It was a bumper day for John McCain when on Friday Donald Trump’s Republican nemesis gloated as Trump’s “art of the deal” collapsed in the last minute, after the President and Ryan-led effort to repeal Obamacare suffered what appears to be a terminal setback. In the wake of Trump’s misfortune, McCain renewed his calls on Friday for a return to a legacy neocon status quo, when speaking at the Brussels forum, said that the world “cries out for American and European leadership” through the EU and Nato, and said that the EU and the US needed to develop “more cooperation, more connectivity”.
In a “new world order under enormous strain” and in “the titanic struggle with forces of radicalism … we can’t stand by and lament, we’ve got to be involved,” said McCain who is now chairman of the armed services committee in the US Senate, quoted by the EU Observer. “I trust the EU,” he said, defending an opposite view from that of US president Donald Trump, who said in January that the UK “was so smart in getting out” of the EU and that Nato was “obsolete”. He said that the EU was “one of the most important alliances” for the US and that the EU and Nato were “the best two sums in history”, which have maintained peace for the last 70 years.
Further attacking Trump’s global worldview, McCan said that “we need to rely on Nato and have a Nato that adjusts to new challenges.” He noted that “the EU has too many bureaucrats, not much bureaucracy,” but added that “it’s not the only place on earth with that problem.” He said that he was “still wondering what the overall effect of Brexit will be” and that he did not know “if this is the beginning of a serious problem for the EU”. McCain did not disagree, however, with Trump’s demand that European countries increase their defense spending for Nato.
McCain also revealed he hasn’t met the President Donald Trump in person since he took office, and he urged Trump to reach out to his opponents—Democratic and otherwise—ala Ronald Reagan if he wants to repeal Obamacare. “Do some outreach. Get to know some of these Democratic leaders,” he said. “You can find common ground.” McCain said he’d met Trump “some years ago” when he was a businessman, but had not met him since. McCain said he did speak “almost daily” to National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, however.
“He doesn’t seem to be that upset that he’s not talking to him,” said German Marshall Fund’s Derek Chollet, a former Obama Pentagon official. “He’s trying to run U.S. defense policy through Mattis and effectively ignore Trump.”
That said, McCain also said it was “too early” to pass judgment on his presidency, although his series of critical comments in recent weeks have demonstrated his growing skepticism about the Trump administration.
Furthermore, while McCain said he was “very pleased” by Trump’s picks for his national security team – despite suggesting that they were being bypassed by more ideological and less competent people – he took the opportunity to attack Trump’s decisionmaking, saying “the question is: who does the president listen to, who drives the tweets at 6 in morning?”, he said.Asked whether he thought that “Russia owns a significant part of the White House,” he said: “I don’t worry about that.”
The unspoken suggestion: Russia.
What worries McCain, he said, was “the Russian role in our elections”, even if he admitted that he has seen “no evidence they succeeded” in affecting the outcome of last year’s US vote. Noting that Russia was now trying to influence elections in France and in Germany, he said that if it succeeded it would be “a death warrant for democracy”.
“It’s an act of destruction that is certainly more lethal than dropping some bombs,” he insisted. McCain, a Russia hawk, said that Putin wanted to restore the Russian empire: “He wants the Baltics, he has taken Crimea, he’s been in Ukraine.”
“These are KBG thugs, my friends,” he said, referring to the former Russian spy service for which Putin used to work. He added that the US needed to “respond accordingly”. He said however that there was “nothing wrong” if Trump met Putin.
“I’m not against meeting,” he said, reminding the Brussels forum that US presidents met Soviet leaders during the Cold War. But he added that “the best way to go to a meeting is with a strong hand” and that was not the case for the US right now.