Senator John McCain
AIPAC Policy Conference.
The American Israel Political Action Committee invited both presidential
candidates: Senators Barack Obama and
John McCain to speak at their annual policy conference held
June 2008 in Washington, DC.
Thank you all very much. I appreciate the kind introduction, and the invitation
to address you. I see we have some students here, including a few from Arizona,
and I welcome you to Washington. It's a pleasure, as always, to be in the company
of the men and women of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. And I know
that all of us are proud to be in the company of the distinguished senator from
the State of Connecticut, my friend Joe Lieberman.
All of you involved in the work of AIPAC have taken up a great and vital cause –
and a cause set firmly in the American heart. When President Truman recognized the
new State of Israel sixty years ago, he acted on the highest ideals and best instincts
of our country. He was a man with courage and a sense of history, and he surely
knew what great challenges the Jewish state would face in its early years. To his
lasting credit, he resolved that the people of Israel would not face them alone,
because they would always have a friend and ally in the United States of America.
The cause of Israel, and of our common security, has always depended on men and
women of courage, and I've been lucky enough to know quite a few of them. I think
often of one in particular, the late Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson. I got to know
Senator Jackson when I was the Navy liaison to the Senate. In 1979, I traveled with
him to Israel, where I knew he was considered a hero. But I had no idea just how
admired he was until we landed in Tel Aviv, to find a crowd of seven or eight hundred
Israelis calling out his name, waving signs that read "God Bless you, Scoop" and
"Senator Jackson, thank you." Scoop Jackson had the special respect of the Jewish
people, the kind of respect accorded to brave and faithful friends. He was and remains
the model of what an American statesman should be.
The people of Israel reserve a special respect for courage, because so much courage
has been required of them. In the record of history, sheer survival in the face
of Israel's many trials would have been impressive enough. But Israel has achieved
much more than that these past sixty years. Israel has endured, and thrived, and
her people have built a nation that is an inspiration to free nations everywhere.
Yet no matter how successful the nation of Israel, or how far removed from the Holocaust,
there are experiences that will never pass from memory. Not long ago I was in Jerusalem with Senator Lieberman and our colleague Lindsey Graham, and we went to the Holocaust
memorial, Yad Vashem. And for all the boundless examples of cruelty and inhumanity
to be found there, for all the pain and grief remembered there, somehow I was especially
moved by the story of the camp survivors who died from the very nourishment given
to them by their liberators. They had starved and suffered so much that their bodies were too weak even for food. They endured it all, only to die at the moment of their
These are the kind of experiences that the Jewish people carry in memory – and they
are far from the worst experiences of the Holocaust. These are the kind of griefs
and afflictions from which the State of Israel offered escape. And today, when we
join in saying "never again," that is not a wish, a request, or a plea to the enemies
of Israel. It is a promise that the United States and Israel will honor, against
any enemy who cares to test us.
The threats to Israel's security are large and growing, and America's commitment
must grow as well. I strongly support the increase in military aid to Israel, scheduled
to begin in October. I am committed to making certain Israel maintains its qualitative military edge. Israel's enemies are too numerous, its margin of error too small,
and our shared interests and values too great for us to follow any other policy.
Foremost in all our minds is the threat posed by the regime in Tehran. The Iranian
president has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map" and suggested that Israel's
Jewish population should return to Europe. He calls Israel a "stinking corpse" that
is "on its way to annihilation." But the Iranian leadership does far more than issue
vile insults. It acts in ways directly detrimental to the security of Israel and
the United States.
A sponsor of both Hamas and Hezbollah, the leadership of Iran has repeatedly used
violence to undermine Israel and the Middle East peace process. It has trained,
financed, and equipped extremists in Iraq who have killed American soldiers fighting
to bring freedom to that country. It remains the world's chief sponsor of terrorism
and threatens to destabilize the entire Middle East, from Basra to Beirut.
Tehran's continued pursuit of nuclear weapons poses an unacceptable risk, a danger we cannot allow.
Emboldened by nuclear weapons, Iran would feel free to sponsor
terrorist attacks against any perceived enemy. Its flouting of the Nuclear Nonproliferation
Treaty would render that agreement obsolete and could induce Turkey, Egypt, Saudi
Arabia and others to join a nuclear arms race. The world would have to live, indefinitely,
with the possibility that Tehran might pass nuclear materials or weapons to one
of its allied terrorist networks. Armed as well with its ballistic missile arsenal,
an Iranian nuclear bomb would pose an existential threat to the people of Israel.
European negotiators have proposed a peaceful endgame for Tehran, should it abandon its nuclear ambitions and comply with UN Security Council resolutions. The plan offers far-reaching economic incentives, external support for a civilian nuclear
energy program, and integration into the international community. But Tehran has
The Iranians have spent years working toward a nuclear program. And the idea that
they now seek nuclear weapons because we refuse to engage in presidential-level
talks is a serious misreading of history. In reality, a series of administrations
have tried to talk to Iran, and none tried harder than the Clinton administration.
In 1998, the secretary of state made a public overture to the Iranians, laid out
a roadmap to normal relations, and for two years tried to engage. The Clinton administration
even lifted some sanctions, and Secretary Albright apologized for American actions
going back to the 1950s. But even under President Khatami – a man by all accounts
less radical than the current president – Iran rejected these overtures.
Even so, we hear talk of a meeting with the Iranian leadership offered up as if
it were some sudden inspiration, a bold new idea that somehow nobody has ever thought
of before. Yet it's hard to see what such a summit with President Ahmadinejad would
actually gain, except an earful of anti-Semitic rants, and a worldwide audience for a man who denies one Holocaust and talks before frenzied crowds about starting
another. Such a spectacle would harm Iranian moderates and dissidents, as the radicals
and hardliners strengthen their position and suddenly acquire the appearance of
Rather than sitting down unconditionally with the Iranian president or supreme leader
in the hope that we can talk sense into them, we must create the real-world pressures
that will peacefully but decisively change the path they are on. Essential to this
strategy is the UN Security Council, which should impose progressively tougher political
and economic sanctions. Should the Security Council continue to delay in this responsibility,
the United States must lead like-minded countries in imposing multilateral sanctions
outside the UN framework. I am proud to have been a leader on these issues for years,
having coauthored the 1992 Iran-Iraq Arms Non-Proliferation Act. Over a year ago
I proposed applying sanctions to restrict Iran's ability to import refined petroleum products, on which it is highly dependent, and the time has come for an international
campaign to do just that. A severe limit on Iranian imports of gasoline would create
immediate pressure on Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to change course, and to cease in
the pursuit of nuclear weapons.
At the same time, we need the support of those in the region who are most concerned
about Iran, and of our European partners as well. They can help by imposing targeted sanctions that will impose a heavy cost on the regime's leaders, including the denial
of visas and freezing of assets.
As a further measure to contain and deter Iran, the United States should impose
financial sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran, which aids in Iran's terrorism
and weapons proliferation. We must apply the full force of law to prevent business
dealings with Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps. I was pleased to join Senators Lieberman
and Kyl in backing an amendment calling for the designation of the Revolutionary
Guard as a terrorist organization responsible for killing American troops in Iraq.
Over three quarters of the Senate supported this obvious step, but not Senator Obama.
He opposed this resolution because its support for countering Iranian influence
in Iraq was, he said, a "wrong message not only to the world, but also to the region."
But here, too, he is mistaken. Holding Iran's influence in check, and holding a
terrorist organization accountable, sends exactly the right message – to Iran, to
the region and to the world.
We should privatize the sanctions against Iran by launching a worldwide divestment
campaign. As more people, businesses, pension funds, and financial institutions
across the world divest from companies doing business with Iran, the radical elite
who run that country will become even more unpopular than they are already. Years
ago, the moral clarity and conviction of civilized nations came together in a divestment
campaign against South Africa, helping to rid that nation of the evil of apartheid.
In our day, we must use that same power and moral conviction against the regime
in Iran, and help to safeguard the people of Israel and the peace of the world.
In all of this, we will not only be defending our own safety and welfare, but also
the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people. They are a great and civilized
people, with little sympathy for the terrorists their leaders finance, and no wish
to threaten other nations with nuclear weapons. Iran's rulers would be very different
if the people themselves had a choice in the matter, and American policy should
always reflect their hopes for a freer and more just society. The same holds true for the Palestinian people, most of whom ask only for a better life in a less violent world.
They are badly served by the terrorist-led group in charge of Gaza. This is a group
that still refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist, refuses to denounce violence,
and refuses to acknowledge prior peace commitments. They deliberately target Israeli
civilians, in an attempt to terrorize the Jewish population. They spread violence
and hatred, and with every new bombing they set back the cause of their own people.
During my last visit to Israel in March, I saw for myself the work of Hamas in the
town of Sderot, just across the border from Gaza. I saw the houses that have been
hit by Hamas rockets. In the face of injuries, death, and destruction thousands of Israelis have fled the town. Many others have stayed, to carry on as best they
can. I visited the home of a man named Pinhas Amar, who lives with his disabled
wife, Aliza, and their children.
One day, last year, the sirens sounded again to
alert the town to incoming rocket fire. The rest of the family found cover. Aliza,
on the other side of the house, was knocked out of her wheelchair and struck by
This occurred on December 13. And from that day until the day of my visit just some
three months later, more than a thousand rockets had struck Sderot. Today, siren
warnings are commonplace, the elementary schools are surrounded by concrete shelters
and children walking the streets in costume for Purim celebrations did so in fear.
No nation in the world would allow its population to be attacked so incessantly,
to be killed and intimidated so mercilessly, without responding. And the nation
of Israel is no exception.
Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are engaged in talks
that all of us hope will yield progress toward peace. Yet while we encourage this
process, we must also ensure that Israel's people can live in safety until there
is a Palestinian leadership willing and able to deliver peace. A peace process that
places faith in terrorists can never end in peace. And we do no favors to the Palestinian
people by conferring approval upon the terrorist syndicate that has seized power
Likewise, Israel's chance for enduring peace with Lebanon depends on Lebanese government
that has a monopoly on authority within its country's borders. That means no independent
militias, no Hezbollah fighters, no weapons and equipment flowing to Hezbollah.
Hezbollah fighters recently took up arms against their fellow Lebanese, starting
the worst internal fighting since the civil war ended in 1990. In the process, they
extracted an agreement for a new political arrangement in which Hezbollah and its
allies can veto any cabinet decision. As the leader of Hezbollah often reminds us,
this group's mission is the defeat of Israel. The international community needs
to more fully empower our allies in Lebanon – not only with military aid but also
with the resources to undermine Hezbollah's appeal: better schools, hospitals, roads
and power generation, and the like. We simply cannot afford to cede Lebanon's future
to Syria and Iran.
And we have an additional task. In the summer of 2006, Hamas and Hezbollah kidnapped
three young Israelis – Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev, and Ehud Goldwasser – and have
held them ever since. I met with the families of two of these men in December 2006,
and heard firsthand about their ordeal. I committed then to bring attention to their
situation, to insist that the Geneva Conventions are observed, and to call for the
swift release of these men. These men are being unlawfully held, and they must be
set free and returned home to Israel.
Another matter of great importance to the security of both America and Israel is
Iraq. You would never know from listening to those who are still caught up in angry
arguments over yesterday's options, but our troops in Iraq have made hard-won progress
under General Petraeus' new strategy. And Iraqi political leaders have moved ahead
– slowly and insufficiently, but forward nonetheless. Sectarian violence declined
dramatically, Sunnis in Anbar province and throughout Iraq are cooperating in the
fight against al Qaeda, and Shia extremist militias no longer control Basra – the
Maliki government and its forces are in charge. Al Qaeda terrorists are on the run,
and our troops are going to make sure they never come back.
It's worth recalling that America's progress in Iraq is the direct result of the
new strategy that Senator Obama opposed. It was the strategy he predicted would
fail, when he voted cut off funds for our forces in Iraq. He now says he intends
to withdraw combat troops from Iraq – one to two brigades per month until they are
all removed. He will do so regardless of the conditions in Iraq, regardless of the
consequences for our national security, regardless of Israel's security, and in
disregard of the best advice of our commanders on the ground.
This course would surely result in a catastrophe. If our troops are ordered to make
a forced retreat, we risk all-out civil war, genocide, and a failed state in the
heart of the Middle East. Al Qaeda terrorists would rejoice in the defeat of the
United States. Allowing a potential terrorist sanctuary would profoundly affect
the security of the United States, Israel, and our other friends, and would invite
further intervention from Iraq's neighbors, including an emboldened Iran. We must
not let this happen. We must not leave the region to suffer chaos, terrorist violence
and a wider war.
My friends, as the people of Israel know better than most, the safety of free people
can never be taken for granted. And in a world full of dangers, Israel and the United
States must always stand together.
The State of Israel stands as a singular achievement in many ways, and not the least
is its achievement as the great democracy of the Middle East. If there are ties
between America and Israel that critics of our alliance have never understood, perhaps
that is because they do not fully understand the love of liberty and the pursuit
of justice. But they should know those ties cannot be broken. We were brought together
by shared ideals and by shared adversity. We have been comrades in struggle, and trusted partners in the quest for peace. We are the most natural of allies. And,
like Israel itself, that alliance is forever.
- August 2008: Rabbi Dennis Shulman,
candidate for Congress in New Jersey's 5th district, and
Women Governors Janet Napolitano (AZ),
Kathleen Sebelius (KS) and Jennifer Granholm (MI)
- July 2008: AIPAC Speeches by Presidential Candidates
Sen. Barack Obama (IL) and
Sen. John McCain (AZ).
Also, State Rep. Jason Bedrick (NH)
- April 2008:
Sen. Barack Obama,
Sen. Hillary Clinton and
Amb. Dan Kurtzer.
- March 2008: Sen. Barack Obama
- March 2008: Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL)
- March 2008: Susie Stern and Steve Grossman
- February 2008:
Rep. Steven Rothman (D-NJ), NE Coordinator
for Obama campaign.
Michael Weinstein, Military Religious Freedom Foundation
- January 2008:
Rep. Josh Shapiro
and Dr. Flaura Koplin Winston.
- October 2007: Rep. Duncan Hunter (CA)
- August 2007: Sen. Mike Gravel (AK),
Democratic Presidential Candidate
- June, July, December 2007: Democratic Presidential Candidates
Sen. John Edwards (NC),
Sen. Joe Biden (DE),
Sen. Chris Dodd (CT),
Sen. Barack Obama (IL),
Sen. Hillary Clinton (NY),
Gov. Bill Richardson (NM)
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH)
speaking at the NJDC
- November 2007: Ruth Damsker, Montgomery County Commissioner
and Elie Wiesel, author and Nobel Laureat.
- May 2007: Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA 7) speaking
at CAIR, and interviews with
Marc Stier and
Andy Toy, Philadelphia
City Council candidates.
- April 2007: Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA 13)
- March 2007: Judge Anne E. Lazarus
candidate for the PA Superior Court.
- February 2007:
Rep. Mark Cohen,
Democratic Caucus Chairman
- January 2007:
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN 5), first Muslim elected to Congress
- November 2006: Candidates Lois Murphy and Jim Gerlach,
Pennsylvania's 6th district.
- October 2006: Patrick Murphy, candidate
for Congress in Pennsylvania's 8th district.
- September 2006: Alan Schlesinger, Republican
Senate candidate in Connecticut.
- August 2006: Peter Edelman, President of the
New Israel Fund
- July 2006: Joe Sestak, candidate for Congress
in Pennsylvania's 7th district.
- June 2006: Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY 2).
- May 2006: Charles Smolover, Vice-President
of the Philadelphia Jewish Voice
- April 2006: Ira Forman, Executive Director
of the National Jewish Democratic Committee
- March 2006: Alan Sandals, candidate in the Democratic
Primary for U.S. Senate
- February 2006: Matthew Brooks, Executive Director
of the Republican Jewish Coalition
- January 2006: Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA 2).
- December 2005: Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-PA 6).
- November 2005: Gov. Howard Dean, Chairman of
the Democratic National Committee
- October 2005: Bob Casey candidate in the Democratic
Primary for U.S. Senate.
- September 2005: Pennsylvania State Representative
- August 2005: Lois Murphy candidate for Congress
in Pennsylvania's 6th district.
- July 2005: Chuck Pennacchio candidate in the Democratic
Primary for U.S. Senate.
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