We also covered his announcement of his trip to Columbia and his reaction to Joe Klein’s attack on Joe Lieberman’s “divided loyalties,” which Senator McCain termed “disgraceful.”
UPDATE: The transcript:
HH: Joined now by United States Presidential Candidate, Senator John McCain. Senator McCain, welcome to Orange County, California, great to have you in the state and in the county.
JM: Well, thank you, Hugh. It’s good to be back with you, and thanks for all you do. These are interesting times. [# More #]
HH: Interesting times. In fact, Joe Klein of Time Magazine wrote today, Senator, “I happily acknowledge that I was wrong about the surge.” USA Today remarks on the string of successes in Basra, Mosul, Sadr City and Amara. And it seems as though you’ve been vindicated in this support, Senator. Do you expect to hear that from your opponent?
JM: I hope to hear it from Senator Obama. He has never asked for a briefing from General Petraeus. I hope that he wouldn’t take my word for it, but I think someone who wants to be commander in chief ought to at least sit down with the commander in the field. And I also note that it’s been nearly 900 days since he has visited Iraq. And as recently as a few days ago, he said that the success of the surge was all “spin,” an incredible degree of na?vet?.
HH: You announced today your intention to go to Colombia to stand with President Uribe, and to endorse the free trade agreement, great idea on both parts. Should Senator Obama also visit Colombia to see what’s going on down there, both in the war and in terms of the free trade?
JM: I hope that he would, Hugh. This is a president, as you know, Uribe, that took over the presidency when they had pursued a failed policy of appeasement to the FARC. And they were close to being a failed nation, a failed state. And he has, at great personal risk, and also to enormous sacrifice on the part of the people that have served that country, they’ve beaten back the FARC. Now the FARC is not defeated, but they’ve certainly beaten them back pretty seriously, and they’ve asked for free trade between the United States and Colombia. And this is not a philanthropic issue in my view. The FARC was engaged in protecting the cocaine traffickers, and exporting it to the United States of America. It’s caused serious corruption problems in Mexico and the countries along the way, as you know, and I believe that Uribe is a friend of ours who should be rewarded. And by the way, I think free trade, and finally, you know that the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, won’t even allow a vote on the free trade agreement with Colombia. I think it’s disgraceful. It sends the wrong signal to friends and enemies alike in the hemisphere if we don’t do that. And I appreciate President Uribe very much.
HH: One of the dictators that Senator Obama said he’d sit down with without preconditions is Hugo Chavez across the border from Colombia in Venezuela. How great of a menace to United States interests is Hugo Chavez? And do you think it’s a wise idea to be sitting down with him?
JM: Well of course, as you know, originally, Senator Obama’s been pretty good at changing some of his positions lately. But he said he would sit down with Chavez, Castro and Ahmadinejad without any preconditions, I mean, lending prestige to all of them. Particularly in the case of Chavez, I think that he is a threat to America’s security in the region. He’s worked very closely with Castro. He has various significant evidence in the FARC computer files that show he was supporting FARC in a lot of ways. I have some belief that people of Venezuela are rejecting a lot of this extremist behavior on the part of Chavez. As you know, they turned down what was an attempt to make himself president for life, and some other policies of his. But I think he’s, I think he poses a threat of exploiting many of the contradictions in the region. And one of the reasons why the contradictions are there is we don’t open our markets to goods and services of theirs, and vice versa.
HH: Senator McCain, I want to go back to the war. From the time you entered Annapolis through your retirement in ’81, there were seven different presidential elections, two of them, in fact, when you were a POW, ’68 and ’72. From that experience, how attentive are the troops to what is said during these campaigns? And do the candidates have any particular obligations to the troops in combat zones as they conduct these presidential campaigns?
JM: I think that the troops do pay close attention, and they are able to keep up with great rapidity now thanks to the internet and thanks to the miracles of modern telecommunications. I’ll bet you that there’s a number of them that listen to the Hugh Hewitt program with great regularity. So they do pay attention, and I think that all of us should encourage the absentee ballot program, so that even if they’re serving in harm’s way, they have an opportunity to take part in our most precious right. And so I believe that we should not be partisan, and not campaign, and not ask them to be involved politically. But I’m sure they’re paying attention to who’s going to be their next commander in chief.
HH: Do you think our enemies are paying attention as well, Senator McCain?
JM: Oh, I know they do. I know they do. You and I know they do, Hugh. Some of the communications that have come from some of the worst people in the world indicate they’re very aware of the political situation. You and I can go back, way back, a lot of our listeners don’t recall, but Ho Chi Minh once said that he wasn’t going to win the war in the battlefields of South Vietnam. He was going to win it in the streets of Chicago, New York and San Francisco. That’s not an exact quote, but it’s very close. One of our generals once said to Vo Nguyen Giap, we’ve won every battle in war in South Vietnam. And Vo Nguyen Giap’s response was, that was the North Vietnamese commander, he said yeah, but that’s irrelevant. So I think it’s very important that they know the importance of our elections. And I’m not saying that they’re taking sides, but I know that they pay attention to our elections.
HH: Let’s get back to the election. Senator Obama gave his word on public financing. He broke it. He promised to meet you anytime, anywhere and debate. And you said fine, let’s go at it every week, and he’s backed out of that. Has he got a credibility gap growing here, Senator?
JM: Oh, yeah, and he changed his tune about sitting down with the dictators, and he changed his tune…he said he was opposed to nuclear power, and then he said that he was not a proponent of it, and today, he said we ought to explore it. It’s amazing. He said that he would unilaterally renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, and then went to North Carolina and said I’m for free trade. And so I think he’s going to be held accountable over time, because he obviously has changed his positions rather dramatically. I hope he will change his position on the war in Iraq, and recognize that his plan, which would have been setting dates for withdrawal, and they would have been withdrawn long ago, if his original proposal had been adhered to, and that that would have meant chaos and genocide in the region, and a wider war, a wider war that would entail the increasing influence of Iran, and a greater threat to the state of Israel in my view. And we are succeeding, as you just mentioned, and I appreciate the fact that Joe Klein said that. I think it shows that he’s a very decent person.
HH: Well, Joe also said, speaking of Israel, I want to quote him here, “the fact that a great many Jewish neoconservatives, people like Joe Lieberman and the crowd over at Commentary, plump for this war, and now an even more foolish assault on Iran raise the question of divided loyalties-using U.S. military power, U.S. lives and money to make the world safe for Israel.” You know, I like Joe a lot, too, Senator. But that divided loyalty is one of the oldest slanders on Jewish-Americans, especially against your friend and a great American, Joe Lieberman. That’s just…do you have a reaction to that?
JM: Oh, I think it’s…you know, after acknowledging, which I had not read his column, by the way, but after acknowledging, appreciating his acknowledgement that we are winning in Iraq, that’s just disgraceful. That’s an old saw. We have a lot of things we can do, but the fact is, we have a lot of things we can do to try to affect Iranian behavior. But we cannot allow a second holocaust. We all know that. We all know that. And so, I reject that statement on its face.
HH: Last question, Senator. About your nuclear plans for 45 new plants, and congrats on that, by the way, Obama said today that it’s not serious, it’s not new, it’s not the kind of energy policy that will give families the relief they need. Your reaction, Senator McCain? We’ve got about a minute.
JM: Dr. No, Dr. No, Dr. No. Of course, I think the states should decide on off-shore drilling. The governor of Florida said he thought it was a good idea. Governor Schwarzenegger said it wasn’t. Let’s let the people decide. But I think we ought to move forward with that. We’ve got to do nuclear, wind, tide, solar. We’ve got to do everything. We’ve got to restore trust and confidence in government. We’ve got to fix this gas problem. It’s hurting low income and fixed income Americans the most. We can fix it, we can do it. Hugh, we can do it. Americans put people on the Moon. We can do this, and we’ve got to give Americans hope and optimism. And we can give them immediate relief on the gas tax, but we can let the world know that we will become independent of foreign oil. And that will have an effect, I believe, on the price of oil, if they know that we’re dead serious, and we’re going to do it. America can do it, and we must do it.
HH: Senator John McCain, always a pleasure. Thanks, Senator, enjoy your time in California.