One of Barack Obama’s Middle East advisors Robert Malley was sacked after it came to light that he had held meetings with Hamas. The Times reports:
One of Barack Obama’s Middle East policy advisers disclosed today that he had held meetings with the militant Palestinian group Hamas – prompting the likely Democratic nominee to sever all links with him.
Robert Malley told The Times he had regularly been in contact with Hamas, which controls Gaza but is listed by the US State Department as a terrorist organisation. Such talks, he stressed, were related to his work for a conflict resolution think tank and had no connection with his position on Mr Obama’s Middle East advisory council. “I’ve never hidden the fact that in my job with the International Crisis Group I meet all kinds of people,” he added.
But Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for Mr Obama, responded swiftly, saying: “Rob Malley has, like hundreds of other experts, provided informal advice to the campaign in the past. He has no formal role in the campaign and he will not play any role in the future.”
The rapid departure of Mr Malley from the campaign followed 48 hours of heated clashes between John McCain, the Republican nominee-elect, and Mr Obama, on the issue of Middle East policy.
Mr Obama, who has been trying to assuage suspicion towards him among the influential Jewish and pro-Israel lobby, spoke at a Washington reception marking the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence yesterday when he promised his commitment to the country’s security would be “unshakeable”.
But Mr McCain has highlighted the Democrat’s pledge to negotiate directly with nations such as Iran – whose leaders talk of wiping Israel off the map – and a statement from Hamas saying that it hoped Mr Obama would win the presidency.
This was denounced as an offensive “smear” by Mr Obama, who repeated earlier statements saying that Hamas is “a terrorist organisation [and] we should not negotiate with them unless they recognise Israel, renounce violence”
. . .
Today, asked if Obama campaign was aware of his contact with Hamas, he replied: “They know who I am but I don’t think they vet everyone in a group of informal advisers.”
Randy Scheunemann, Mr McCain’s foreign policy chief, suggested Mr Malley was part of an emerging pattern which has seen other advisers repudiated after throwing confusion over policies on trade and Iraq.
“Perhaps, because of his inexperience, Senator Obama surrounds himself with advisers that contradict his stated policies,” said Mr Scheunemann.
But of course this should have come as no surprise to the Obama camp. Malley has openly advocated engaging Hamas. Malley has been the subject of much discussion here and elsewhere on the blogosphere and yet the Obama campaign never previously sought to separate itself or distinguish Malley’s views from Obama’s.
And although the Obama camp would now like to create the impression that Malley’s association with the campaign was tangential they have in the past acknowledged that he did advise the campaign although not as a “formal advisor”( what makes someone a “formal advisor” is unclear, and I suspect entirely artificial). Moreover, if there were no relationship it would hardly have been necessary for Malley to contact the campaign to inform them that he was ending that relationship. (Who severed the relationship it seems is a matter of dispute.)
The decision to sack Malley raises several issues. First, did the Obama campaign know of Malley’s visits previously? Second, what advice did Malley provide Obama ( and why would his advice be sought) if Obama claims his policy regarding Hamas is identical to McCain’s? Finally, what did Malley communicate to Hamas and did Malley’s contacts with Hamas have anything to do with the endorsement of Obama by Hamas’ Ahmed Yousef?
The notion that McCain had somehow “smeared” Obama for reciting the fact of Hamas’ endorsement can now be seen for what it truly is: the tried and true political tactic of attacking your enemy when faced with a serious controversy of your own. But now that media outlets have reported the latest development in the ongoing saga of Obama and Hamas, it seems that simply attacking McCain for mentioning it will no longer suffice. Unless, of course, the media show no interest in following up and Obama is never forced to answer questions on the topic.