National Security Network

A Serious Foreign Policy Gaffe

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Report 18 September 2008

Allies Foreign Policy iran McCain NATO Sarah Palin Spain


John McCain last night refused to say whether he would invite Spain’s Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to the White House. The interview - conducted in English and translated into Spanish – was with the Florida affiliate of Spain’s Union Radio. In the interview McCain appeared to have no idea who Prime Minister Zapatero was, apparently assuming he was a Latin American leader who might or might not be a friend of the United States. This confusion occurred despite the reporter explicitly saying “I’m talking about Spain.” Ironically, just before McCain was asked about Prime Minister Zapatero, he asserted “I know the issues, I know the leaders.” McCain’s confusion puts that statement in serious doubt. Spain is an important NATO ally, plays an extremely influential role in Latin America, was brutally attacked by Al Qaeda terrorists in 2004, has nearly 1000 troops in Afghanistan, has lost more than 20 soldiers in Afghanistan, and has the eighth largest economy in the world. Senator McCain has campaigned for President on his foreign policy experience. Such confusion over the leader of a very important ally raises serious doubts about John McCain’s foreign policy competence.

John McCain displays confusion over U.S. relations with Spain, a NATO ally.
In an interview with a Spanish news outlet, John McCain “made a series of bizarre responses to a question regarding that country's prime minister.” The exchange comes at a sensitive time for the U.S.-Spanish relationship. In spite of Spain’s decision to withdraw troops from Iraq, the US has sought, starting last year, according to Secretary of State Rice, to look forward “to areas on which we can cooperate and work together.” The transcript follows:

Reporter: Let’s talk about Spain, if you are elected President would you be willing to invite Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to the White House to meet with you?

McCain: I would be willing to meet with those leaders who are friends and want to work with us in a cooperative fashion. And by the way President Calderon of Mexico is fighting a very very tough fight against the drug cartels... I attend to move forward with relations and invite as many of them as I can, of those leaders, to the White House.

Reporter: Would that invitation be extended to the Zapatero government, to the President, itself.

McCain: Uhh.. I honestly have to look at the relations and the situations and the priorities but I can assure you I will establish closer relations with our friends and I will stand up to those who want to do harm to the United States of America. I know how to do both.

Reporter: So you have to wait and see if he’s willing to meet with you…will you be able to do it in the White House?

McCain: All I can tell you is that I have a clear record of working with leaders in the Hemisphere that are friends with us and standing up to those who are not and that’s judged on the basis of the importance of our relationship with Latin America and the entire region.

Reporter: Okay what about Eur… I am talking about the President of Spain.

McCain: What about me what?

Reporter: Are you willing to meet with him if you are elected President?

McCain: I am willing to meet with any leader who is dedicated to the same principles and philosophy that we are for human rights democracy and freedom and I will stand up to those that do not.

[Huffington Post, 9/18/08. Interview with Condoleezza Rice, 6/01/07. Radio Caracol Miami, 9/17/08]

The weakened state of U.S. global relationships must be addressed, but John McCain has a poor history of working with our allies. Only 30 percent of Germans now have a positive view of the United States, down from 78 percent before President Bush took office in January 2001. In Turkey, a Muslim democracy and NATO ally, only 9 percent now have a favorable view, down from 52 percent in late 2001. Most alarming is that just 51 percent of Britons - our partner in Iraq and our most reliable ally - now hold favorable views of the United States, down from 75 percent before the invasion of Iraq. Though Senator McCain has called for re-invigorating U.S. standing in the world, his history shows him to be reckless and abrasive, even with regard to our most historic partnerships. “Speaking at an international security conference in Germany a month before the war, a frustrated McCain lashed out at our European allies, calling them ‘vacuous and posturing.’ Later that year, in an interview, he referred to the French and Germans as ‘our adversaries.’” [NSN, 3/26/08. IHT, 6/27/07. Pew Global Attitudes Project, 6/27/07. NY Times, 2/07/08. The New Republic, 5/07/08]

The many challenges facing the U.S. require that it work more effectively with allies, but McCain’s foreign policy leaves little room for cooperation.
On several critical foreign policy issues, John McCain has taken a confrontational, unilateral position, most recently with Russia, where he responded to the recent crisis between Russia and Georgia by warning of a “dramatically different relationship.” But an effective approach toward Russia requires developing a common strategy with our European allies. McCain’s calls for NATO membership with Georgia and his statement that “we are all Georgians” created fears in Europe of new Cold War. Additionally, several former Secretaries of State, said such a confrontational approach toward Russia would dramatically limit U.S. capacity to confront its most pressing dilemmas. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recently told a panel that “the United States needs ‘Russia for resolution of the Iranian problem. We may need Russia if Pakistan evolves in some of the directions that it might.’” [US News and World Report, 8/14/08. Jamie Rubin, Huffington Post Op-ed, 9/18/08. CNN, 9/16/08]

Quick Hits

Former top National Security Advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney stated that President Bush will not attack Iran before the end of his term, and that “the thinking in Washington had gone from advocating regime change to advocating Iranian ‘behavior modification.’"

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will strongly criticize Russia today, speaking at the German Marshall Fund.

At least 25 militants with links to al Qaeda have been arrested
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Seven U.S. soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq, believed to be an accident.

U.S. attention in Iraq is shifting to post-war planning, including rehabilitation for former insurgents.

Widespread anger has erupted over the Chinese government’s handling of the contaminated baby milk scandal as more arrests were made today.

The DEA has arrested 175 people in suspected connection to a top Mexican drug cartel
, the product of a 15-month investigation and close work with Mexican counterparts.

The GAO has found that the American Red Cross and other charities are unprepared for major disaster relief and faults FEMA for not managing the charities’ roles in relief efforts.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe told his party’s officials that the power-sharing deal is a “humiliation,” but acknowledged that he had no alternative after the disputed elections.