John McCain: “We Live In a Very Dangerous World”

The GOP presidential candidate talks about national security and the nation’s troubled economy.

Sen. John McCain talked about dealing with a troubled economy and a dangerous world.

Sen. John McCain talked about dealing with a troubled economy and a dangerous world.


Does this change your view about the U.S. relationship with China?

Let me put a little bit of historical perspective on this. I think all of us had kind of a romanticized view of the world after the fall of the then Soviet Union. And there was a period of time when we saw dramatic progress in the world toward countries attaining democracy, and many assumed that it was almost automatic that China and Russia would be inexorably on a path toward democratic and free societies. The Chinese reacted to Tiananmen Square, as we all know, in a way that made them more restrictive. The perceived chaos in Russia and their diminished stature in the world made people like Vladimir Putin and others eager to reassert what they have viewed for centuries as the Russian position in the world. So, in other words, great economic progress did not mean the diminishment of autocracies. I still believe that history will show that democracy and freedom go hand in hand with economic development, sophistication, and the technologies that enable the free flow of information. I think we all are realizing that progress is not going to be as rapid as we may have thought it was going to be in the halcyon days of the 1990s.

Given those complications, there certainly are a lot of folks saying that the U.S. stance has to be more nuanced.

I think we can be very clear and very direct but also think that we obviously have a compelling requirement to work with nations that share our values and our principles. America is not going it alone, and we can't, and we shouldn't. How do your years as a military man and a former POW translate into helping you to either see more clearly or digest what's going on in the world?

Obviously, I think that having had military experience is a good thing. I don't know anybody who would disagree with that. Perhaps more importantly, I've been involved in every conflict since the Cuban missile crisis, when I sat in the cockpit of an airplane on the deck of the USS Enterprise. Perhaps far more importantly than that, in the first Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, this latest situation—I've been heavily involved in all of these conflicts and had a role in the decision-making process. I've been involved in literally every national-security challenge and issue before this nation for the last 20-some years. And I think my role on the Armed Services Committee and my national security, not military, experience and background gives me the judgment necessary to lead in these difficult times.

What is it that you as the next president could do to improve the economy and give people a sense that things will get better?

The first thing you can do overall that's most important—because 80-some percent of the American people think the country is on the wrong track—is restore trust and confidence that the government will work for them. People are outraged that the Congress went on a five-week vacation and we haven't addressed the energy crisis. They want some hope. They want some confidence that someone who's there will put their country first. I know how to work with the Democrats to put my country first. Now, that has made some in my party angry. I know that. But again, it has to be done in a bipartisan fashion. You can't sit still saying, "Here's my agenda, like it or not." Should there be more study commissions followed by negotiation?

I don't know exactly. The problem that happened in 2005 is that we got sidetracked on the private savings accounts. It never should have been a major issue. I personally favor them, but is that the solution to the fate of Social Security? I don't think so. Is there a bipartisan solution for healthcare?

I kind of think that success breeds success, which makes me lean toward saying [focus first on] Social Security, and the healthcare [issue] is a little bit longer term. But I'm also keenly aware that most presidencies, it's the first couple of years before you all of a sudden get into the next cycle. You've really got to get a lot done. We hear from lots of people who say, "When is McCain going to be McCain—the independent-minded thinking, the maverick views?"