US Senator John McCain says he is disappointed with his party’s presidential candidate for sidestepping world affairs in his campaign for the White House, but reserves his most scathing words for the current dweller, blaming US President Barack Obama for inaction while the situation in Syria and elsewhere “cries out for American leadership.”
In an interview with The Associated Press in Italy on Saturday, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate criticized the man who won that election for not aiding rebels in Syria, abandoning Iraq and Afghanistan and delaying tough decisions on Iran’s nuclear program.
“In a way it’s almost like watching a train wreck,” he said about failing to stem Iran’s nuclear efforts.
What does the senator from Arizona make of the notable absence of such talk at last month’s Republican National Convention that nominated Mitt Romney and focused mostly on the economy? The famous straight-talker was cautiously bipartisan.
“Yup, it was” absent, he said. “The election is about jobs and the economy, but a failed ... national security policy over time is going to lead to significant domestic problems.”
“It’s the job of presidents and candidates to lead and articulate their vision for America’s role in the world. The world is a more dangerous place than it’s been since the end of the Cold War and so I think the president should lead and I think candidates for the presidency should lead and talk about it and I’m disappointed that there hasn’t been more,” he said.
McCain is visiting Italy’s Ambrosetti Forum, an annual gathering of political and business leaders, together with two fellow senators — independent Joe Lieberman and Republican Lindsay Graham — following a tour that took them through the Middle East.
On Friday, addressing the plenum, the trio of self-styled mavericks won European fans by criticizing the dysfunction in US politics, then challenged their audience with a call for far greater US activism in the Middle East — particularly aiding Syria’s rebels and on Iran.
McCain said sanctions almost never work, Lieberman said the “red line” should be weapons capability and not the actual creation of a weapon and Graham said the US should make it clear that if Iran pressed on it faced a “massive attack” from the US and not Israel, a scenario which he said Iran’s leaders know they could not survive.
McCain cut a somewhat wistful figure at the proceedings — disarmingly accessible yet gravely ominous, a smiling, hard-headed reminder of what might have been.
In the interview he said how he would have done things differently, criticized Obama for pulling troops out of Iraq and telegraphing an intention of ending military operations in Afghanistan by 2014.
“I would have left a residual force of some 20,000 troops in Iraq,” he said. “Things are unraveling” in a way that threatens to yield a “fractured state” divided among Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish regions, under the sway of al-Qaeda and out of the US orbit — “all the things we predicted would happen if we pulled out completely.”
He was equally dire on Afghanistan, where NATO headquarters in the capital, Kabul, was struck on Saturday by a suicide bombing that killed six and was claimed by the Taliban.
“I know that the Afghan people strongly disapprove of a Taliban [return], but I think it’s pretty obvious they know the Americans are leaving and they have to adjust to the post-American involvement environment and that means accommodating the certain forces that they otherwise wouldn’t.”