ATLANTIC MAGAZINE INTERVIEW OF SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN
Thursday, October 1, 2009
P R O C E E D I N G S
MR. BRADLEY: Good morning, and welcome. My name is David Bradley. I'm the owner of The Atlantic and, with two others here, I am one of the three you must summon yourself through as pure ceremony on the way to the content.
I had wanted to tell you a story. It has the benefit of being a true story. It goes back to the mid-1980s, when Bob Dole was Majority Leader of the Senate, and Liz Dole was Secretary of Transportation. It was this wonderful moment when Washingtonian magazine ran an article on celebrity couples in the city, and they had a photograph of the two Doles making the bed in their Watergate apartment.
Bob Dole received a letter roughly a month after that ran, and it ran something like this. "Dear Senator Dole, I have seen the photograph of you and your wife making the bed in your Watergate apartment. In my judgment, the fact that you allowed the photographer to take that shot represents not only an embarrassment for American manhood, but proof of your personal emasculation."
Bob Dole wrote back -- and here, I'm quoting: "Dear Mr. Bennett, I am in receipt of your blunt letter of last month in which you criticized me for allowing a photographer to take a photo of Liz and me while making the bed."
Next paragraph -- last paragraph--"Look, buddy, if it hadn't been for the photographer, no way Liz would have been caught dead helping me with that job."
"Sincerely, Bob Dole."
My thought had been to use that as a segue into some larger set of remarks, but the real truth is I simply wanted to tell you that story. So let me do the reduced role of telling you how pleased we are to have you here, and hope you will enjoy the next two days as much as we have enjoyed putting it together.
It's very easy to be Walter Isaacson's friend, but it's not a small group. Let me count myself in that larger population of people who love Walter Isaacson.
Mr. ISAACSON: Thank you very much, David. I wish I had a wonderful joke to follow it up. But I will instead do a testament to your love of ideas, and the Atlantic's love of ideas -- and what I hope is the Aspen Institute and the Newseum's love of ideas.
You know, this used to be a city of ideas. If you look back in the 1840s, all the way through the 1890s, it was a great ferment of new type of ideas. It still is a good city of ideas, but those ideas sometimes get suppressed by the partisanship, by the way we like to trivialize things and tear each other apart.
The Newseum here is dedicated to the notion that the press and the media can help share ideas, bring people togther, and find common ground. That's also what we try to do at the Aspen Institute, with the Aspen Ideas Festival that's led to this wonder Washington Ideas Forum that we do both in partnership with The Atlantic. We do it because The Atlantic Monthly has been, for that long period, the great magazine of ideas in this country. And David Bradley is a great man of ideas. So it's just our pleasure to be with you, David, and The Atlantic and, of course, with the Newseum.
And, with that -- where is Charles? Oh, Charles is hiding. Charles Overby.
MR. OVERBY: Hello, and welcome to the Newseum -- specifically, the Knight Conference Center here at the Newseum. I hope most of you have been here before. But if you haven't, this is a monument not to the press, but to the notion of the First Amendment and the Five Freedoms.
I hope you saw that 74-foot marble sign on the front of this building right here on Pennsylvania Avenue that gives all 45 words of the First Amendment. And that's what we celebrate here. Since we opened, nearly a million people have come here since we opened a little over a year ago. And that's what we're celebrating over the next two days -- a great expression, diversity of ideas.
And so we welcome you here. I welcome you downstairs where, in addition to David's story, we have thousands of stories that we try to tell -- not quite as interesting as David does in person, but in a pretty interesting way.
And so welcome.
And now it is my privilege to turn this program over to David Gregory, NBC, Meet the Press, and Senator John McCain.
MR. GREGORY: Good morning, everyone. I am David Gregory. It's a pleasure to be here. Senator McCain, good to see you.
SENATOR McCAIN: It's not a pleasure to be here. I usually have to be interrogated by him on Sundays, so I have time to recover.
MR. GREGORY: It was such a nice buildup, as we talked about the first draft of history -- I'll try to look over here occasionally, as well, so we're not excluding everyone.
I an remember being introduced by Senator McCain in a far less august fashion down in South Carolina, with all this talk about Socialism and the like, I remember he introduced me to a crown in South Carolina as a card-carrying member of the Communist Party -- which I thought was nice.
SENATOR McCAIN: And close to the truth.
MR. GREGORY: Let's begin.
I mean, Senator, the idea here is that we have a chance to maybe think a little bit more expansively, think about the first draft of history. So I wanted to begin with this question.
Almost to the day, 10 years ago, you announced your first Presidential run in Nashua, New Hampshire. And I wonder in what ways you think the country has become more difficult to govern since that time.
SENATOR McCAIN: Well, thanks, David. I believe that it's obvious there's been more polarization. I think a lot of it has to do with the media, cable input 24 hours a day. I'm thinking out loud here, but one of the things that's changed is the news cycle itself. It wasn't a 24-hour news cycle, but I would argue it was several hours. Now we are literally in an instantaneous news cycle.
Last night on the floor of the Senate, I proposed a resolution calling for General Petraeus and General McChrystal to come and testify before Congress. That was on the crawl on all the cables immediately. I mean, it wasn't five minutes. So we are in an instantaneous cable news cycle, and I think that has affected some of us.
Now we have people on both sides making very extreme comments and statements. And what happens when you do that? You quickly rise from obscurity to notoriety, and some people certainly -- understandably -- enjoy that.
So I think it's -- I think the whole aspect of the political scene has become more polarized, and obviously I regret it.
MR. GREGORY: And it makes the country more difficult to govern as a result? How so?
SENATOR McCAIN: Mmmm -- I think it makes it a little harder for us to come together on issues. One of my first experiences -- and I'm sure you may recall it -- when Social Security was going broke -- and it was going broke, it was imminent, bankruptcy, Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan sat down together, along with their advisors, and came up with a fix for Social Security.
It's hard to envision that scenario today, a liberal Democrat from Massachusetts and a conservative Republican from California.
It is what it is.
MR. GREGORY: We talk about the nature of the opposition right now against President Obama and, you know, you saw it campaigning, you know, in terms of the opposition from the political left in this country. And I asked President Clinton during my interview with him last week about what his wife, now the Secretary of State, famously called the "vast right-wing conspiracy," and whether he thought it was still around. And he said it's not as strong as it was, but he says it's still around, because America's changed demographically, "but it's as virulent as it was. It's not really good for the Republicans," he said, "And the country, what's going on now." He said that, "The Republicans and the vast right-wing conspiracy might be hurting President Obama. They can take his numbers down. They can run his opposition up. But, fundamentally, he and his team have a positive agenda for America. They, their agenda -- " -- meaning the Republicans--" -- seem to want him to fail. And that's no a prescription for a good America.
How do you see it?
SENATOR McCAIN: No, I don't think the majority of Americans want President Obama to fail. The loyal opposition, which I view myself as, I believe our role is to help the President wherever we can, where we agree, and be in opposition on things we disagree on. There are fundamental, philosophical differences, obviously, between our two parties.
And I think that President Clinton is one of the really bright, intelligent, smart, thoughtful individuals that I've ever encountered. But I would also remind President Clinton that in this last campaign, one of the most respected leaders in Civil Rights in this country, Congressman John Lewis, launched an attack on me, comparing my campaign to the deaths of three young children in a bombing in a church in Birmingham.
Now, it doesn't get any worse than that, my friends.
So it isn't confined to the right wing. It is certainly, apparently there on both sides of the ideological spectrum, and we see that division in the media today, as well.
MR. GREGORY: Is it just the division and the polarization that comes from the media for an accelerated news cycle, or do you notice -- and this would go back maybe to the time of President Clinton, even -- when more and more Americans somehow become persuaded that the President is illegitimate, and therefore the opposition can take on kind of new levels?
SENATOR McCAIN: I think there's some of that, but, you know, the vast -- that issue is simply not there. There are people who have -- there were people who believed that I was not qualified to be President because I was born in the Panama Canal Zone, and I'm sure that would have been stoked more if I had been elected. But that part of it isn't of great concern to me.
What is of concern to me is that it doesn't seem to be an environment today for us -- and I blame both sides for it -- for us to sit down together and have true negotiations.
You know, one of the things, unwritten words about negotiations is concessions. If you're really going to have a result of negotiations, both sides have to make concessions, and we don't do that now. We don't have the kind of environment, both politically, or the kind of mechanism for it that is necessary to achieve that.
MR. GREGORY: Another question: if you were President of the United States right now, would we be having this national debate about health care? Or would it be about something else?
SENATOR McCAIN: No, I think health care would have to be on the table. I think that we're looking at the imminent bankruptcy of the Medicare system, seven or eight years, depending on who you're talking to. The skyrocketing costs of health care, it's now one-sixth of the gross national product, it's going to be one-fifth.
The issue of issue of health care/Social Security is going to have to be addressed simply for fiscal reasons, if not for all the other reasons that require us to address it.
MR. GREGORY: So if you were President you would put this kind of sweeping reform that the President is proposing on the agenda in the same way? Because it's not something that was done during a previous Republican administration.
SENATOR McCAIN: Look, I think this administration over-learned the Clinton experience. President Clinton and now-Secretary of State Clinton, put forth a detailed package for health care reform. And in their view it was picked apart by the opposition, and that's the reason why they failed. I believe it failed because it was a bad way of addressing the issue.
But, however, this Administration has yet to come up with a specific proposal from the President. Now we read in the media, and here, that there is a plan now being developed within the White House. But we have not seen it yet.
So the Administration allowed the House and the Senate to sort of work their way and that, I don't think, was viable either. I think you've kind of got to have a balance between the two. And, by the way, I believe -- because elections do have consequences -- that the Democrats very likely will run a bill through this week or next week through the Finance Committee, bring it to the floor, pass it, and then there will be a Conference between the House and the Senate. And I don't think any Republicans will be in the room there.
It is what it is.
MR. GREGORY: What would it take for you to cross the aisle and support health care reform that you think is necessary in the spirit of bipartisanship?
SENATOR McCAIN: I think you'd have to have several factors. One of them is not the -- quote-- "government option," public option. I think that was rejected yesterday by votes in the Finance Committee. But I would have medical malpractice reform. I would have ability for health insurance companies to compete across state lines, for small businesses to join together to negotiate with health insurance companies.
In other words, I would probably start kind of with what we could agree on, and then add on, rather than have an encompassing proposal that obviously has led to this kind of gridlock that we're in.
And let me just add one other point. There's something going on out there in America. It isn't just the polarization of parties. There's something going on out there. I can't describe to you exactly what it's all about. But I've been back in Arizona, 2,000 people come to a town hall meeting. I guarantee you, most of those people -- all but a handful -- have never been to a town hall meeting in their lives.
The Tea Parties, there's all kind of different interests and different parts of the political spectrum there, but they're growing in America. There is something going on out there, and it's great dissatisfaction. It's incredible dissatisfaction. It hasn't been channeled yet.
It hasn't helped Republicans, at least in the opinion polls, particularly. We still are not held in high regard, to say the least. It certainly hasn't been reflected in approval ratings of Congress, and the President's numbers, obviously, as we know, are going down.
There's something going on out there, and I think Americans are concerned about the debt and the deficit, and they're smarter than we give them credit for. And I think that this could translate itself into a kind of political era the likes of which we've not seen in the years that I've been in public office.
MR. GREGORY: What is that dissatisfaction about, because I'm very interested in that.
SENATOR McCAIN: A very --
MR. GREGORY: Because my question for the President has been: If this is an era of big government returning -- and you see that in terms of financial regulation, intervention in the market place in terms of bailouts, sweeping health care reform and government stimulus -- is he winning the argument that government is part of the solution? Where do you come down on that. Does government have an important place in all these things?
SENATOR MCCAIN: Obviously, government has an important role to play, particularly in times of severe financial crisis, the likes of which we have not seen since the Great Depression, obviously. But I think Americans who are a lot smarter than we give them credit for see a rounding off from $7 to $9 trillion debt over a ten year period, they see us running up $1.6 trillion debt this year, they see us owning Chrysler and General Motors.
If you would have told me nine months ago or a year ago that we were going to own Chrysler and General Motors, I would not have believed that. They see this, what is really taking place, and that is a dramatic movement of government into the private sector in a way which I think is of great concern to them.
MR. GREGORY: But what would you have done differently? I mean the President, when he first -
SENATOR MCCAIN: My first thought would have -
MR. GREGORY: -- will you not spend some of the money for stimulus to save GM and some of the other moves they made?
SENATOR MCCAIN: Well, if GM and Chrysler had gone into bankruptcy, they could have restructured and come out of it. There is the view of many of us that the labor unions have a significant effect on the fact that if they had gone into bankruptcy, those contracts would have had to have been renegotiated to start with.
Second of all, we did have the stimulus package, it was a $408 billion stimulus package, and I will still argue to this day that those were really shovel ready projects, those were really an instant infusion into the economy, including two aspects, one, homeowner, and two, small businesses.
Right now I see the stock market best quarter, et cetera, et cetera. Come with me to Phoenix, Arizona and let's drive down Central Avenue, you'll see whole strip malls closed down, you'll see office buildings that are empty, you'll meet people, as I did in a line at Starbucks the other day, that said to me, you know, I got a line of credit from my bank for the last 15 years, I'm a small business person, they just notified me that I don't have any credit anymore, okay. When this thing started, it was the housing crisis that began this recession that we're in and it will be the housing stabilization crisis when we get out. We should have done what Secretary, now Secretary Clinton and I both advocated, which is a home ownership loan administration, where we go in, you buy peoples' mortgage and you give them back a mortgage that they can afford, and that's what I was assured would be, by Bernanke and Paulson, we were going to do.
So what did we do? Three days after we had passed it, we bail out the financial institutions. And we do things like, when you bail out the IG, X billions of dollars, a 100 cents on the dollar goes to Goldman Sachs. So all these outfits are too big to save.
And I go down Central Avenue in Phoenix, Arizona and I tell them, excuse me, they're too big to fail, and I have to tell these people, these small business people, they're too small to save. That's bred a lot of the discontent in this country. They don't get it, and frankly, I don't get it either, and then we see billions of dollars in bonuses when the unemployment in my neighboring state of California is over 12 percent. That doesn't compute and that's one of the reasons why American people are upset, and I think they have ample reason to be so.
MR. GREGORY: When you think about the economy, you think about financial regulation, you think about threats from overseas; how would America be different as we sit here if you were President?
SENATOR MCCAIN: You know, David, I'd love to answer that question and spend a couple hours doing it, but -
MR. GREGORY: I take it you have a few ideas?
SENATOR MCCAIN: -- but, look, I respect the results of the election, I'm the luckiest guy, you're having some wonderful guests here during this period, but I am the luckiest guy that ever, ever you've talked to. I've had the most wonderful life, I stood fifth from the bottom of my class at the Naval Academy and ended up with a nomination, and my old company Officer Marine Captain Hunt, where he would say anything is possible in America.
And so for me honestly to say, you know, I would do this different, I don't think that that is either fair or productive to nit pick the President and his policies on a broad, overall basis, to be honest with you.
I want to help the President. These are tough times for America. I want to work with him, I want to work with him on Afghanistan, on weapons acquisition reform, on a whole lot of range of issues that I want to work with the President.
MR. GREGORY: Let me pick up on that. Let's talk about Afghanistan.
SENATOR MCCAIN: Sure.
MR. GREGORY: Why would sending tens of thousands of additional U.S. forces to Afghanistan make America safer?
SENATOR MCCAIN: Well, as the President said during the campaign and in March, this is a war of necessity, we cannot allow Afghanistan to return to the status that it was before, as a base for attacks to be launched against the United States of America and our allies. And he called it the Good War, as you know. This is long, and hard, and tough.
I have to tell you, though, it's not as tough as it was in Iraq, when we implemented the search. Conditions were far worse in Iraq when we started the surge than they are in Afghanistan today. And I believe that we've got the generals, and we have the strategy, and I am confident that we can succeed if there is sufficient resources to do so. And if we don't give it the required manpower that's necessary, men and women in uniform, then I think that we may fail. And so I really think we are faced with choices, only two, and if we don't do what is necessary and implement half measures, I'd just as soon get out, because we've got 68,000 already over there, and they're in harms way, as you know, casualties are up.
MR. GREGORY: We've been at this for over eight years, most Americans know we went there to fight Al Qaeda, and now it seems like we're fighting the Taliban, and we've been at it for so long, what's going wrong?
SENATOR MCCAIN: Well, we had to win in Iraq, and we didn't have sufficient troops or sufficient resources to handle Afghanistan, and so we kind of muddled through in Afghanistan while we were addressing the issue of Iraq. Now, whether we should have or not been in Iraq, I'd be glad to discuss that, too, but the fact we were there, and if we had failed there, I believe we would have failed in Afghanistan, as well.
So now that we have succeeded in Iraq, and we have succeeded, then we have to address the issue of Afghanistan. You know, I don't hype books very often, but I think in order to better understand the Afghanistan issue, I think you should read -- I recommend Ghost Wars. It's a very excellent Pulitzer Prize winning book. It gives us a lot of the history of what happened in Afghanistan, particularly after we helped the Freedom Fighters in Afghanistan eject Russia, and we just left completely, we stopped any involvement in Afghanistan, and the rest, as we say, is history. We must succeed there, in my view. If we leave, I think - or lose, I think it will have profound effect on not just Al Qaeda returning, but another lesson to people, particularly in the region and governance, as to whether the United States is going to stay or not when they come somewhere.
MR. GREGORY: The Soviets pulled out after ten years; are we doing any better than the Soviets?
SENATOR MCCAIN: Well, the Soviets came in because they wanted Afghanistan to be part of the Soviet Union, I mean that was their goal; obviously, we had a very different goal. The Soviets did not have the support of the people. The Taliban does not have the support of the Afghan people. The polls I saw, as low as 18 - 19 percent, only support - they don't want to go back to the Taliban. So the strategy is all about going into an area clear hold and providing an environment, as we did in Iraq, adjusted to the different demographics of Afghanistan, and a normal life begins.
We train up the Afghan Army, we try to reduce some of the corruption, which is, you know, is a terrible problem in Afghanistan, and it's not going to be easy. But I am convinced we could start to see signs of success in a year to 18 months.
MR. GREGORY: And if we don't at that point?
SENATOR MCCAIN: Well, then I think we'd have to make a decision at that time if we don't.
MR. GREGORY: Which would be a lighter footprint, withdraw completely?
SENATOR MCCAIN: You know, I can't because I don't know exactly which scenario we're talking about. But I know that, and you know, and people in this room know the American people are very weary, understandably they're very weary, they are sad by the tragic loss of American lives, and I understand that weariness.
And I think that there are times in history where leaders have stood up for what they needed to do in the best interest of the security of this country. Harry Truman -- everybody wanted out of Korea; what would the world look like today if Korea had been united under communists or, in that case, Chinese at that time, jurisdiction and influence? What would have happened if Abraham Lincoln had entered into negotiations with the confederacy, as he was urged to do at the darkest points of the war? What would have happened if Franklin Delano Roosevelt hadn't made some very tough decisions prior to World War II? They have to make the tough decisions.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about Iran. Now there's some conversations that are going to go on between this Administration and our allies in Iran. First off, given the experience in Iraq, why should the American people believe the claims that are being made by this Administration about the threat that Iran poses?
SENATOR MCCAIN: I think that what happened as far as Iraq is concerned, including General Powell's presentation to the National Security Council, has hurt America's credibility, it's just a fact. So there is understandable cynicism, and I understand that, but I also believe that it's pretty clear that the Iranians are bent on the development of nuclear weapons. And all of this, as you know, is complicated by the fact that the Israeli's do not have unlimited patience.
I'm not privy to the thinking of the Israeli's, but any nation that has a neighbor that is dedicated to its destruction, which Akmed Denishad states time after time, and is acquiring the capability to do so, not with a direct attack, but supplying a terrorist organization such as Hezbollah with one of these weapons poses an existential threat to Israel. Let me just make one other comment about Iran, if I could. There's great question as to the effectiveness of these sanctions, and whether the Russians and the Chinese will agree, I'm skeptical about both Russian and Chinese cooperation, but we ought to seek it, and I think the Administration is doing the right thing there.
But there's an element that's missing here, my friends, that we should remember and emphasize, and that is the rights of the Iranian people. The day that Madah bled to death in the street of Tehran, and it was broadcast all over the world, was the day that this regime was going to end, because we, the United States of America, are guided by politic, but we're also guided by - principals, and that is, we stand up for peoples human rights, and for decency, of not being oppressed, of not being killed, of not being brutalized and taken into prison and beaten in the streets of whatever city it is.
A key part of our policy towards Iran should be that this regime must change, and it will change, and we will give them the encouragement, not the military action, but the encouragement and the help ranging from helping them get internet penetration, to radio free Iran, to all of the other things we can do to emphasize the rights of the Iranian people.
MR. GREGORY: Well, let's be clear, you're not advocating -
SENATOR MCCAIN: No.
MR. GREGORY: -- regime change that the United States brings about, you're saying we stand on the sidelines, we apply pressure, we provide encouragement?
SENATOR MCCAIN: Yes.
MR. GREGORY: That sounds fairly passive.
SENATOR MCCAIN: Well, I think there's a certain lesson of history that is very important. Nathan Stransky says that after Ronald Reagan gave his speech, bring down this wall, that it spread like wildfire through the Gurah and was an inspiration; when we helped Leck Luenso and the Polish workers in Gadance. There's many examples of the encouragement and help and support that the United States of America has given to people who are struggling for freedom and democracy, and I think that that should be a key part of our policy towards Iran, and I think it's been MIA.
MR. GREGORY: Two questions before I turn it over to our audience here. Which part of Sarah Palin's book are you most looking forward to reading?
SENATOR MCCAIN: The part I'm looking forward to most is the part where it energized our campaign and it put us - selection put us ahead in the polls. The part I'm looking forward to least is some of the disagreements that took place within the campaign.
MR. GREGORY: When there was all that energy at the convention in particular, and not only were you thinking about victory, but I wonder if you thought at the time that perhaps the greatest gift you could have given with Sarah Palin to the party was its future; do you feel like you've done that?
SENATOR MCCAIN: It's funny you mention that. I hope I'm doing that by encouraging and advocating for specific candidates even if they are in primaries. I believe that I have an obligation to encourage the next generation of leadership, both that are in office now and those that are seeking office. And, yes, I think that Sarah Palin will play a significant role in the republican party in the future.
MR. GREGORY: Is she qualified to be President?
SENATOR MCCAIN: Oh sure; I mean when you say she'd be qualified, let me say, that's a judgment the American people make, but I'm very proud of her and proud to have her and her husband as not only friends, but, you know, and there is one reality, again, her selection energized our party, and that was a key element in putting us ahead in the polls.
Bill McInturff, my pollster, a highly respected pollster, will show you, and others will, we were three points ahead on the morning of September 15th. The stock market went down 700 points, we went down to minus seven. I understand that, I accept it. And again, the great honor in my life was the opportunity that I had to win the nomination of my party and to travel around this country and meet people like the ladies from -- Alabama to Dayton, Ohio to everywhere and it's -- as I say, I'm the most fortunate person that you have ever interviewed, and I'm very happy.
MR. GREGORY: Final question Senator. Recently had a good fortune to introduce my seven year old son to you while we were at the airport and he said to you immediately, he said Senator I have a lot of questions. And --
SENATOR MCCAIN: The apple didn't fall very far from the tree.
MR. GREGORY: But he said to you -- this wasn't exactly idol conversation. His first question was, what was it like to be a prisoner? But I was struck by how thoughtful your answer was, that was to a seven year old boy in a way that he was really able to absorb. And my question for you is, you think about future generations, what would you like them to take away from the experience you had as a prisoner of war and learn from?
SENATOR MCCAIN: Probably the importance of having people around you that inspire you, that lead you, and that give you -- enable you to do things you otherwise wouldn't be able to do. All of us have role models, all of us should have role models. Whether it be the social worker, or the -- whoever it is in life. All of us should have role models, and that was an intense experience obviously where sometimes I failed. But every time I did my comrades and my leaders picked me up and sent me back into the fight.
Whenever we fail in life, and we always do the key to it is not just to fail and then not try again. The key to it is, if you fail rely on others, rely on yourself, rely on the things you believe in, but particularly others and pick yourself up and go back into the arena.
MR. GREGORY: Senator thank you.
SENATOR MCCAIN: Thank you very much.
MR. GREGORY: So, we have a few minutes for your questions for Senator McCain. Go ahead.
SPEAKER: Good morning Senator. Can you hear me?
SENATOR MCCAIN: Yes.
MR. MARX: Richard Marx for the Aspen Wide Fellows. In your terming our experience in Iraq a success as you did, can we -- and there are many measurements of course for success, can we truly call this success while there are at least 2 million Iraqi citizens living in Syria, and Jordan, and outlying countries? And when would you expect that we could expect to see enough stability so the refugees could return to their country?
SENATOR MCCAIN: Well, I consider this success when Iraq will no longer pose a threat to the security of the United States number one. Number two I consider it a success when they have a society that is basically secure for its citizens. And there is a political process, a flawed one, but a political process going on . In fact, one of the major newspapers this morning talked about how different the Shai and Sunni are reaching across ethnic lines to try to build alliances and political parties. I believe they have a long way to go, and I understand why people are reluctant to come back.
There's still violence in Iraq as we speak, but I think it's a vastly different place then it was when we decided to change our strategy in Iraq. And so what I'm hopeful is that there will be government policies and increasing security, which will allow people to have the confidence to come back. This is a long way from a completed mission.
MR. MARX: I understand thank you Senator.
MR. KING: Hello Senator McCain, Nathan King Feature Story News. The theme of these next two days is first draft of history, and we're looking back on the last year and what we can learn. So, I'd be very interested to know what have you -- given you most regret in the last year? And what's given you most hope?
SENATOR MCCAIN: I regret in the domestic economy that I don't think we have taken the steps we should have to help our economy recover. Every expert now is saying that we are going to be plagued by high unemployment for a year or two to come. I think the commercial real estate market is the next shoe to drop. So, I think we have not implemented the policies that we should have, and we have laid an unsustainable debt on future generations of American's. We have committed generational theft. I regret that more than anything else.
But I'd also like to say that I appreciate the fact that the President of the United States has given a new tone or a very positive tone to countries all over the world. He has reached out his hand and said that we want to work with you, we want to be partners. And I think that he has given a lot of people in the world that the United States will be very helpful to them, and form alliances. At the same time I worry that we don't quite understand the nature of some of our adversaries. But again, rather than me spend time criticizing the President on Foreign Policy and National Security Policy, I want to find areas that we can work together.
MR. KING: Thank you.
SPEAKER: Hi Senator, I'm James Bradley an author. I want to press you a little on the military situation with Afghanistan. You said that the American people were very plugged in, and coming out to these Town Hall meetings, but I wonder if they are plugged because a trillion dollars for health care is generational theft, and we worry about it. A trillion dollars for military action is not even questions even though the -- or hardly questioned even though the military -- our military spending is by far the biggest part of our Federal Budget's.
And I'm wondering what the lesson -- what you feel the lesson was about Vietnam in terms of Afghanistan. When I was a young man I was supposed to be afraid about Vietnam falling. My daughter lives in downtown Saigon right now and enjoys it quite a bit. Why do we have to be in Afghanistan? I would think that if I had a cell phone and a few million dollars, I could wreak terrorist havoc, and that it's not a specific location that we don't have to take a certain part of Afghanistan to protect this country. So, I'd like to push you a little further on the amount of money we're borrowing from China to do these military operations that apparently when it's health care we can't afford it, but with military we can. And why are we really in Afghanistan?
SENATOR MCCAIN: If I thought a trillion dollars or two trillion dollars would really reform health care in America, I'd be for it. I think this conundrum here that they still can't get around no matter what is. You're not going to expand government without increasing costs. So, every time we turn around they say, okay we're going to do this, take care of these "uninsured" or have the government do this or do that it costs more. And yet they miss the point on health care in America.
The problem with health care in America is not the quality of care. The problem with health care in America is the cost of health care, and affordability, and availability. So, the differences I have with my democratic friends is they want to expand government. They want to expand these programs. Look, Medicare is going broke, it's going broke. In seven years it's going broke. Is that a system we want to copy? It's because costs are out of control. Medicare is a program we cannot abandon. But we need to fix it, and right now the costs are out of control.
As far as Afghanistan is concerned, again the lessons of history I think are important. Afghanistan after we drove the Russians out, and we went out away completely. There was warlord fighting, and then the Taliban came to power. The Taliban worked with Al Qaeda and they were the training camps for the attacks of 9/11. Now, I would appreciate that strategy of yours with the few million dollars and a cell phone. I'd like to know more about that. But the point is our best military minds, and our best strategist, and General Petraeus I cannot amongst them is one of the great General's in American history, say that we can employ the same strategy that we did in Iraq, adjust it to the different situation in Iraq -- excuse me in Afghanistan and we can succeed.
I am not ready to repeat what we did in the 1990's and after the Russian's left, and leave Afghanistan to the tender mercies of the Taliban/Al Qaeda. And by the way things are a lot better in Pakistan then people predicted a couple of months ago, when people were predicting that Pakistan government would fall. Karzai is corrupt and we have to address that, but in Iraq at the time Malachy didn't have control of his country pasted his cadre of security guards. Things were far worse in Iraq then they are in Afghanistan today.
And I guess finally we have a fundamental difference of view as to what our priorities are. My priority although the highest domestic priority right now maybe health care, and all the things associated with it. Our first priority should be national security. I don't believe we can preserve our nations security without addressing the issue of Afghanistan and not letting it return to the status that it was on September the 10th.
MR. GREGORY: We've got time for one more question.
SENATOR MCCAIN: Can we do two more?
MR. GREGORY: Okay.
MS. FORRESTER: You're enjoying this so much. Lynn Forrester de Rothschild. I'd like to go back to the question about bi-partisanship. Both your experience in the past and what you think the future of it is. One of the things I admired about you in 2008 was your history of working with Russ Feingold on campaign finance, Ted Kennedy on Immigration. But it seemed that in the election you got no credit for that from the democrats, nor the media. And you got smashed from your own party for that. And so what do you think --
SENATOR MCCAIN: Life isn't fair Jack Kennedy said.
MS. FORRESTER: Right, life's a bitch and yes. So, what do you think we had a candidate who talked a lot about bi-partisanship, but hadn't really lived it in his Senate life -- in his political life. And we don't see a lot of it right now. So, what do you say to your colleagues -- because -- about working together to solve problems, and what will it really mean for their careers? Since in a poll two-thirds of American's think members of Congress care more about their own careers than what's good for the country.
SENATOR MCCAIN: It's --
MS. FORRESTER: To get it.
SENATOR MCCAIN: Thanks Lynn, maybe after this health care debate will end at some point. Maybe we all ought to stand back and say okay, this has been a very bitter partisan battle, and we -- there's been some resolve. And why don't we -- for example on the issue on climate change now do things differently. Let's get together, sit down at the table, and have some real meaningful negotiations and discussion.
The President very badly would like to have something before the Copenhagen Meeting in December. Could we not at least agree on some things, and maybe modest legislation or modest measures that could be taken that would move us in that direction? I -- it -- but you know all politicians seek rewards in approval. And we have to have an environment where results would also get the approval of our constituents. And this goes back to the beginning of the conversation we had about polarization in this country.
So, I would hope that maybe after this health care debate ends, and thank God someday it will end. That we maybe start a fresh approach and if I were the President maybe call Boehner The Speaker, Harry Reid, and Mitch McConnell over to the White House and say, let's sit down and figure out an agenda that perhaps we can work on for the good of the country. And send that signal to the American people.
MR. GREGORY: I kind of held my ground on that one last question, and you said no let's do two. And I was firm I thought. One last question here.
MR. LEHNER: Thank you. Peter Lehner from the Natural Resources Defense Counsel. Senator you actually anticipated my question. You were a real leader in the last Congress on climate change, sponsoring the bill that was moving. What do you see your role in particular for a climate bill in the future? Hopefully soon.
SENATOR MCCAIN: I would be glad to be engaged in it. Let me say though that the reason why the House Bill got the reputation for capping taxes, because indeed that's what it is. The President's budget called for $630 billion dollars in increased revenues as a result of cap and trade. I never envisioned that it would be a source of revenue. I envisioned it a way for us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, number one.
Number two is that you cannot get there without nuclear power. Now, wind and solar will provide between now and 2050 as far as renewable energy is concerned. Somewhere around 20-30 percent add biofuels if you want to. It can be a few more percentage. Nuclear power is the only way you're going ot get there. This bill that just came out yesterday by Senator Kerry and Senator Boxer, nothing about nuclear power in it. The Secretary of Energy said, we cannot recycle, spent nuclear fuel, and we can't store it. So, what are you going to do? And now they're talking about demonstrations projects. What do you have to demonstrate? That the Germans and the -- excuse me that the British and the French, and the Japanese all recycle spent nuclear fuel? That nuclear power isn't -- over time the least expensive and least greenhouse gas emitting sources of energy? What do you have to demonstrate?
They -- it's a left wing environmental organizations that they're tied to, that are not allowing us to move forward with nuclear power. I'm not going to be part of any agreement that I know is not going to succeed in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and that means it has to be nuclear power. We need to build 100 nuclear power plants in the next 20 years. We have to, otherwise we're not going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The only country in Europe that really meets their greenhouse gas emission standards are the French. 80 percent of the French energy -- electricity is generated by nuclear power. So what are we doing up here? Nothing, and that to me is an offense to my intellect, and to what we need to do for the American people on greenhouse gas emissions.
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