Sen. John McCain, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, warned a Republican foreign policy conference of the "isolationist and protectionist" elements of the GOP that swept into Congress in the November elections.
"Yes, I worry a lot" about erosion of support for the Afghan war among GOP lawmakers as the isolationist wing appears to rise, fed by the Tea Party. McCain, speaking today at the Foreign Policy Initiative conference, cited the long history of isolationism and protectionism in the Republican Party and pointed to Sen.-elect Rand Paul as one example of this most recent resurgence.
At the same time, McCain said he thought substantial savings could be made in the Pentagon budget, especially if his bête-noire, earmarks, are cut on top of Defense Secretary Robert Gates' commitment to finding $100 billion in efficiencies. ""People say this is only 2 to 3 percent of the budget," so it should not be touched, McCain noted. “Leave it alone? Give me a break!" McCain did not say anything about working closely with Paul, who has promised not to submit earmarks.
McCain also told the audience he thought the clear/hold "side of the conflict is going frankly better than many of us expected considering the complexities of Afghanistan. Part of the reason is that ISAF and US forces have "decimated the middle ranks of the Taliban." But he warned that corruption and incompetence at the highest levels of the Afghan government, coupled with continuing support for the Taliban by "some elements" of Pakistan's ISI security service continue to plague efforts to build Afghanistan into a state with economic and political prospects.