McCain Foreshadows Latin America Trip
By Juliet Eilperin
ABOARD THE STRAIGHT TALK EXPRESS, PA. -- Sen. John McCain spoke at length about his upcoming trip to Latin America and approach to international affairs during a ride on his Straight Talk Express bus to Pipersville, Pa., today.
When asked about why he was going to tout the virtues of free trade abroad at a time when many Americans have grown increasingly skeptical of such agreements, the senator said he had no intention of backing away from such a longstanding commitment.
"You gotta stand on principle. I believe in the principle of free trade," he said, adding that Americans have been ill-served by the unemployment and worker displacement programs that the federal government runs. "It's terrible," he said of the two programs.
McCain said he was determined not to follow the example of President Herbert Hoover, who signed protectionist legislation into law. "We went from a recession into one of the great depressions of our history," he said. "I've got to convince people... that I have a plan to give them the kind of education and training they need."
McCain said he hoped to achieve several goals with his upcoming trip, including thanking the leaders of Colombia and Mexico for their work on the drug trade, and to "pledge my continued cooperation with them." But he added that he would also press them to make further progress.
"I would also urge them, in the case of Mexico, to reform their economy, to ensure that it's a more open and competitive economy," he said, adding he would also urge them to curb the flow of illegal immigrants to the U.S. "It would be so much easier if we had the ability to trust our neighbors to the south as much as we trust our neighbors to the north, in terms of border security."
"Also, I'd like to tell them I'd pay a lot of attention to them as president," McCain added. "I think it's important our friends and neighbors understand our commitment to them. What happens in Columbia and Mexico is very important to the future of America."
The senator spoke in detail about the recent assassination of the acting head of Mexico's federal judicial police, who has killed just outside his home despite the fact that he lived in a secret location. The alleged killer had the keys to the police chief's house at the time of the murder.
"This is really a serious situation in Mexico," he said. "I think it's an important time right now. This is scary."
McCain was less critical of the Colombian government, which has come under fire for intimidating and harming political opponents, including labor leaders. The senator said that while there "were human rights abuses by the paramilitaries and these people need to be brought to justice, no matter who they are or where they are," that had to be viewed in the context of the Colombian president's battle against domestic terrorists.
"But I balance that against Uribe and his administration's rescue of Colombia from a failed state status," he said, adding it did not justify the need "to throw out the entire theory of free trade... Failure to ratify the free trade agreement sends a message throughout the hemisphere: If you're a friend of the United States, don't count on them."
When asked how closely his policies meshed with President Bush, McCain did not answer the question directly, instead saying, "I'm also closely aligned with President Clinton. President Clinton is the one who signed the free trade agreement with North America."
McCain said he understood that the trip might carry some political risks for him. "I understand it's very tough. I'm the underdog in this race," he said, adding that to change his position on trade would undermine his relationship with voters who trust him. "The most precious commodity I have in this race is that sense of trust."
And even as he vowed not to attack Obama while overseas, McCain said he would repeatedly question his opponent's position of trade pacts while in the U.S. "He's against them all," he said. "I don't understand how you can be for free trade and be against every free trade agreement."
Going to Latin America in the midst of a presidential campaign, he said, speaks less to his role as a senator than to what he's hoping to achieve if elected this fall. "It's more my ability to govern as president," he said, "my ability to lead as president, to keep up with these major issues."
McCain also outlined a sort of compassionate, realpolitik approach to international affairs, saying that he believed this U.S. worked hard to promote human rights abroad but also ensured that it pursued realistic goals.
"We can't right every wrong and achieve every laudable goal," he said, using Darfur as an example of where many Americans want to act, but have yet to identify a reasonable course of action.
"How can we bring pressure on the government of Somalia?" he asked, which prompted Mark Salter to correct him. "Sudan," Salter said.
"Sudan," McCain repeated. "There's a realpolitik side of my view of the conduct of American foreign policy."
Web Politics Editor
June 30, 2008; 6:58 PM ET
Categories: John McCain
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