The Left has had a field day with an expertly-clipped YouTube excerpt from a John McCain interview in January 2006, shortly after Hamas won the Palestinian Authority election. Former Clinton official James Rubin uses it for a dishonest attack on McCain, calling him a hypocrite for tying Barack Obama to Hamas while McCain supposedly supported diplomatic contact with the terrorist group. In doing so, Rubin and McCain’s opponents misrepresent both the Hamas issue and the larger context of McCain’s remarks:

If the recent exchanges between President Bush, Barack Obama and John McCain on Hamas and terrorism are a preview of the general election, we are in for an ugly six months. Despite his reputation in the media as a charming maverick, McCain has shown that he is also happy to use Nixon-style dirty campaign tactics. By charging recently that Hamas is rooting for an Obama victory, McCain tried to use guilt by association to suggest that Obama is weak on national security and won’t stand up to terrorist organizations, or that, as Richard Nixon might have put it, Obama is soft on Israel.

Charging? Hamas came out and stated its support for an Obama victory. It’s not a matter of charging anything, although the relevancy of the comments are certainly debatable. Not only did Hamas endorse Obama, but his chief strategist proclaimed himself “flattered” by the statement from Ahmed Yousef. Obama’s church reproduced pro-Hamas propaganda in its newsletter, and his foreign-policy adviser Robert Malley met with Hamas on several occasions. Malley recently left the campaign, but his pro-Palestinian bent has been noted for months.

Rubin then micharacterizes these comments taken from the YouTube video sweeping the netroots:

Two years ago, just after Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections, I interviewed McCain for the British network Sky News’s “World News Tonight” program. Here is the crucial part of our exchange:

I asked: “Do you think that American diplomats should be operating the way they have in the past, working with the Palestinian government if Hamas is now in charge?”

McCain answered: “They’re the government; sooner or later we are going to have to deal with them, one way or another, and I understand why this administration and previous administrations had such antipathy towards Hamas because of their dedication to violence and the things that they not only espouse but practice, so . . . but it’s a new reality in the Middle East. I think the lesson is people want security and a decent life and decent future, that they want democracy. Fatah was not giving them that.”

“Deal with them, one way or another” doesn’t mean cutting deals with them; it means acknowledging their presence in the situation. That becomes clear when McCain’s further comments in the same time frame. After Hamas won that election, McCain made clear the conditions for engagement of Hamas in a press release dated 1/26/06:

In the wake of yesterday’s Palestinian elections, Hamas must change itself fundamentally – renounce violence, abandon its goal of eradicating Israel and accept the two-state solution. These elections are evidence that democracy is indeed spreading in the Middle East, but Hamas is not a partner for peace so long as they advocate the overthrow of Israel.

In an interview with CNN, McCain once again made clear that the US would not negotiate with terrorists, whether they got elected or not:

CNN’S BETTY NGUYEN: All right, let’s shift over to the global front. The Bush administration is reviewing all aspects of U.S. aid to the Palestinians now that Hamas has won the elections. And I do have to quote you here. A State Department spokesman did say this: ‘To be very clear’ – and I’m quoting now – ‘we do not provide money to terrorist organizations.’ What does this do to the U.S. relationship with the Palestinians?

MCCAIN: Well, hopefully, that Hamas now that they are going to govern, will be motivated to renounce this commitment to the extinction of the state of Israel. Then we can do business again, we can resume aid, we can resume the peace process.

The context here is crystal clear. McCain envisioned a possible change in Hamas from a terrorist group to a legitimate political party, one that recognized Israel and renounced violence. Under those conditions, McCain said that we could engage them in talks designed to establish peace, and only under those conditions. The Bush administration had the same policy at the time. Neither the US nor John McCain supported meeting with Hamas without preconditions, and they certainly didn’t have policy advisers meeting with them while they conducted terrorist attacks and plotted an armed takeover of Gaza.

This attack meme demonstrates a breathtaking bit of intellectual dishonesty. We expect that from the hard Left. Coming from the Washington Post, even in its opinion section, it disappoints. So much for the layers of fact-checkers and editors. And now that our friends on the Left have acknowledged the terrorist status of Hamas, can they explain Malley’s presence on the Obama campaign for months while his connections to Hamas were fairly well known?

Update: Here’s a video of McCain on CNN the same day as the other YouTubed video, making the distinction very clearly (note the same exact clothing):