declaring that Russia invaded Ukraine because “of a reckless foreign policy where not one believes in American strength anymore.” In a speech that highlighted the situation in Ukraine, he told the crowd, “The whole situation cries out for American leadership and I’m sorry to tell you it’s MIA.”
If McCain’s blunt criticisms of the president were not unexpected, the rapturous applause that followed each volley was a frank expression of widespread frustration, if not disgust, with the administration, a sentiment never before so obvious at an AIPAC policy conference.
McCain sounded a theme that we can expect to hear from many critics of the White House in the days ahead: “What happens in Ukraine matters in the Middle East.” He acknowledged that there is not a viable military option for Ukraine but said there were a variety of economic measures available, including use of Magnitsky sanctions against the “kleptocrats” who’ve invaded Ukraine.
His criticism of the president’s foreign policy (“Do you believe Iran’s mullahs think we’re serious?”) and his mocking of the president’s pre-election promise to Vladimir Putin that he’d have more flexibility gave voice to the frustration that has been building in the pro-Israel community. McCain resolutely called for passage of bipartisan Iran sanctions (more boisterous applause). But he painted on a larger canvas, recounting the horrors of Syria and the slaughter the administration has not stopped (“What does it say about us?”).
McCain told the crowd, “I see Americans who want America to lead.” Perhaps the collapse of the administration’s foreign policy will wake up those in Congress, especially in the Senate, where Democrats have buried their heads in the sand, to the recognition that America must act in defense of its friends and its values.
McCain reminded us all that it is not the international threats that scare many Americans, but the complete failure of an effective American response that is so unnerving. They feel America and Israel are vulnerable. They are right.