Tuesday, September 18, 2012

At UT speech, John McCain says controversial anti-Islamic video "not hateful"

Posted By on Tue, Sep 18, 2012 at 1:15 PM

John McCain was not addressing a chair during his appearance at the University of Tampa on Tuesday
  • John McCain was not addressing a chair during his appearance at the University of Tampa on Tuesday
"I think that's an excellent question, and I think it's very legitimate in the light of recent events."

That was Arizona Sen. John McCain's response — at a speech he gave on Tuesday at the University of Tampa (UT) — to a student about why the U.S. remains in Afghanistan, nearly 11 years after an invasion that served to dismantle the Al-Qaeda terrorist network. The student mentioned that since the "surge" of U.S. troops in 2010, attacks against coalition soldiers have gone up, not down.

Just days ago, NATO officials announced that they would scale back operations with Afghan soldiers and police amid a spike of insider attacks against coalition members.

McCain has been one of the biggest hawks in Congress who supports the invasion, so it was interesting to hear him seemingly have an open mind about the situation. On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Pinellas GOP Congressman Bill Young, a big supporter of the military, thinks it's time for U.S. troops to come home.

But McCain isn't ready to go there. Not yet.

"It seems to me we should evaluate where we are, and if necessary, say we're not leaving yet, we've gotta get this situation under control," McCain responded. "Or, as you said (to the student), we ought to consider every other option ..."

Quoting General Douglas McArthur, McCain said there is, "no substitute for victory," which he described as Afghanistan becoming a stable nation.

The speech at Reeves Theater on the UT campus was billed as nonpolitical, with the hour-long discussion and Q-and-A highlighted as a speech on foreign policy.

When asked his thoughts about reports that the Obama administration had contacted Google (who owns YouTube) to take down the controversial 14-minute trailer of an anti-Islamic film that allegedly triggered violence last week amongst Muslims in the Middle East, McCain downplayed the content of the video, saying it first went online in early July. Like other conservatives, he said he would have preferred if the White House had spoken up louder for the First Amendment.

"Why don't we say one of our fundamental rights is freedom of speech?," he wondered aloud.

He said twice that the controversial film, "wasn't a hateful video," but just a vehicle used to express anger.

In the aftermath of last week's attack on the U.S. embassy in Cairo, conservatives such as Fox News' Bill O'Reilly have railed against the Egyptian government, calling for Congress to deny the $1.2 billion annually given to it by the U.S. government.

McCain said two things could happen if the U.S. followed through with that threat: one could be Egypt opting out of its peace treaty with Israel, and the second could be the collapse of the Egyptian economy.

"Is that in our best interest?," McCain asked. "I don't think so ... It's easy to think let's cut off all foreign aid. We need to think what the consequences of it are."

Due to the intended nature of the speech, McCain appeared reluctant to lay into the president when asked about the future of the U.S. military after a second Obama term.

"We should not apologize for America," he said, using a theme Romney has employed, including last week after reports of violence surfaced in Cairo.

McCain then criticized President Obama for not reaching out to help Iranians when protests broke out in 2009.

"He said he wanted to negotiate with the Islamic Republic of Iran. In my view, that was a serious mistake," he said, adding that it's an American tradition to speak up for people who have brutal dictators.

He also said that the the country's failure to do anything in the ongoing slaughter of the Syrian people by their leader, Bashar al-Assad, has not been a shining moment in U.S. history.

The most virulent criticism McCain offered about a foreign country had to do with Pakistan. He said he fears that if the current government folds, its nuclear weaponry could fall into the hands of bad actors.

"Obviously that is a direct threat to the security of the world," he said.

He added that the U.S. government needs to recognize the fact that, "there are elements in Pakistan responsible for the deaths of Americans."

McCain was scheduled to campaign later in the day with Mitt Romney in Jacksonville.

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