Carol Felsenthal
On politics

‘Hostage’ Sam LaHood—Will John McCain Negotiate His Release?

A source close to the senator told me this morning that McCain, who chairs the board of the International Republican Institute—Sam LaHood heads the Cairo office of that NGO—is “leading a congressional delegation” next week, visiting Egypt and other countries in the region. Will the Arizona senator emerge from the trip as a hero and statesman?…

Lately Fox News’s Sean Hannity has taken to referring to Sam LaHood and the four or five other Americans seeking refuge in the American embassy in Cairo as “hostages.” It’s true that they’d be on an airplane out of the country if the Egyptian government would let them leave, but it’s obvious to me that the word “hostage” is deliberately intended to invoke images of the hapless Jimmy Carter and the 1979 Iran hostage crisis that made him a one-term president—a humiliation Hannity fervently and publicly wishes for Barack Obama.

Last night, John McCain, who has led the effort to call attention to the plight of LaHood, appeared on Hannity’s show. For most of the seven-minute segment, the Arizona senator tried to persuade Hannity that the Muslim Brotherhood, which, if and when the military gives up power, will be the strongest political faction governing Egypt, is not as radical, extreme, and anti-Israel as Hannity portrays it. Just as Hannity was about to sign off, McCain interrupted him and said, deliberately, “I’m going over to Egypt, and I’ll be back.” Hannity responded, “As far as I’m concerned we have hostages being held there. I hope you bring them home with you.” McCain’s response: “Thank you, my friend.”

I thought to myself, we’re soon going to see McCain in Egypt embracing LaHood and the others as he shepherds them aboard a plane to safety.

A source close to the senator told me this morning that McCain, who chairs the board of the International Republican Institute—Sam LaHood heads the Cairo office of that NGO—is “leading a congressional delegation” next week, visiting Egypt and other countries in the region. The source said “it’s not a negotiating trip” and that “everyone hopes the situation is resolved by the time they get there.” 

Still, something about the deliberation and the sense of promise in McCain’s face and voice makes me think he was telling Hannity that the “hostage crisis” in Egypt will soon be over. 

Since writing a post last week about LaHood, the 36-year-old Illinois native and son of Obama’s transportation secretary Ray LaHood, I have been following the story closely and have been surprised that it is so little in the news. It seems reporters are too busy with the bloodshed in Syria and the riots in Greece—not to mention the death of Whitney Houston— to pay attention to people hanging out in the relative safety and luxury of an American embassy. What news there has been is largely generated by McCain, whose last statement was released a week ago in conjunction with Senators Joe Lieberman and Kelly Ayotte: “There are committed opponents of the United States and the U.S.-Egypt relationship within the government in Cairo who are exacerbating tensions and inflaming public opinion in order to advance a narrow political agenda,” reads the statement. “A resolution must be reached that ends the harassment and prosecution of the employees of U.S. non-governmental organizations operating in Egypt…. If such a resolution is not reached soon, however, we are concerned that consequential damage could be done to the U.S.-Egypt partnership…. A rupture in relations would be disastrous, and the risks of such an outcome have rarely been greater.”

The irony is that McCain, who seemed so hapless in his loss to Obama in 2008, could re-emerge as an American hero and statesman, while Obama continues to get pounded by Hannity and other critics as a weakling on the world stage.

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