- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2008

OP-ED

As Barack Obama galavants across Europe and the Middle East (the senator is in Israel today), John McCain is doing all he can to muster any news coverage whatsoever. Prior to the trip, the senior senator chided Mr. Obama for his failure to visit Iraq for over 900 days (since the surge strategy was implemented), only to criticize his “timing” in doing so now.

Outside of his criticism, Mr. McCain is focusing on the economy. But he too may want to turn his attention to Israel, particularly since the first of its kind Republican-led Mideast peace plan (not perfect by any stretch), is worth touting, and in light of much criticism of Bill Clinton’s more tepid, out-of-the-mainstream, approach to mideast peace. Rabbi Steve Conn of Congregation Beth Shalomobserved: “The Clinton Administration has put great pressure on Israel to make concessions in the name of peace in the Middle East.”

It raises one’s curiosity as to whether Mr. Obama will embrace his Democratic predecessor’s approach. And he will answer Israeli leaders who ask why the senator would “meet unconditionally” with the rogue Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has explicitly stated his desire to wipe Israel off the map, while at the same time thumbing his nose at the United States and European Union’s uranium enrichment negotiations?

Not surprisingly, Mr. Obama has lost some support among Jewish voters (traditionally a strong Democratic voting bloc). A recent poll found 46 percent of Israelis said a McCain presidency “would be better for Israel,” compared to 20 percent for Mr. Obama.

Mr. McCain, it seems, has one of the best surrogates to hammer this message home for him, in Sen. Joseph Lieberman. A devout Orthodox Jew, a Democrat-turned-independent, Mr. Lieberman isn’t letting a little partisanship get in the way of common sense.

While a McCain-Lieberman ticket isn’t likely, the independent Democrat from Connecticut will no doubt garner a speaking role at the GOP convention, in the same way charismatic Georgia Democrat and former Sen. Zell Miller did in 2004. Mr. Miller boldly asked: “Where is the bipartisanship in this country when we need it most? Now, while young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrat’s manic obsession to bring down our commander in chief. What has happened to the party I’ve spent my life working in? I can remember when Democrats believed that it was the duty of America to fight for freedom over tyranny.”

In this same vein Mr. Lieberman carries the mantle. On Fox News Sunday he said about the convention: “If John asks me and he thinks I can help him, because I believe - this is no ordinary time, no ordinary election. John McCain is no ordinary candidate. I want to help him. I’m not going to attack Barack Obama. I’m going to go to explain why I, as an independent Democrat, am supporting John McCain, hoping that I can convince other independents and Democrats to join me in choosing the man who is clearly more ready to be the president America needs today.”

While Mr. Obama takes his token-Republican, Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, along for the tour, don’t expect a speaking part for Mr. Hagel at the DNC convention. Remember this is the same party that abandoned Mr. Lieberman, its former vice presidential nominee, forcing him to become an independent in order to salvage his Senate seat in 2006. His crime: opposition to an immediate troop withdrawal in Iraq. There is evidently no room for dissension in the Democrat party - especially when it comes to the war on terror.

But foreign policy isn’t Mr. Lieberman’s, only strong suit. The conservative wing of the Republican Party would do well to embrace Mr. Lieberman, if for nothing more than his stance on religious freedom. During his vice presidential run, Mr. Lieberman championed faith and religious freedom, asserting that the Bill of Rights:,”Enshrines religious freedom as the First Freedom.” He was not deterred by liberal critics or that “friends and foes alike [had] discouraged” him from raising moral and religious issues. The senator also led a committee to fight the persecution of Christians in Islamic countries by “[forcing] the American administration to use the weapons of sanctions to stop the alleged persecution.”

And tonight, Mr. Lieberman is scheduled to headline the Christians United for Israel Summit in Washington, D.C., an evangelical group whose goal is to: “Defend Israel and the Jewish people in their time of need.” Faith and foreign policy is a critical campaign imperative.

Mr. McCain, for his part, acknowledges the threat posed by Iran, in the context of extremists in Iraq: “The United States must also bolster its regional military posture to make clear to Iran our determination to protect our forces and deter Iranian intervention,” but he still falters in spelling out a more clear-cut Middle East/Israeli policy or addressing the Iranian threat posed there. Maybe it is for fear of sounding too Bush-like. But it is a policy Mr. McCain and his super-star surrogate, would do well to embrace. Now that would change the channel.

Tara Wall is deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Times. Her column appears on Tuesdays. E-mail twall@washingtontimes.com