In audio obtained by the Guardian of the 2008 presidential nominee speaking at the congressional retreat in Philadelphia, the Arizona senator said “we don’t have a policy and we don’t have a strategy” for Russian cyber warfare. He said “it is the one aspect of our confrontation where I believe our adversaries are ahead of us”, adding “it is a hell of a lot of easier to offense in cyber than defense”.
France is holding its first round of presidential elections in April and far right nationalist Marine Le Pen is leading in opinion polls. Le Pen’s party, the National Front, is currently facing scrutiny over its ties to Russian banks and she has insisted that Russia’s occupation of Crimea was legitimate. The 2014 invasion of Crimea drew international condemnation and led to international sanctions against Russia.
McCain, who stated matter of factly that “we do know the Russians were trying to influence the outcome of our election”, also warned that he “didn’t know” what Trump’s policy was towards Russia. The hawkish McCain described Putin as “a KGB criminal” and suggested Ronald Reagan’s approach to Russia of “peace through strength” was the appropriate template today.
McCain broadly took a pessimistic view of foreign affairs in 2017. “I could make a coherent, cogent argument that the world is more dangerous than any time in the last 70 years,” said MCain, who chairs the Senate armed services committee. “There are pressures on the new world order that was established in 1947 and 1948, the likes of which we have never seen.”
He told attendees he believed “President Trump will probably be tested by one or more of these forces around the world, whether it be North Koreans, Iranians, the Chinese or the Russians” and expressed his hope that all of his colleagues “will support a response which is proportionate and will also tell Vladimir Putin, the ayatollahs and the Chinese that there is a new team in town”.
McCain though was full of praise for many of Trump’s cabinet picks. He told colleagues “the national security team that president Trump has assembled is as strong or better than any I’ve ever seen”. He had particular praise for newly confirmed secretary of defense James Mattis. “I’m not sure if one person can have a profound effect but if anyone can have a profound effect it is General Mattis,” said McCain.
He also seemed to welcome Mike Flynn, Trump’s controversial selection for national security adviser. “What a nice change from Susan Rice to General Flynn,” McCain said of the transition from Obama’s adviser to Trump’s selection.
McCain is notably not close to Trump. The president mocked the Arizona senator in 2015 for being a prisoner of war, saying “he’s a war hero because he was captured? I like people who weren’t captured”, and McCain only backed Trump after the real estate developer became the GOP nominee.
However, he has been enthusiastic about many of Trump’s cabinet choices in foreign policy and offered the White House crucial support in advancing the nomination of state department nominee Rex Tillerson.
Author: Ben Jacobs