Ryan Holmdahl is a sophomore studying Computer Science and Philosophy. He is currently the Director of Programming Strategy in SIG.
At a meeting with Hoover mentees, CISAC Honors students, and members of the SIG Board, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, spoke broadly on today’s political scene before taking questions on foreign policy, national security, and the future of the Middle East.
Entering the room where the students were assembled, the senator wasted no time with political formalities, taking his position at the head of the table and launching into his opening remarks. He joked about his abortive 2008 presidential campaign, commented on the populist candidates Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, and criticized President Obama as “leading from behind.” After an admittedly negative beginning, Senator McCain concluded his speech on a positive note, arguing that America’s imminent energy independence, her moral standards, and the rise of technology put the country in a strong position going forward.
In his responses to student questions, Senator McCain focused on what he considers the two main threats to the United States: Russia and Iran. He called Russia “a gas station masquerading as a country” and said that the country’s support of the Assad regime in Syria demanded a response from the US. Later, Senator McCain expressed his distrust of Iran and attacked the recent Iran deal, arguing that it allowed increased Iranian support of Hezbollah attacks against Israel, who he sees as our closest ally in the region.
Senator McCain also talked at length about the terror of ISIS and the general state of the Middle East. He discussed the failed Department of Defense rebel training program in Syria and compared it to the more successful CIA program, which, unlike that of the DOD, allowed rebels to also fight the forces of President Bashar al-Assad. On Iraq, the senator, in somewhat of an “I told you so,” said that withdrawing troops was a catastrophic mistake and warned against doing the same in Afghanistan. Senator McCain also praised the Kurds as the only effective fighting force in the area and expressed his belief that we should be arming them directly.
Through brief, the meeting was an incredibly informative opportunity to hear from one of the minds shaping our government and our nation. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the senator had such a deep knowledge of such a broad assortment of topics, having assumed beforehand that most politicians were primarily guided by their aides and advisors. In particular, he seemed not only informed of but genuinely interested in the US programs in Syria and helped clarify the status of American involvement there. Senator McCain was also refreshingly firm in his views on how best to deal with America’s enemies, a rock in a sea of uneven American foreign policy. While the senator’s stances on the issues were not necessarily a surprise for those aware of his track record, his expertise on those issues and his commitment to solving them inspired the same hope he holds for our country’s future.