By Maria Syms
“I’m a great believer in national service… and I see in you a greater willingness to serve our country than in my generation.” This was the message from Senator John McCain in his conversation with Jill Dougherty at the Institute of Politics forum event last Wednesday. The Senator discussed an array of topics ranging from his presidential aspirations to the current Crimea conflict, immigration, among others.
Professor Dougherty started the conversation with a direct line of questioning about Senator McCain’s potential presidential bid in 2016. The Senator quickly demurred, chuckling, “I accept the [earlier] verdict of the American people. . . . The people have spoken – the bastards! No, I’ve had my share.” There are signs, however, he will likely seek reelection to the Senate in 2016. Sources indicate, in addition to the forum event, the Senator was in town for a fundraiser for his campaign.
The conversation then turned to the international events of the day with much of the focus on Russia’s actions in Crimea and Vladimir Putin’s intentions for the Baltics. He characterized Putin as a “KGB criminal” who believes “the greatest disaster of the 21st century was the breakup of the Soviet Union.” He stated “I predicted he would invade Russia but I’m not predicting what he’ll do now because he doesn’t know. He has 40,000 troops at the border because he is considering his options.” Senator McCain prescribes a multi-prong approach for the United States, which would include providing Ukrainians with “defensive weapons” and in the long term, developing a “plan to make Europe and Ukraine independent of their dependence on energy.” He also advocated for the “restoring of the missile defense systems of the Czech Republic and Poland.” He lamented, however, that although we are the “preeminent power in the world”, “[a]t this point in history, I hate to say it, if makes me sad to say, but there’s nothing we can do that will have immediate consequences.” The Senator laughed off the notion of diplomatic sanctions saying “I was sanctioned by Vladimir Putin – I had to cancel spring break in Siberia.”
Looking back on the Iraq war, McCain criticized both Presidents Bush and Obama as having “mismanaged the conflict badly” noting that we won the war “due to Petraeus”. He cautioned that if we don’t leave troops in Afghanistan “we will see a replay of Iraq.” “Today the black flags of Al Qaeda fly over Fallujah.” On the subject of prisoners of the war, McCain stated “[t]orture doesn’t do anything…. It doesn’t work and if violates the Geneva Convention.” “It is a dark stain on American history what we have done to the people we have held prisoner.”
On the domestic front, McCain criticized the Supreme Court for its campaign finance decisions and what he perceives as the resulting “corruption” from all the soft money being funneled into campaigns. “There will be a major scandal because there’s too much money washing around the political system. In my view, we are at the height of corruption due to the Supreme Court.”
With respect to Arizona and immigration, he indicated that damage has been done to the state economically due to its stance on immigration and that business is now pushing to change that and seeking to influence the next Governor’s race. On the national level, McCain warned “Republicans will never win another nationwide election until there is immigration reform.” “Eleven million people living in the shadows and they can’t contribute to our society. This is de facto immigration. They’re not going home so why don’t we give them a path to citizenship. If you keep these people in the shadows it will be a stain on our nation’s honor.”
On gun control, McCain called it a “divisive issue that divides our country between urban and rural. “ He described it as a “cultural problem” with “constitutional implications”, but noted he could be supportive of bipartisan compromise.
Finally, he emphasized the need for national service, including in the military. “I hope some of the student leaders and faculty members would promote military service.” McCain said he would like to see the same emphasis on military service as there has been on Teach for America.