Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, used his first hearing Wednesday as the new chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee to renew charges that President Obama’s “wishful thinking” on the use of military power threatened to sacrifice America’s leadership role in the world.
On Iran, Russia, China and the ISIS threat, Obama’s failure to devise a comprehensive strategy left the nation unable “to meet our most basic constitutional responsibility to provide for the common defense,” McCain said.
Obama had also failed to provide the military with the resources to prevail, McCain said.
“We must have a strategy-driven budget, not a budget-driven strategy,” he said.
McCain singled out Obama’s State of the Union address for criticism.
“In a speech riddled with unrealistic wishful thinking, President Obama told the nation last night that the ‘shadow of crisis has passed.’ That news came as quite a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to what has been happening around the world.”
McCain’s charges met pushback from two elder statesmen on national security who were called as witnesses for a hearing billed as primer on the “global challenges” faced by the U.S.
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, the former National Security Adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter, both gave views that were at times at odds with McCain’s on a range of issues.
On Iran, both Scowcroft and Brzezinski backed Obama on opposing Congressional moves to impose new sanctions while negotiations were still underway to rein in Iran’s nuclear programs.
“I don’t think it’s out of the question” that a peaceful resolution to Iran’s nuclear threat can be reached, Scowcroft said. Progress was being made in the talks with Iran and “we have to be careful not to have this reversed,” Brzezinski.
Brzezinski and Scowcroft also urged caution on the campaign against the ISIS in Syria, and said that an accommodation with President Bashar al-Assad might have to be reached in an overall settlement.
“Whether we like it or not,” Assad maintains significant support, Brzezinski said. “He’s still there – we have to take that into account.”
Scowcroft and Brzezinski also said they could foresee roles for China and Russia in countering the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, despite Russia’s support of the Assad regime.
“I wouldn’t rule out at some point getting some support from the Russians” against ISIS, Scowcroft said. “Among terrible choices, it’s one we should examine.”
Brzezinski favored a more confrontational stance against Russia to counter President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine and threats against the Baltic states.
“In Europe, Putin is playing with fire,” Brzezinski said. The U.S. should supply Ukraine with defensive weaponry while re-assuring Putin that Ukraine will not join NATO, Brzezinski said.
The U.S. and NATO should also deploy small contingents of troops to the Baltic states to serve as ‘tripwires” against moves by Putin to foment unrest, Brzezinski.
McCain won complete agreement from the two witnesses that the automatic military spending cuts under the sequester process were devastating to readiness.
“It’s a terrible way to determine force structure,” Scowcroft said of sequester. “It’s undermining our ability to do what we need to do.”