An Enduring peace

          A Q&A with John McCain

Over the course of a career in public service that took him from the U.S. Navy to the United States Senate, John McCain has made a name for himself as a leader of men and as a maverick – someone who is willing to take an unpopular position because he believes it to be the right thing to do. But he has also established himself as an expert in the areas of national security and foreign affairs.

As he prepares to formally accept the Republican nomination for President of the United States, the Forum asked Senator McCain for his views on America’s place in the world, the challenges we face in Iraq and elsewhere abroad, and how the United States can achieve what he calls, “an enduring peace.” 

RF: What are the broad principles that would guide foreign policy in a McCain Administration?

JM: I am an idealist, and I believe it is possible in our time to make the world we live in a better, more peaceful place, where our interests and those of our allies are more secure, and the American ideals that are transforming the world — the principles of free people and free markets — advance even farther.  But I am, from hard experience and the judgment it informs, a realistic idealist. I know we must work very hard and very creatively to build new foundations for a stable and enduring peace.  We cannot simply wish the world to be a better place than it is.

We face a new set of opportunities, and also new dangers. The developments of science and technology have brought us untold prosperity, eradicated disease, and reduced the suffering of millions.  We have a chance in our lifetime to raise the world to a new standard of human existence. Yet these same technologies have produced grave new risks, arming a few zealots with the ability to murder millions of innocents, and producing a global industrialization that, in time, can threaten our planet. 

I am, from hard experience and the judgment it informs, a realistic idealist. I know we must work very hard and very creatively to build new foundations for a stable and enduring peace. We cannot simply wish the world to be a better place than it is.

To meet this challenge requires understanding the world in which we live, and the central role the United States must play in shaping it for the future.  Undoubtedly, the United States must lead in the 21st century, though unlike in the years after World War II, today we are not alone. There is the powerful collective voice of the European Union, and there are the great nations of India and Japan, Australia and Brazil, South Korea and South Africa, Turkey and Israel, to name just a few of the leading democracies. There are also the increasingly powerful nations of China and Russia that wield great influence in the international system. 

RF: What is the greatest threat facing America today?

JM: The transcendent challenge of our time is the threat of radical Islamic terrorism.  Though there are many dangers in today’s world, the threat posed by the terrorists is unique. They alone devote all their energies and indeed their very lives to murdering innocent men, women, and children. They alone seek nuclear weapons and other tools of mass destruction, not to defend themselves or to enhance their prestige or to give them a stronger hand in world affairs, but to use against us wherever and whenever they can.

Any president who does not regard this threat as transcending all others does not deserve to sit in the White House, for he or she does not take seriously enough the first and most basic duty a president has — to protect the lives of the American people. 

RF: What is the appropriate role of the United States in promoting democracy abroad?

JM: The United States cannot lead by virtue of its power alone. We must be strong politically, economically, and militarily. But we must also lead by attracting others to our cause, by demonstrating once again the virtues of freedom and democracy, by defending the rules of international civilized society and by creating the new international institutions necessary to advance the peace and freedoms we cherish.  Perhaps above all, leadership in today’s world means accepting and fulfilling our responsibilities as a great nation. 

One of those responsibilities is to be a good and reliable ally to our fellow democracies. We cannot build an enduring peace based on freedom by ourselves, and we do not want to.   We have to strengthen our global alliances as the core of a new global compact — a League of Democracies — that can harness the vast influence of the more than 100 democratic nations around the world to advance our values and defend our shared interests. 

RF: What role will public diplomacy play in a McCain Administration?

JM: Our great power does not mean we should do whatever we want whenever we want, nor should we assume we have all the wisdom and knowledge necessary to succeed. We need to listen to the views and respect the collective will of our democratic allies.  When we believe international action is necessary, whether military, economic, or diplomatic, we will try to persuade our friends that we are right. But we, in return, must be willing to be persuaded by them.

We will not engage in unconditional dialogues with dictatorships such as Syria and Iran, however. Instead, we will work with the international community to apply real pressure to induce such states to change their behavior.

RF: Do you believe trade plays a role in our national security?

JM: Yes. Free trade plays a huge role in American competitiveness and jobs, and without it, a weak economy would undermine our ability to deal with threats to our national security. Ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers live outside the U.S. Our future  prosperity, and in turn our national security, depends on opening more of these markets, not closing them.

America is the biggest exporter, importer, producer, saver, investor, manufacturer, and innovator in the world. Americans don’t run from the challenge of a global economy. That’s why I reject the false virtues of economic isolationism. Any confident, competent government should embrace competition — it makes us stronger — not hide from our competitors and cheat our consumers and workers. We can compete and win, as we always have, or we can be left behind.  

RF: The surge has clearly helped increase stability in Iraq. What is your definition of victory that would allow our troops to come home? How will achieving that victory help make Americans more secure?

JM: The surge has succeeded.  That is why the additional surge brigades are almost all home. We can and will win in Iraq. I’m confident we will be able to reduce our forces in Iraq next year, and our forces will be out of regular combat operations and  dramatically reduced in number during the term of the next President. We have fought the worst battles, survived the toughest threats, and the hardest part of this war is behind us. But it is not over yet. And we have come too far, sacrificed too much, to risk everything we have gained and all we could yet gain because the politics of the hour make defeat the more convenient position.

If we withdraw prematurely from Iraq, al Qaeda in Iraq will survive, proclaim victory and continue to provoke sectarian tensions that, while they have been subdued by the success of the surge, still exist, as various factions of Sunni and Shi’a have yet to  move beyond their ancient hatreds, and are ripe for provocation by al Qaeda.  Civil war in Iraq could easily descend into genocide, and destabilize the entire region as neighboring powers come to the aid of their favored factions. I believe a reckless and premature withdrawal would be a terrible defeat for our security interests and our values. Iran will also view our premature withdrawal as a victory, and the biggest state supporter of terrorists, a country with nuclear ambitions and a stated desire to destroy the State of Israel, will see its influence in the Middle East grow significantly. 

If we withdraw prematurely from Iraq, al Qaeda in Iraq will survive, proclaim victory and continue to provoke sectarian tensions that, while they have been subdued by the success of the surge, still exist.

These consequences of our defeat would threaten us for years, and those who argue for it are arguing for a course that would eventually draw us into a wider and more difficult war that would entail far greater dangers and sacrifices than we have suffered to date.  

RF: Are you concerned that the U.S. has become so focused on the war on terror that we have lost sight of other growing powers such as China?

JM: Dealing with a rising China will be a central challenge for the next American president. Recent prosperity in China has brought more people out of poverty faster than during any other time in human history. China’s new found power implies responsibilities.  China could bolster its claim that it is “peacefully rising” by being more transparent about its significant military buildup, by working with the world to isolate pariah states such as Burma, Sudan and Zimbabwe, and by ceasing its efforts to establish regional forums and economic arrangements designed to exclude America from Asia.

China and the United States are not destined to be adversaries. We have numerous overlapping interests and hope to see our relationship evolve in a manner that benefits both countries and, in turn, the Asia-Pacific region and the world. But until China moves toward political liberalization, our relationship will be based on periodically shared interests rather than the bedrock of shared values.   

RF: Who are your role models when it comes to U.S. foreign policy? What past Presidents do you look up to?  What other officials do you admire?

JM: I have the utmost respect for Ronald Reagan, whose unwavering, determined  approach to foreign policy helped bring about the end of the Cold War. President Reagan had remarkable confidence that a new age of freedom was upon us, when the rights of man would be ascendant in many of the darkest reaches of tyranny. 

Ronald Reagan was a proud Cold Warrior; proud to be an enemy of the forces he justly denounced as evil.  But being an anti-Communist was never enough for him. He knew that America’s efforts to help humanity secure the blessings of liberty are what truly distinguish us from all other nations on earth. He knew it was necessary to defeat communism to protect ourselves. But he also fought communism because it threatened America’s sublime legacy to the world.

I also admire Theodore Roosevelt for his staunch commitment to conservationism. He was America’s foremost conservation president and rallied Americans behind unprecedented efforts to save our wild landscapes, important watersheds, and migratory bird corridors.

In my home state of Arizona, Mo Udall and Barry Goldwater taught me to believe that we are Americans first and partisans second, and I want to be a President that honors their faith in us. 

RF: Finally, do you think the federal government is effectively structured to meet the global security challenges we face as a Nation? If not, what changes and reforms would you propose?

JM: I will work aggressively to reform the defense budgeting process to ensure that America enjoys the best military at the best cost.  This includes reforming defense procurement to ensure the faithful and efficient expenditure of taxpayer dollars that are made available for defense acquisition.  Too often, parochial interests — rather than the national interest — have guided our spending decisions. I support significant reform in our defense acquisition process to ensure that dollars spent actually contribute to U.S. security.

While spending reform has been necessary, I have been a tireless advocate of our military and ensuring that our forces are properly postured, funded, and ready to meet the nation’s obligations both at home and abroad. I have fought to modernize our forces, to ensure that America maintains and expands its technological edge against any potential adversary, and to see that our forces are capable and ready to undertake the variety of missions necessary to meet national security objectives.
 

 

   
 


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