John McCain just completed another blogger call. He began by talking about Kosovo, saying he believed it would be an independent country and that Vladimir Putin’s comments were “very unhelpful” and his discussion of Georgia’s breakaway provinces was “outrageous.” He also again took Barack Obama to task for offering to meet with Raul Castro without preconditions. He stated that Raul was “the bad guy of the duo” and responsible for sentencing people to death and maintaining a dictatorship and that McCain would only meet with him after “the prisons were emptied,” fair elections were held and other conditions had been met. (In response to a question later in the call he noted that the danger in meeting with Raul would be to legitimize him when a transition to a freer system might otherwise be possible. He argued that the embargo policy had successfully contained Castro.)
I asked him about the potential Democratic nominees’ unwillingness to recognize progress in Iraq. He said he was “disappointed but not surprised they continue to deny obvious facts” that political and military progress was being made. He termed it “almost Orwellian” that people would assert that the threat of withdrawal actually contributed to improved conditions. He suggested that his opponents need not “apologize” but they should admit they were wrong in opposing the surge. (He offered that MoveOn.org has a “significant influence in the Democrat party.”)
Abe Greenwald asked about Jay Lefkowitz’s criticisms (which were given the back of the hand by Secretary of State Condi Rice) that the Six Party talks involving North Korea should address human rights abuses. McCain said succinctly that he does believe the talks should address human rights and that North Korea remains the world’s largest functioning “gulag.” (He mentioned his disappointment that the South Korean government was not as “mindful” of the human rights abuses as it should be.) He said undue focus on the make-up of the talks rather than the content was misguided and drew analogies to Vietnam, mentioning that talks went on unsuccessfully for years until “B-52’s appeared in the skies.” He said that he was concerned about the North Korea’s failure to live up to its committments and its potential involvement with Syria’s nuclear program. (He ended his response by quoting Ronald Reagan’s “Trust but verify” addage.)
On other matters: 1) He expressed “distress” that Congressman Rick Renzi was indicted and agreed he would likely step down as an Arizona co-chair; 2) He said he was on “solid ground” in withdrawing from the public financing constraints imposed by the FEC as Congressman Dick Gephardt previously had done in similar circumstances; 3) He said he would be competitive in California and states in the northeast like New Jersey and even New York and intended to go to places Republicans usually don’t and compete in all states.; 4) Explained his “100 years in Iraq” comment as an indication that our security arrangements would be ongoing but that we would be successful militarily in the short term and defended himself against the Democratic charges that he was not expert on the economy by saying he was most expert on foreign policy given his decades of involvement in that area, but that his low tax, free market philosophy would stack up well against the Democrats. He declined to comment further on the New York Times lobbyist story.
In general, he seemed engaged and forward looking. There was no trace of animus or bitterness about yesterday’s events, and he seemed energized when talking about differences with his Democratic opponents.