Speaking at a day-long gathering sponsored by the new conservative/neocon foreign policy shop the Foreign Policy Initiative this morning, Sen. John McCain said that he is concerned about the isolationist tendencies of some his incoming Congressional Republican colleagues, and made some very pointed remarks about the Russian government.
Speaking with the Brookings Institution’s Robert Kagan, McCain said that “I worry, I worry a lot,” about his new Republican colleagues in Congress when it comes to their attitudes toward the war in Afghanistan and the ongoing mission in Iraq. He singled out “I think there are going to be some tensions within our party,” he said, “and I don’t know incoming Senator Rand Paul—I respect him, I admire his victory—but already he is talking about withdrawals, and cuts in defense, and a number of others are [as well.]”
Paul, who has said that he hasn’t thought much about the war in Afghanistan and that “can we say that gradually we don't need as large of an Army if we're not in two wars? Yes, I think you can say that. You can save money there,” is a bit of an unknown on where exactly he stands on defense issues. But he is clearly making some Republicans nervous.
But it isn’t just Paul that McCain is concerned about. He seems wary of the entire crop of Tea Party-endorsed Republicans currently making their way to D.C. for their freshman orientation. “There’s no doubt that this new group of Republicans have come in with a commitment to take an axe to spending,” McCain continued. “I’m not sure that you could say, ok, everything in defense is sacrosanct, while the rest of these cuts in education and social programs are taking place, so I worry a lot about the rise of protectionism and isolationism in the Republican party.”
The sparks really started flying when the subject turned to Russia, an issue McCain is obviously passionate about. He provocatively called Russian prime minister Vladmir Putin “the puppeteer” with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev being “the puppet,” and held forth at length about Russia’s failings. McCain dubbed “outrageous” Russia’s “continued occupation of Georgia” which he said is in “gross violation of the ceasefire” negotiated by French president Sarkozy, while the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as sovereign nations “is a gross affront to everything we believe about international boundaries.” For all of this outrage, McCain said he doesn’t see a return to the Cold War any time soon, due mostly to the fact that he doesn’t think “the Russians are capable of reigniting it, but the continued descent into dictatorship and autocracy and abuse of human rights … the assassinations of media people and the incredible crushing of dissent in Chechnya. Let’s just recognize Russia and Putin for what they are and act accordingly.”
Well, good thing he doesn’t see the Cold War starting back up any time soon….