War on Terror Conversations: John McCain [Video]

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Transcribed for use only by PAJAMASMEDIA


by Sharona Shapiro, eScribers

SIMON: This is Roger Simon for Pajamas Media, and I’m here with Claudia Rosett, with Senator John McCain, running, as everyone knows, for president. He’s here for our War on Terror conversation. Welcome, Senator McCain.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Roger. Good to be with you. Claudia, thank you.

SIMON: All right. You know, we don’t want to brag here, you know, but we’ve been reading Foreign Affairs, which I know is pretty high toned. We read your essay “An Enduring Peace Built on Freedom,” which we quite enjoyed. So we’ll use that to take off on —


SIMON: — on this discussion. You talk in there about a buildup in Afghanistan. I think Mayor Giuliani is advocating something similar, a kind of surge of sorts. I don’t know, Giuliani maybe wants more troops. That’s up for grabs. But you said something in there that we both wanted to know what you meant more – about removing restrictions on our troops, our NATO troops in Afghanistan. What did you mean by that?

MCCAIN: Well, we have — the good news is we have 32 nations participating in Afghanistan. Some are clearly just token few troops, but it’s primarily a NATO operation. Now, there are problems with the command and control; there are really kind of two separate command structures, which has to be fixed. But the fact is we have our alliance allies engaged.

Unfortunately, some of these countries have very severe operating restrictions on them. Some of them can’t operate in the southern part of the country. Some even can’t operate at night, believe it or not. And so we’ve really got to have them in the game. And that means that they’ve got to have — be able to help us more, and particularly in some of the tough areas of Afghanistan, and we know why that is.

SIMON: Right. Well, speaking of tough areas and the recent news out of neighboring Pakistan, how do you feel about U.S. activity in Waziristan? Do you think that’s in the cards or — I mean, obviously that’s where Taliban and Al Qaeda are hanging out and staying.

MCCAIN: Yeah, but, Roger, look, what we have to understand, if you are going to do something — and I emphasize the word if, okay — you don’t trumpet it to the world and say that you’re going to take military action against another sovereign nation without their permission. So if you’re going to do something, then there’s different ways of doing these things.

Musharraf is very cooperative in some ways, but Musharraf has trouble with his own army. That’s why he made the deal that he made. He had significant casualties in that area. And, by the way, as you know, Al Qaeda’s influence is spreading in Pakistan. So, look, the worst thing he can do is announce some measure you’re going to take. Or, even worse than that, is threaten and don’t do it. George Schultz, a guy that you and I admire enormously, former Secretary of State, told me — he said I learned from my old drill instructor in the Marine Corps, never point a weapon at anybody unless you’re going to pull the trigger.


So too often we, you know, threaten people and say we’re going to do this and do that. But let’s get quiet. Let’s figure out the most effective ways of addressing what is a significant challenge to the safety of our troops and that of our allies.

ROSETT: If there is something like a coup in Pakistan, what to do about the nuclear weapons?

MCCAIN: Well, we have to secure the arsenal. I mean, we do, and now we are working with the Pakistani military to do that. But, obviously, this is a very complicated situation and one that indicates the fragility of the situation in that — on that part of the world.

ROSETT: On a somewhat related topic, North Korea, would you remove North Korea from the terrorism list?

MCCAIN: I would not. I didn’t believe in the KEDO agreement that President Clinton made, and I don’t believe in this one. I’d like to. I wish that I could, but it’s the old Reagan thing about “Trust, but verify.” The North Koreans have a very clear record.

And, look, I’m not on the intelligence committee. I’m not revealing any secret information or anything. But I think we know that that facility that was bombed in Syria by the Israelis, which provoked surprisingly no reaction from Syrians or anybody else, that there are allegations — and I have no proof of it — but there are allegations of North Korean involvement in that. Well, come on, let’s understand.

The other thing that continuously offends me, Claudia, is I’m a big — I’m an idealist. I will admit to being an idealist, okay, whether it be Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia, you know, I’m an idealist. But I also hope it’s tempered by a practical view of things too. But this is the most horrible regime probably on earth – that has got hundreds of thousands of people in the gulag. They’re terrible. So the regime offends me, just in their terrible mistreatment and abuse of their own people.

ROSETT: Just in brief, because we have a lot to cover here.

MCCAIN: Yeah, sure, yeah.

ROSETT: If you become president, you will inherit a situation in which they have at this point been quite well treated by the —


ROSETT: — current administration.


ROSETT: What would you do to turn around their expectations that they can continue this?

MCCAIN: Well, I would say we want to negotiate, we want a verifiable, you know, all of the things we need to do. But, one, China holds really the key to North Korea, as you know. They’re the only real nation with any real influence. And I would try to bring about more pressure on China, not only, by the way, North Korea, but also on Darfur. So I think we ought to understand that the only pressure point is China.

The second thing is that I would be an advocate for human rights. And I’m not telling the North Korean people to rise up and overflow their government. But I think it’s important. We’ve had people who’ve escaped from these gulags. Horrible stories. I think that that might get a little more publicity, just because we’re a nation that believes all of us are endowed with certain inalienable rights. Would I go to war with North Korea? No. Would I threaten war with them? No. Please don’t get me wrong. But I think there’s pressures that we can apply.


SIMON: Okay. Another interesting thing that we read in your Foreign Affairs piece — not to tout it, but I think it’s worth everybody reading — is you seem to be advocating a return or a new version of the OSS. Is this nostalgia for World War II or what?

MCCAIN: It may be viewed as desperation for an intelligence service —

SIMON: That works.

MCCAIN: — that works. Yeah, that may be what it is. I believe that the CIA and our other intelligence agencies are in great difficulty now, as you know, with now this latest destruction of the interrogation tapes. We’ve had, you know, changes in directors. We’ve had all these difficulties. Maybe we ought to look at an organization, not a huge one, and not one to replace the CIA, but one that kind of has a larger charter and probably maybe some imagination associated with it.

SIMON: Well, what would you — wow. I agree with that.

ROSETT: Imagin —

SIMON: Imagination’s a big word for me; I’m a screen writer. Then what was your reaction then, following up on that, to the NIE on Iran?

MCCAIN: Well, I think it was unfortunate, Roger, because there’s two aspects, two major aspects, of the construction of a nuclear weapon. One is the enrichment, the other is the weaponization. The enrichment continues. And it is — the shorter part of the equation is the weaponization, the actual construction of the warhead itself. So I am concerned that we may have kind of taken everybody’s eye off the ball here. And some of our European friends, surprisingly, have stuck with us. Some have said look, we don’t need to move forward with sanctions any more.

So it also brings into question this whole process. Two years ago we were, you know, all out to stop them. And now we are in full stop and it’s not a threat. I think, frankly, that it may be somewhere in between, more in the line of they still harbor those ambitions, they still support terrorists, they’re still state sponsors of terrorist organizations, they’re still exporting explosive devices into Iraq, killing Americans. And, as I say, they’re still supporting Hezbollah as well as other terrorist organizations.

So I’d love to see them change. I’d love to see an improvement in our relations. But I think one of the things, believe it or not, that could have an effect on their behavior is our success in Iraq. Because if they think we’re going to be in the neighborhood, then I think it may have some modifying effect on their behavior.

ROSETT: How, if you were president —


ROSETT: — how would you get control of the bureaucracies that produce that, of especially our intelligence agencies, but the CIA, quite specifically. If you were handed something like that, would you fire somebody? What would you do?

MCCAIN: Well, I, obviously, probably would want to bring in people that I know and trust. You know, I mean, I’m sure you know that. I mean, that’s true of any new administration. But, believe it or not, one of the things I would try to do is establish some stability there. You know, in the ’70s we had this upheaval and the Church Committee Report as you know it. And then in the ’80s we had an upheaval. And then in the ’90s. This whole intelligence apparatus in general, and the CIA in particular, they’re always kind of in a state of upheaval and reform and change and all that. So maybe we ought to try to at least have some stability in these agencies and predictability. But that’s hard to do.


ROSETT: You also in —

MCCAIN: Finally, could I mention one other thing?

ROSETT: Of course.

MCCAIN: Human intelligence is still our greatest failing. Human intelligence is the key, I think, to really get the kind of intelligence that we need to make the right kind of decisions.

SIMON: How do we improve that?

MCCAIN: You’ve got to recruit a lot more people who have knowledge and background in the culture, the language, the — and that’s very hard to find. I’m not saying it’s easy. But there are plenty of people in the United States who are culturally acclimated and understand these countries and have been there and have families there. I think we can do a much better job there.

ROSETT: Also, in your article, you wrote about setting up a League of Democracies.

MCCAIN: Um-hum.

ROSETT: On the United Nations we just saw — they just voted themselves the biggest budget ever by a vote of 142 to 1, that 1 being the United States.


ROSETT: How should we understand that? And, concretely, how do you deal with that?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, I respect the United Nations. But we have to understand the limits of the United Nations, okay? They’re very good at peace keeping. They’re no good at peace making. Bosnia, best example. Okay?

And I think we also have to understand, as far as the budget thing is concerned, I’m offended when they waste all this money and a lot of things happen. And I’d love to address that, okay? That’s a problem. But the big problem today is the Security Counsel, China and Russia blocking effective action in a place like Darfur or Iran or North Korea or other places in the world.

Now, I think all of us agree that General Powell was right when he said genocide is taking place in Darfur. Who’s blocking action? The Chinese, because of their relationship with Sudan. So I would say you get a group of like minded democracies, not in a formal organization, not to replace the U.N. or anything else, and say hey, look, let’s act together because of our common values, our common principals, and our economic, diplomatic, and, if necessary, military strength. Are we going to say “never again” again? We may. We may. So I think we could act effectively to address certain challenges in the world that clearly Russia and China, because of their position in the United Nation Security Council, would not allow us to move forward on. Go ahead.

ROSETT: Where would you base that? I mean, very specific —

MCCAIN: I think it would be a loose organization. You know, the G8 isn’t based any place. They just meet and they discuss and they work it out. I’m not talking about a — again, I’m not talking about a formal establishment. And there may be shifting membership in this “League of Democracies”. Maybe the Japanese don’t want to be involved in something that we and the Europeans would. But we do have nations in the world, and more and more of them, who share our common values, that respect human rights, that are involved in the democratic process. And I think that most of those countries would join us in seeking the same benefits for other people in the world.


ROSETT: In your article you also wrote about revising the G8, kicking out Russia and bringing in Brazil and India. How would you actually broach that to the —

MCCAIN: Look, Mr. Putin does not share any of our G8 principals and values. I mean, it’s just a fact; we know that. He has now designated his “successor” so he can stay in power forever. He seems to derive some kind of, in my view, almost immature pleasure in sticking his thumb in our eye. I mean, please, some of it is gratuitous that I just don’t think he shares our values.

And I would like to see other countries like Brazil, the emerging economic power in our hemisphere, India, obviously, who will share our values and our principals to be — for us to meet. And I think we could do some things that would have some concrete results. And I don’t see where Putin shares any of those goals.

SIMON: How would you actually —

MCCAIN: And, by the way, could I just say —

SIMON: Sure.

MCCAIN: I’m not saying there’s going to be a re-ignition of the cold war; there’s not. It’s not going to be the old Soviet Union. Now, there will be an attempt on Putin’s part to restore the old Russian empire. But demographically, economically, militarily, every other way there’s not going to be a new cold war.

How would I accomplish it? I think I would sit down with Sarkozy and Merkel, the major players, and the British and even the Ja — you know, I would sit down with them and say look, what are we going to do here? What are we going to do here on this situation? And it wouldn’t be my top priority, but, look, the Russians have to understand that for behavior that abrogating treaties that they are in with us that there’s got to be some kind of price to pay. And, again, I’m not talking about re-ignition of the cold war.

SIMON: One other question, one other area quickly, which relates, of course, to Russia, because it’s with the lever that they have over our western European allies, is energy independence.


SIMON: What — you know, what would a McCain administration look like on the issue of energy independence?

MCCAIN: Let me just say I’m glad you asked it today. And I’m sure that people will know when this program is broadcast, but oil just hit a hundred dollars a barrel.

SIMON: Oh, yes, we know.

MCCAIN: That means that 400 billion dollars of American money goes to oil producing countries. Some of that money ends up in the hands of terrorist organizations. This is now a national security as well as a severe economic challenge, if we’re going to have four hundred billion dollars a year of our money go to purchase an expendable commodity.

So we’ve got to have nuclear power. We’ve got to have wind, solar, batteries. And I think we can combine this need, this critical national security requirement to attain energy independence, along with the need to address the issue of climate change. Clean technologies, conservation, nuclear power, battery powered cars, the half-and-halves, the hybrids, the — a lot of that technology is there. Ethanol, although I don’t support subsidies for ethanol. We’ve got to let a thousand flowers bloom. But we also have to lend a sense of urgency to the American people, from an economic as well as a security standpoint.


SIMON: Have you seen this recommendation by this Dr. Zubrin about flex fuel cars? Have you —

MCCAIN: Well, the Brazilians have them. As you know, the Brazilians have converted their entire automobile fleet to flex E85, as they call it. And I was just talking with one of my colleagues, John Thune, from South Dakota. He is saying that E10 or E20 or E30 is something that would have a tremendous impact. We’ve just got to — look, if the American people recognize what’s at stake here, I’m not asking them to shiver in the dark, but I think they will lend support to cleaner and greener technologies which will reduce — and our goal’s got to be eliminate our dependency on foreign oil. Clean coal technology, by the way, is one of the keys to it, and we’re not there yet, at least as far as the cost is concerned.

SIMON: Well, I’m being waved out here incessantly —


SIMON: — that you have to move on to other people. So thank you very much, Senator McCain.

MCCAIN: Thank you. Thank you very much for joining me, and it’s great to be with you.

SIMON: And good luck —

MCCAIN: And, by the way, could I just mention one other comment very quickly? I’m not pessimistic about the future of this country. We’re still the greatest exporter, importer, innovator, military power. But we face significant challenges. And that overall challenge right now is radical Islamic extremism, which is hydra-headed. And I think that challenge is going to be military, diplomatic, intelligence, and ideological. We’ve got to do a better job in the use of cyber space. Osama bin Laden, just in the last two weeks, has got messages out to billions of people to recruit, motivate, and instruct radical Islamic extremists. My dear friends, it’s an ideological struggle at the end of the day, and we won’t surrender, but they will.

ROSETT: Could we ask, along that line —

MCCAIN: Sure. Go ahead, sorry, it’s okay. It’s okay.

ROSETT: Just very briefly, we have this wonderful system in this country —


ROSETT: — and yet we see this movement that in viral form —


ROSETT: — is spreading around the world.


ROSETT: Why is that more attractive to some than the system that we have to offer?

MCCAIN: The social economic conditions, we all know that. If people have no hope, no job, no opportunity, they fall prey to it. But there’s also another aspect of it. When doctors in Glasgow, Scotland were motivated, there’s other aspects of this issue. It’s a big struggle.

ROSETT: That’s why I’m wondering —


ROSETT: In trying to actually change the vector here or stop it, what —

MCCAIN: That’s because they’re getting on the Internet, they’re getting — they’re feeding on each other. They’re getting a radical message from the Imams, and then this cyberspace is getting — is having significant effects. Look at the effect that it’s having on pedophiles. Internet child pornography is one of the greatest evils that is afflicting the world today, and it’s because of the Internet. So we’re going to have to understand this new technology and this new information world we’re in and do a lot better. Thanks.


ROSETT: This is going out over the Internet. If you could speak directly to Osama bin Laden, what would you say to him?

MCCAIN: Osama, I’m going to get you. Even if I have to follow you to the gates of hell, I’ll bring you to justice. Thank you.

SIMON: Thank you very much.

MCCAIN: Great. Thank you. Thank you very much.


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