Cinnamon Stillwell

I’m the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum that focuses on Middle East studies. I was a political columnist for (San Francisco Chronicle online) from 2004-2008. I've written for the American Thinker, Frontpage Magazine, Family Security Matters, Accuracy In Media, Newsbusters, Israel National News, The Jewish Policy Center, J-The Jewish News Weekly of N. CA, Intellectual Conservative and many others. More info at

Monday, November 03, 2008

Putting the McCain/Khalidi Allegation to Rest

In reaction to the plethora of information regarding Obama's relationship with Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi, Obama supporters have seized on a piece by Seth Colter Walls at the Huffington Post alleging that McCain too is tainted by "guilt-by-association" because in 1998 the International Republican Institute (IRI), whose board he chaired at the time, gave a $500,000 grant to the now-defunct Center for Palestinian Research and Studies" (CPRS) and Khalidi was one of its seven founding trustees. And the Obama campaign has done likewise.

But according to CNS News (emphasis added):
The IRI, a body with a stated goal of promoting democracy worldwide, issued a statement Wednesday reacting to the claims. It confirmed giving grants to the CPRS during the 1990s for polling to measure support for the peace process and political groups in the self-rule areas.

"At that time no other organization could credibly conduct polling in the West Bank/Gaza," IRI said.

The institute said it did not at the time conduct background checks of grantees' founders, although it "did on a number of occasions vet CPRS as an organization, including, as was our custom, with the Israeli government, and we were given no cause for concern."

"We do not recall any contact between Mr. Khalidi and IRI, and there is no evidence that Mr. Khalidi benefited in any way from IRI's grants."

CNN's Political Ticker "Fact Check" on the matter examines the same information and lamely concludes that "There was a relationship in the 1990s between the IRI, chaired by McCain, and the CPRS, co-founded by Khalidi, which received IRI funding." In the same piece, McCain campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb sets the record straight: "John McCain has never met Rashid Khalidi, while Barack Obama has acknowledged a close friendship with him."

That should put this alleged connection to rest, but Obama supporters continue to tout this story. Whether they choose to accept the facts in the case or not, the idea that a fleeting "six degrees of separation" connection of this sort can be compared to the 10-plus-year friendship (and history of financial back-scratching) between Obama and Khalidi is absurd. There's simply no comparison.

Furthermore, accusing those who point out Obama's long list of unsavory friends and colleagues of practicing "guilt-by-association" is a red herring. As columnist Thomas Sowell recently pointed out, these are not associations; they are alliances. And Obama, he added, "time and again...allied himself with people who openly expressed their hatred of America."

Seeking to shed light on Obama's murky background and vague, and often contradictory, proclamations via his political alliances is entirely appropriate. Unless, of course, he and his supporters have something to hide.

Update (11/4): Some have pointed to R. Bruce McColm, who was president of the International Republican Institute (IRI) during the time the grant was given to CPRS, and his take (at Harper's Magazine) on McCain's involvement. Nowhere does he imply that McCain and Khalidi met and although McColm states that "it always my understanding that Khalidi was directly involved in the research," he does not say the same for McCain.

However, McColm's contention that "it was Khalidi’s academic background and his known coolness to the PLO" that attracted IRI's support" rings true in light of the doublespeak Khalidi is known for (i.e. saying one thing in Arabic and another in English) and the naivete among politicians of both parties towards dealing with so-called "moderate" Palestinian representatives (Mahmoud Abbas being the latest). If McCain and the IRI were taken in by Khalidi, they certainly wouldn't be the first.

Finally, McColm claims Khalidi was "never was a spokesman for the PLO," which is preposterous in light of the abundant evidence to the contrary. Indeed, Middle East studies historian Martin Kramer notes McColm's denial in the course of proving just the opposite.

All that aside, the fact remains: there's no comparison between McCain's fleeting encounter with Khalidi and Obama's ten-plus-year friendship. It's apples and oranges.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

R. Bruce McColm, past president of the Senator McCain chaired International Republican Institute (IRI) (1993-95), makes it clear that Senator McCain & the IRI carefully vetted Rashid Khalidi and his Center for Palestine Research and Studies (CPRS). The IRI included two pro-Israel board members, Dr. Jeane Kirkpatrick and then-Senator Connie Mack of Florida, who were highly skeptical of the Clinton Administration's request that US democracy promoting institutions should get involved in the West Bank.

Senator McColm says Khalidi's CPRS was chosen by Senator McCain, in order to satisfy Dr. Kirkpatrick and Senator Mack's concerns; Khalidi's was chosen because of his "known coolness to the PLO", his "moderate" stance and academic track record.

Senator McCain approved the first grant to the CPRS, following the acceptance of Dr. Kirkpatrick and Senator Mack, shortly after 1993. The IRI was satisfied with the work carried out in "polls on socioeconomic attitudes on the West Bank", further grants were approved.

Thus, McCain knew Khalidi, his reputation and "known coolness to the PLO", Khalidi was specifically selected in order to satisfy the concerns of Dr. Kirkpatrick and Senator Mack.

Monday, November 03, 2008 4:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Bushes are long time friends of the Bin Laden family in Saudi Arabia. George Bush senior was allegedly at the Ritz Carlton hanging out with a member of the Bin Laden family when the Twin towers were struck on 9/11. The story has been told that they immediately moved to get all their Bin Laden friends out of the country to safety. Does that mean that all Bin Ladens are terrorists or that President Bush is guilty of supporting terrorism by this association?

Monday, November 03, 2008 7:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The CNN fact checker states:

The Verdict: True.

There was a relationship in the 1990s between the IRI, chaired by McCain, and the CPRS, co-founded by Khalidi, which received IRI funding.

That McCain's campaign tries to minimize the damage is not surprising. This is the same team that flings crap about lobbyists while employing at least 27 lobbyists as top advisers. Hypocrisy is not new to the McCain camp.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008 9:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"George Bush senior was allegedly at the Ritz Carlton hanging out with a member of the Bin Laden family when the Twin towers were struck on 9/11."

"the story has been told..."

You have any reputable links for your raving or should we just take your word for it? What a bunch of crap.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008 1:23:00 PM  

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