The Aspen Institute hosts Republican Presidential candidate John McCain as a featured speaker at a special installment of the McCloskey Speaker Series. The series is made possible by a gift from the McCloskey Family Charitable Foundation.
Senator John S. McCain III
John Sidney McCain III is the senior United States Senator from Arizona. He was the Republican nominee for president in the 2008 United States election.
Good afternoon. I am Bill Mayer; I am Chairman of the Board. It is my pleasure tointroduce a great American that you all know, Senator John McCain, who dedicated hisentire life to service to the US Government first in the Navy which he retired in 1981,elected to the Congress in 82', to the Senate in 86' and now a presidential candidate torun our country. A very unusual man, we share something in common. I flew in the AirForce in the 60s. I was very lucky my plane wasn't shot down and I think in reading hisbook and his memoirs about that experience is very powerful influence on his life.Just yesterday John released a new book called "Hard Call". If there is any mistake, youwould [0:02:01] ____ for sales of this book. We will be selling copies of the book here. Itliterally just came out yesterday; it's a very interesting book. It's a compilation of the hardcalls various people have made and it's been separated into sections; inspiration,foresight, judgment. And under foresight he talks about Winston Churchill at the eve ofthe Second World War and so it's quite a powerful book and I would urge you all to readit. Senator is going to have some comments and then I think I will ask the first questionand we will do Q & A from the audience. Senator McCain.Thank you Bill thank you very much Bill, thank you Bill for your kind introduction,thank you for your stewardship of this wonderful organization. This is not the first timeI've had the opportunity to visit this beautiful area, but also the Aspen Institute and youand Walter Isaacson I think have done a magnificent job. This has become a center ofthought and discussion and dialogue that's needed throughout the United States ofAmerica. So thank you Bill for your kind introduction and it's nicer than the one Ireceived at the Scottsdale Rotary Club, where the guy said here's the latest dope fromWashington, Senator John McCain. So thank you for that.Yesterday I yesterday I started out in Beaufort, South Carolina and at a town hallmeeting there. By the way if you've never been to Beaufort, South Carolina, it's one ofthe really lovely cities in America and then I flew to I where were I made anappearance at the Iowa State Fair, where I met a pig named Big Red who happens toweigh 1,203 pounds, an incredible experience. Runner up and only 1,197 was Corn Dogand so it gave me a chance of course to see real pork-barrel spending and have a chanceto look at lot of the a lot of the pork and then I went to Sun Valley where we had anevent there and came here this afternoon. Cindy and I are here and we I always lovebeing back here.I do spent time in California. As you know, they have stolen Arizona's water. And in factwe have so little water in Arizona that the trees chase the dogs. But I was doing an eventrecently with Governor Schwarzenegger and of course he and I have many similarattributes as you can tell. So over there in over there in California and we went thisevent we had to deal with climate change and trying to enact green technologies andanyway there is always protesters in California. No matter what the event, there is alwaysprotesters. I walked by here is this great big tall guy, muscular guy and he says, "Hey",he said "has anybody ever tell you, you look a lot like Senator John McCain?". I said"Yeah." And he said "Don't it just make you mad as hell?" So well thank you for foryour kind kind words. And by the way I would also like to thank all of you who arekind enough to spend some time in the winter with us in Arizona on behalf of theChamber of Commerce, I would like to thank you. And I would like to ask your sympathyfor the families of the State of Arizona because Barry Goldwater from Arizona ran forPresident of United States, Morris Udall from Arizona ran for President of United States.Bruce Babbitt from Arizona ran for President of United States. I from Arizona ran forPresident of United States. Arizona may be the only state in America where mothersdon't tell their children that someday they can grow up and be the President of the United States.I had a beloved friend named Morris Udall who ran in 1976 against Jimmy Carter and hisjoke has been stolen by every presidential candidate and he said he walked into a barbershop in Manchester, New Hampshire and said "Hi, I am Morris Udall from Arizona and Iam running for President of United States". The barber said "Yeah we were just laughingabout that this morning." We had a we had a very similar experience when I first ran in1999; we were at three percent approval in a poll that had a five percent margin of error.So we could have been at minus two when we began and we were proud of our campaignin 2000. In fact after I lost in South Carolina to President Bush in the primary, I slept likea baby. I sleep two hours, wake up and cry, sleep two hours, wake up and cry. Andanyway, but these are very interesting times and the most enjoyable part of a gatheringlike this is for you to ask questions and make comments and an occasional insult thatmight come to mind. And so I would like to make just very brief remarks about threeissues - just three. And then I would like to respond to questions or comments. Againthanks for coming today and thank you for your involvement in the institute, thank youfor your involvement and engagement of the issues of the day, thank you for contributingto the dialogue on a variety of issues that are challenging our nation, and these are verychallenging times.My friends I am running for president of United States because I believe the transcendentchallenge of the 21st Century is the threat of radical Islamic extremism. I believe it's here,I believe it's a multi hydra headed I believe that the challenge is going to be with usthrough out the 21st Century. If right after 9/11, we had been having a discussion in theUnited States by the way there are going to be some doctors, some doctors in Scotlandwho become so radicalized that they will become suicide bombers and wanted to destroythe Airport in Glasgow, Scotland, you would have said that that's unlikely. If you wouldhave said that there is some kids that grew up in London and are soccer fans that went toMosques and got the message and got on the internet and became suicide bombers youwould have thought that was unlikely. Our stereotype of the radical Islamic extremist isthe kid standing on a street corner in Islamabad with no hope, no job, no opportunity, noeducation, are taken in the madrasas, brainwashed and become suicide bombers. That'sstill happening. In fact the majority of suicide bombers that are coming into Iraq today areSaudis. In case you didn't know that I am I am sure that most of you did.But the fact is we've got to win this struggle militarily, diplomatically, intelligence, butideologically. And the greatest struggle where we are not doing it, what nearly what weshould is ideologically. Today millions of people are watching Al Jazeera. Today millionsand 100s of millions get on the internet and they get the message latest message fromOsama Bin Laden or Zawahiri or one of the radical extremists, they can they can goonline and see the picture of an American Humvee being blown up by an IED. We are notdoing what we should in cyber space. And I am glad that we have got people in this roomwho are engaged in making cyber space a far more available and accessible to allpeople. But we as an American as Americans and those who believe in thefundamentals of freedom and democracy are going to have to do a lot better job becausethat's where I think the ideological struggle is been waged. My friends we didn't win theCold War by a tank battle in Europe with the Soviet then Soviet Union. We won itbecause we had the message of hope and freedom and democracy for people all over theworld and that's what prevailed eventually. And this struggle that we are in, is going torequire us marshalling every resource, every bit of intelligence, to fight back the forcesthat are want to destroy everything we stand for and believe in. That's why I am runningfor president because and I am prepared to do that.Now I would like to just mention with to you; climate change. My friends, you can feelit today. It's real. 20 years ago it probably would have been 20 degrees cooler in this tent.The fact is climate change is real. The debate should have been over long ago and thequestion is what are we going to do about it. I'd like to quote Tony Blair, a man who I'vegrown to admire enormously, "The question is suppose all of us are wrong who believethat climate change is real and all we do is develop green technologies and reducegreenhouse gas emissions, then we will have a far better world to hand to our children.But suppose we are right and do nothing suppose we are right about climate change anddo nothing about it, then what kind of a planet we are going to hand to our children andour grand children." And my friends, the debate should have been over. The question isare we are going to do the things necessary, including an international agreement toreduce greenhouse gas emissions which includes China and India and must includinggoing to alternate energy sources because it's now a national security issue as well asclimate change issue. We are too dependant oil. We all we all know that. Look around theworld where we get our oil, starting with Venezuela and you will find that ourdependence on foreign and imported oil is very shaky in many parts of the world.So we need to have a cap-and-trade. Joe Lieberman and I have tried to get through theSenate on four different occasions; a cap-and-trade of emissions which is a capitalistexcuse me enterprise oriented way of reducing greenhouse gases. Nuclear power has tobe part of any solution. You know our good friends, the French 80 percent of theirelectricity is generated by nuclear power. We always imitate the French as you know andso by the way on my last trip to Iraq, I came back and I stopped in Paris on the wayback and met the new President of France and as you know he is pro American, whichshows you that if you live long enough any thing is possible in this world. And by theway I think it may be he might be the first pro American leader since [0:12:34] ____. I amsure but so so we have to address it and we have to make Americans aware that this is atwo prong problem. One, we have to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and we mustgive our kids a better and cleaner world than the one that we are presently on track to livein if we if we believe that we are here not only on this earth to do good while we arehere but to pass off to generations in the future, a better world.Now I would like to talk to you about spending very quickly. A lot of us are very keenlyaware, us Republicans as well as Democrats are keenly aware that we lost the lastelection. We lost the last election partly due to the frustration and anger about Iraq andthat's true. But the major reason why we Republicans didn't do the things that we shouldhave done is because of spending. We allowed spending to get completely out of control.We Republicans came to power in 1994 to change government and government changedus. We have former members of Congress today who are Republicans who are in federalprison. If that's not corruption, then I don't know what the hell is. And we should beashamed and embarrassed. And we should be apologizing to our constituents. My friends,not long ago we spent $3 million to study the DNA of bears in the Montana. I don't knowif that's a criminal issue or a paternity issue but the fact is it was your money the fact is it is your money.In 1987 Ronald Reagan vetoed the then Highway Bill and he said, "I haven't seen thismuch portions. I gave out blue ribbons at the Iowa State Fair. He vetoed the Highway Billat a 152 of these earmarked projects on it. Two years ago the President of United Statessigned a bill that had 6140 earmarked projects on it, it was too big and billion of yourmoney of your money. So what happens now? By the way Ronald Reagan also used tosay he used to say "Congress spends money like a drunken sailor, only I've neverknown a sailor drunk or sober with the imagination of members of Congress" and that's apretty that's a pretty cute line and it goes over pretty good. I find it mostly atRepublican Women's Club meetings. But the fact is the fact is about three months agoI am not making this up about three months ago, I got an email from a guy that said,"As a former drunken sailor I resent being compared to members of Congress." So so Idon't blame him I don't blame the guy. So so the point is my friends that it gets fromthe ludicrous to the tragic.Now we all know about the collapse of the bridge over the Mississippi river and ourhearts goes out to the victims and those who are who are still missing. My friends200,000 people a day went over that bridge - 200,000 people a day. In this Pork-barrelBill that I am talking about that they passed, the $2 billion in pork, there was not onepenny for bridge inspection and repair, not one penny - not one penny. My friends thetipping point on this issue and there is tipping points in sports, there is tipping points inlife, there is tipping points in politics and we can all point them out. The tipping pointwas, on the front page, a parade, the insert of everybody every Sunday newspaper justabout in America was the picture of a bridge going off in the mist. It was the bridge tonowhere in Alaska. A $233 million bridge to an island with 50 people on it - $233million. Don't you think we should have taken some of that $233 million and put it tobridge repair or bridge inspection at least? We are now finding out there are thousandsand thousands of bridges all over America that need repair and certainly many more ofthem need inspection. Now finally I would like to so as President of the United Statesfirst Pork-barrel Bill that comes across my desk, I would veto it and I will make the officeof those pork-barrel projects famous and you will know their names you will know theirnames, I promise you.Iraq my friends the war in Iraq was terribly mishandled for a long period of time. Irailed against the strategy I said I had no confidence in the Secretary of Defense, Mr.Rumsfeld. I said that we needed a strategy such as the one we are employing now. AndAmericans are saddened and they are frustrated and they are angry. And their patiencewas pretty long their patience was pretty good. And now we have a new strategy and wehave a new General and I am proud to tell you, we are succeeding we are succeeding.Now will you always have for a long time are we going to have this terrible suicidebombers? Yes, ask the Israelis how hard it is to defend against suicide bombers, becauseas long as people are willing to give up their lives and in order to take others you arefacing an enormous challenge. And so we are going to see that. But I can guarantee youthat in Anbar Province, there has been a dramatic turnaround. I am sure that many of youare aware of the O'Hanlon and Pollack piece, that was in The New York Times thatstirred such a huge outcry amongst the liberals and those who have declared defeat andthat we should go home. In Ramadi they went downtown Ramadi which without bodyarmor and with a few soldiers. My friends, six months ago Ramadi was a shootinggallery. Ramadi was Fort Apache.We are succeeding there. In Baghdad today, in 53 neighborhoods there are American andIraqi soldiers out there 24 hours a day. They are on patrol 24/7, they are in theneighborhoods and they are providing an environment of security for the people there sothat the economic social and political process can move forward. What's the bad news?The bad news is of course the Maliki Government is not functioning effectively, andthey have got to. And the police are corrupt. You still have problems with the corruptpolice Shiite dominated police. But we are succeeding and I believe that Patreaus isgoing to come back and we are going to start a great debate, my friends, on the floor ofthe United States Senate. It would be a historic debate, because I am convinced that if weset a date for withdrawal and by the way ask the people who are for or against goinginto this conflict as to whether the date for withdrawal would do anything but causedisaster, ask Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, Zbig Brzezinski, General Zinni ask anyof them, setting a date for withdrawal is a date for catastrophe and genocide.So let me just let me just also make one additional point. Please, the next time you lookat a map of the Middle East, look where Iraq sits and look at the countries around it. Thatgreat philosopher and Center for the Boston Celtics and a great hero of mine, Bill Russellonce said "When things go bad, things go bad." And right after the initial success of ourinvasion the Iranians couldn't have been more co-operative, the Syrians were scared todeath because they have assassinated the former Prime Minister of Lebanon, Hariri, andwe were dominant in the region and things were fine. And then things started to go downhill in Iraq and we know where we are today. Now look at the region and what happens asa result of failure in Iraq. The Saudis will have to will feel compelled to help Sunnis,the Turks will not allow an independent Kurdish state. They have already said they won'tallow it. Look at Syria emboldened again as they try to destabilize a democraticgovernment in Lebanon. Look at Southern Lebanon and the threat that has below, theyopposes to the state of Israel. Look at Gaza where Hamas, a terrorist organization is nowin control by the way proving that elections don't necessarily mean democracy. Look atAfghanistan and Pakistan. My friends, if Musharraf goes, and is the victim of anoverthrow by an Islamic government, you think we have got problems in Afghanistannow. Think and contemplate that. So it's the region we have to worry about as well as the situation in Iraq.Now I would like to to just to end up by reminding you of one good thing. And by theway, I am confident we will win, I am confident we will never surrender and I amconfident that they will, because I've had the great honor and privilege of associating withthe young men and women who are serving our nation. They are the best we've ever had.They are the most professional they are the most professional, they are the bravest, theyare the best equipped and they are the best trained. And no matter how anybody here feelsabout this war and we are entitled to our views, at least thank god all Americans are insupport of them and I am continued to be gratified by a brief story.About three months ago I was asked to be present at the awarding of the Purple Heart to ayoung man by the name of Mark Robbins. Mark Robbins is a First Class Petty Officer inthe Navy SEAL team members and the ceremony was at a Naval Hospital, his family wasthere, some of his SEAL team members and I was honored to be there. I know that youknow that the Purple Heart was originated by the George Washington as the only medalwe give for someone who is wounded in combat with the enemy. That was not the firsttime that I had met Mark Robbins. The first time I met with him was a couple was threeweeks earlier, I had been on my way back from a trip to Iraq. I stopped at Ramstein AirForce Base, we re-fueled there and I went over to Landstuhl, the hospital where thewounded from Iraq and Afghanistan are taken, treated and then send on to Walter Reedand Bethesda. I walked into his hospital room and less than 48hours, before I walked intohis room less than 48 hours, Mark Robbins and his SEAL team members had been in avicious fire fight outside of the city of Baghdad, with Al Qaeda. In the course of thisfight, an Al Qaeda guy had stood with a rocket propelled grenade and was about to fire itand probably would have wounded or killed some of his comrades. He stood, fired andkilled the Al Qaeda guy. In the course of it Mark Robbins took an AK 47 bullet in hisright eye, it followed the curvature of his skull and exited at the back of his skull.He was asleep, I said to his friend who was there to tell him thanks. I went down the hall.His friend Petty Officer Swink came to see me and said "Mark wants to see you." I cameback into his hospital room; he said I got to sit up. He sat up by the way after he wasshot in the eye in that bullet, he walked to the helicopter he walked to the helicopterincredible. Anyway he sat up, he said "I got to sit up" he sat up in his hospital bed andhe grabbed hold of my hand and he said, "Senator McCain, thank you thank you forcoming to see me, thank you for your support." And then he said, he squeezed my handtightly and he said, "Senator McCain, we can win this fight we can win this fight."Well, my friends it's going to be tough and long and hard but I am inspired by youngAmericans like Mark Robbins and the belief that we can win this fight too. Thanks verymuch and I will be glad to answer any questions that you might have.