Sen. John McCain sounded a civil note at the beginning of
his remarks at a Center for a New American Security event on Thursday, April
18. "What Republicans need now is a vigourous contest on ideas on national
security and foreign policy," he told a group of military, foreign policy, and
business professionals. "This contest can and should be conducted respectfully
and without name-calling, which is something an old wacko-bird
like me must remember from time to time."
Though he didn't resort to epithets, the rest of the speech
featured a series of broadsides against isolationists and non-interventionists of
both parties, but especially senators on McCain's own side of the aisle. "When
it comes to the politics of national security," McCain said, "my beloved
Republican Party has some soul-searching to do."
In particular, McCain singled out his "libertarian friends"
who participated in Sen. Rand Paul's filibuster against John Brennan's
confirmation as CIA director. "Rather than debate the very real dilemmas of
targeted killing," McCain said, "my colleagues chose to focus instead on the
theoretical possibility that the president would use a drone to kill Americans
on U.S. soil even if they're not engaged in hostilities. As misguided as this
exercise was, the political pressures on Republicans to join in were
significant, and many ultimately did -- including many who know better."
As a compromise, McCain
suggested revising the 2001 Authorization
for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which provides the legal justification for
the targeted killing program, and codifying drone policy "to preserve, but
clarify the commander-in-chief's war powers, while insisting on greater
transparency and broader congressional oversight of how these war powers
He inveighed against the "emergence of a
military-industrial-congressional complex that has corrupted and crippled the
defense acquisition process," though his critique focused on the runaway costs of
projects like the F-35 and Littoral Combat Ship rather than the defense budget
writ large, which he has pushed to maintain. He also went after colleagues who have
tried to slash foreign aid, pointing out that, "It now seems that every piece
of legislation that the Senate considers faces an inevitable amendment that would
cut off all our assistance to Egypt or some other critical country. And unfortunately,
these kinds of provisions keep winning more and more votes." McCain sounded
downright weary as he described "explaining" and "reminding people" of the
purpose of foreign aid. "While foreign aid might not make its recipients love
us," he noted, "it does further our national security interests and values."
McCain went after colleagues' knee-jerk opposition to
the United Nations as well. When asked about the Law of the Sea Treaty, he said, "It's
probably not going to come up. Not with the makeup of this Senate, that's the
reality. We couldn't even do a disabilities treaty, for God's sake." The
problem? Here, McCain got sarcastic. "It's just, you know, it's the 'U.N.' It's the 'U.N.,'"
he exclaimed, making air quotes and shrugging.
Then again, McCain only hinted that he
would support ratifying the Law of the Sea Treaty before opposition from
Republican lawmakers postponed
consideration indefinitely last year.
Despite the critiques of sequestration and U.S. policies on
Syria and Iran, President Obama got off pretty easy by comparison. "Right now,
the far left and far right in America are coming together in favor of pulling
us back from the world," McCain observed. "The president and I have had our differences, many of
those differences will persist, but there are times these days when I feel that
I have more in common on foreign policy with President Obama than I do with
some in my party."
And while McCain seemed uncomfortable with the many rounds of
nuclear negotiations with Iran, he said he didn't envy the president's decision
on the use of force. "It's going to be probably one of the most difficult
decisions the president of the United States has ever had to make," he argued, "and it's
very rarely that I'm glad that I'm not the president of the United States, but
this is one of [those times]."
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