The following is a transcript of an interview with John McCain that took place on June 13, 2006.
Financial Times: There are reports that North Korea is preparing to launch a long-range missile. How concerned are you about North Korea and what should the Bush administration be doing?
John McCain: I read the article of the front page of your newspaper yesterday [Monday June 12, 2006] and what is interesting to me is that I didn’t see it in other newspapers yet.
I think it is a very significant problem, has been. I opposed the KEDO [Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization] agreement in 1994 because I thought it was neither verifiable nor enforceable. And I predicted that it would not do much except maybe put a billion dollars into the Korean coffers.
It is a very serious threat. We all know what happens if they continue to make this kind of progress and that is the Japanese will acquire missile defence systems and eventually will have to acquire offensive weapons which we know they could readily do given the technology capability they have. So the key to all this as we all know is China.
It seems to me it is not in China’s interest to see this kind of destabilisation. They’re doing very well and exacerbation of tensions in the region cannot be in their interest. So why they don’t put more pressure on the dear leader is something I simply do not understand. I do not understand it. I have talked to many experts and the rationale that I have heard is not very convincing.
I continue to be a bit disappointed in the South Korean government, which I understand is viewed less favourably by the South Korean people in this continuous sort of bribery or appeasement that they seem to be engaged in.
The aspect of it that disturbs me is that everybody knows that there is a gulag in North Korea where according to most estimates a couple of hundred thousand Koreans, even though the North Koreans are suffering under the worst kind of conditions. Stories continue to come out from North Korea about how brutally repressive that regime is, so South Koreans somehow believe the stated policy that if you continue to try and invest and give them money and encourage tourism and all that, it seems to me that they’re at least to a certain degree not paying enough attention to the human rights situation in North Korea.
FT: What can the US do to encourage China to put more leverage on the North Koreans?
JMC: Depending on what we find out about what North Korea is doing and what its intentions are, we have to ratchet up the importance of the issue in our relationship. We don’t have a great deal of leverage over China. Obviously, their exports to our markets are a vital part of their economic engine but at the same time if you start down this path of retaliation, it sometimes lurches out of control.
I again go back to the fundamental [point] that is it is in China’s national interest to avoid a confrontation and escalation of tensions in the region. In particular, to reignite any hostility between China and Japan.
FT: Russia – You were invited to attend the “Alternate Russia” summit organised by Garry Kasparov that will take place before the G8. Do you plan on attending?
JMC: I cannot, unfortunately, because of scheduling conflicts. Also, I wouldn’t want to embarrass our government, or the president if I seriously considered going. But have no doubt about my feeling about
Mr Putin and the direction he is taking Russia. The retrogression which is really I think very unfortunate, and not just for the Russian people but over the time could lead to worsening relations between the US and Russia. That is why [Senator] Joe Lieberman and I advocated a no-show [for President Bush] in St Petersburg.
FT: Vice-president Dick Cheney recently gave a tough speech on Russia. Should his speech have been harsher? Russia is very important for the US in terms of getting sanctions on Iran. How do you balance those concerns?
JMC: I think it is a careful balance, but I would have appreciated the Vice-president’s speech a lot more if he hadn’t gone to Kazakhstan and praised a dictator in that country. His speech lost a little of its impact [laughing] when he did that. In most of these cases historically, I think we all know we have to appeal to a nations self interest rather than its patriotic or altruistic side of its nature.
In other words, it is not too unlike China and North Korea. How could it be in Russia’s interests to see tensions in the region to the degree that they could rapidly escalate to, i.e. an attack by Iran on Israel, which in a normal and sane world would sound outlandish if their president keeps repeating their stated desire to exterminate Israel.
It seems again that it would be in Russia’s national interest not to see this escalation of tensions in the Middle East. Also, I don’t think it is in Russia’s interests to see exacerbation of relations between Russia and the US which clearly it leads to. But we see this ambition of the part of Mr Putin to reassert Russia’s traditional role in that area and in the world and I am sure that, that has as part of the reason why we see behaviour that may not appear to us to be entirely logical.
FT: With the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, to what extent are Russia and China working together to squeeze the US out of the ‘Stans in Central Asia?
JMC: I think Russia’s and China’s ambitions could squeeze the US out of the Stans. But I don’t think they are necessarily working together. Each has their own appetite and especially China who are clearly thinking well ahead and not just playing in the Stans, but every place in the world where they can lay their hands on oil and refining and pipelines, they are trying to do it. And corporations.
So, I think it poses a threat to us and obviously as a careful in US foreign policy, advocacy of human rights and promotion of democracy balanced against access to vital oil resources. We’ve undergone those tensions before. There is always the realpolitik versus the Wilsonian principles in the conduct of US foreign policy. And nine times out of 10 when we prop up dictatorial regimes, overtime we pay a price for it.
FT: President Bush has talked about democratisation as do you. President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan may come to the US, and President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan has just been here. Does this send a signal to the world that the US just talks about democratisation but does not actually believe it?
JMC: Maybe the message is that we are more selective in our advocacy than perhaps we would like to be, and I do think we run a risk, I really do. I met with Aliyev before the first election and I said ‘you have to have a free and fair election’. They didn’t. In the case of Nazarbayev, these are true cults of personality that we are seeing, and those things never last. They end up at some time in the dustbin of history, because I believe that people share the same hopes and dreams and aspirations. And it does not mean to me that the US is going to go and remove them by force. I have no contemplation of any military action. [People say] ‘Ah, you neocons, all you want to do is go in and overthrow a government’. I don’t. But I believe our advocacy of freedom and democracy should not be defined by either geography or ethnicity.
FT: There is a lot of talk about security arrangements with various Gulf Countries, including Saudi Arabia, selling them more arms and giving them more protection. Do you think that is another example of where these principles go awry?
JMC: Saudi Arabia, yes. Some of the other countries, we are starting to see some progress as you know. UAE, Kuwait, there has been some progress, Bahrain. The little countries are starting to make some progress. The House of Saud is still I think riding the tiger, I have through it for a long time. Trying to satisfy the Wahhabis, and at the same time not allowing progress towards a democratic society.
Sometimes I have a tendency to be a bit of a smartass and I said a couple of times that the Saudis ought to take the monumental step of allowing a woman to ride in the front seat of a car. Strangely enough, I have forgotten which one of the Saudi government [officials] said, we let them ride in the front seat in the cities, but not in the countryside, they are still too backward there.
FT: What did you learn from Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld on Iraq at the briefing today [Tuesday June 13, 2006]?
JMC: They are more confident now as a result of Zarqawi’s elimination and finally the government being fully formed. I think that some of their optimism is understandable but I don’t that it doesn’t turn into irrational exuberance because I think it is still very long, very hard, very tough, hard, and I think we are going to continue to see setbacks as we move forward.
FT: There is pressure on the White House to pull troops out of Iraq in this election year. What is the danger of that?
JMC: The danger is one that we have faced all along. That is that we haven’t been able to control the country. The latest, of course, is that we have to send troops into Ramadi. I was over there two or three months ago. It was clear to me that Ramadi was not under control and that we were going to have to send troops in there. And guess where the troops came from. They came from Kuwait, but they also had to divert some of the marines from Falluja. We are like the little Dutch boy with his thumb in the dike.
FT: Is there any sense that your colleagues in the room this afternoon are prepared to think about more troops, or are they looking in the other direction?
JMC: I think most of them are looking in the other direction. And I from a realistic standpoint understand that you might see something like this injection from Kuwait. But there is not going to be any increase, and that is why it is going to make the outcome more dicey. I believe we must win, I believe we can win, and I believe we will win, but I think it is still going to be very long and very difficult.
FT: From the perspective of someone who may be sitting in a different house in Washington at some point in the future that if things go badly, and troops are pulled out and things get worse, that the damage that will have on US power in the world in the long-term?
JMC: It has already done significant damage. Sure [it can get worse] but already we have seen many of the unintended consequences. One of them is the dramatic increase in influence on the part of Iran including their significant presence in southern Iraq. They have been emboldened by our failures.
FT: Are you confident that this administration has learnt from its mistakes?
JMC: The mistakes made in the beginning were so serious that we are still paying the price for them. The looting, the failure to…train the army and more troops, etc, that even though we are making progress, it is very slow. We only have four reconstruction teams now functioning. Three years later, we have four. I believe that the latest figures I saw is that 40% per cent of the cost of any reconstruction project is spent on security. We sometimes observe progress on some of these projects from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.
So, I just think it is very tough. Militias, sectarian violence, failure to restore the oil infrastructure which is so serious, all of those put together are very serious. Now the government is formed. I have a high opinion of the new defence minister. They are saying a lot of the right things. The army is improved significantly and are taking over greater responsibilities, I can’t say that about the police.
It is the good news and bad news scenario. If we fail, I believe that any observer will conclude that you will not see the violence confined to Iraq. The Iranians will play, the Syrians will play, the Turks will be incredibly nervous about the possibility of an independent Kurdistan. The chaos will spread.
FT: You are saying there should be more troops, not a discussion about drawing down troops because the US is stretched too thin?
JMC: But that is like saying I would also like to see a mission to Mars. I just don’t think it is going to happen. In a way, we are getting close to the point where the Iraqis really have to be capable, hopefully with our help, to assume more and more of these responsibilities. We can succeed in having that happen, but we have made the path incredibly more difficult and frustrating because of our failures.
FT: How confident are you about the numbers Donald Rumsfeld is giving you about the number of trained Iraqi army and police, and their capabilities?
JMC: When I hear of a major operation in Baghdad, or in the Sunni triangle when the only support they need is US air support, and it is successful. Then I will believe that we have made progress. When I can land at the airport at Baghdad and get into a vehicle, drive to the Green Zone, I will believe that we have made progress.
FT: That is not to happen soon, is it?
JMC: Nope. That is why I keep repeating. Long, hard, difficult. And if there is any group of people that I am most grateful to, it is the British leadership and military who have done a magnificent job.
FT: How concerned are you about the push for some announcement about troops withdrawals before the November [congressional elections]?
JMC: I worry about it a lot, because it should be dictated by conditions on the ground and not the political calendar.
FT: Do you think there will be a significant announcement?
JMC: I have confidence that the president of the US will hold fast on this, and that he will not make that announcement unless conditions on the ground justify it.
FT: And there was no hint [of troops withdrawals] in the discussions today with Rice and Rumsfeld?
JMC: No. I don’t mean to be critical but they know at that briefing that anything they say is going immediately made public so they are understandably guarded in their remarks. But it makes us all feel better that we went to a secret room and listened to it.
FT: Are you any happier with Secretary Rumsfeld’s leadership at the Pentagon?
FT: Do you think it is time for him to step down?
JMC: I cannot say that. He serves at the pleasure of the president and it is up to the president. As long as he enjoys the confidence of the president, I will try and work with him and help with him in any way possible. There is no point in me trying to get into an open confrontation with the secretary of defence. It would harm our effort rather than help it.
FT: When you become chairman of the Senate armed services committee in January, is there anything you can do to move things along towards a better direction in Iraq?
JMC: Well, I think we will obviously have hearings, and we will try to analyse the problems that exist and the remedies are for it.
One of the areas we would embark on is procurement reform, which has completely lurched not of control…it has become a national scandal. Nine of the 11 major weapons systems last year were over cost and behind schedule and received incentive bonuses. I don’t get it.
FT: Rumsfeld has apparently not sat down with the CEO of one major defence company since assuming his position. Should he talk to them about these kinds of issues?
JMC: I think maybe his supporters would say his attentions are devoted to the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. What I would like to see him do is come up with some policies that will bring cost overruns under control. Whether that entails meeting one of the heads of these corporations or not, I don’t know. But Future Combat Systems – the “future of the army” – has gone from $90bn to $120 and we have not got the first piece of equipment, not the first.
FT: Is there a sense that the next US president will face a number of train wrecks on procurement front?
JMC: Something will have to give. And then you add on to that, that historically every time conflicts wind down there are reductions in defence spending, and I see no reason that, that won’t happen again. So you are going to have the runaway costs of weapons systems coupled with reductions in defence spending so it is going to be a pretty tough situation.
FT: What other programmes most trouble you?
JMC: They all do. They all trouble me. The C130J [aircraft]. Both the C130J and the FCS originally until we stopped them contracts that even for small contractors or for commercial acquisitions. I mean as they say you can’t make this up.
FT: As Senate armed services committee chairman, what would you do on some of the other programmes?
JMC: First we need scrutiny of the programmes themselves. Second of all, we need look at why this whole system has lurched out of control, and what changes need to be made. I don’t imply that, that means another level of bureaucracy. Every time that we have a problem we lay on another level of bureaucracy, any maybe one of the solutions is to remove some. But I do not have a specific proposal at this minute. That is why we have to go through the process of hearings and reform. Every observer will agree that it cries out for reform.
FT: The UK has a lot of concerns about technology transfer related to the Joint Strike Fighter?
JMC: We know that this is an incredibly large investment on the part of the British government and I believe that we should be able to work out a technology transfer situation amongst the two closest allies that would satisfy both allies. I fully understand the concern that the British, not just the government, but of the legislature, the House of Commons is very concerned about it because I hear from them all the time. Why can’t the two closest allies in the world sit down and work out something agreeable that would satisfy the concerns that both have. We should and we can and we must.
On the [alternate] engine thing, I do believe that we ought to at least for a while pursue the alternate engine. The history of the development of new aircraft shows that there are invariably difficulties in the development of the engine. That has always been the hardest part of a new airplane. They tell me things have changed and you really don’t have that problem anymore, well fine you will have to show me.
FT: There have been heating problems with the Pratt & Whitney engine.
JMC: That is what I am told. How foolish would we be dependent on one engine and something happens to that engine?
FT: But there are obstacles in Congress to resolving the technology transfer issue?
JMC: I haven’t seen the obstacles in Congress yet that couldn’t be overcome with the presentation of a proposal that wouldn’t be satisfactory to most members of Congress.
FT: Even Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House armed services committee?
JMC: Including Duncan Hunter
FT: Should there be a broader agreement on technology transfer?
JMC: In an ideal world, yeah, but I am not sure what is the best way to go about it. I would guess that technology transfer is, at least in my communications with the British, it is the most important item. So sometimes when we reach an agreement, success breeds success. I certainly would give it a very high priority. All I know is what my British colleagues tell me, I am not an expert on it, but they tell me this is a very important issue not only with the British government but with the British public.
FT: Congressman John Murtha has made some strong statements about the possibility of a cover-up by the military into the alleged massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians by US marines at Haditha. How concerned are you about that? Does Haditha have the potential to be as damaging as Abu Ghraib?
JMC: I don’t know because I don’t know the details and the investigation is not complete. All I know is what I read in the media. I guess we can assume that there has been a serious breach of conduct on the part of some of our marines. How significant, what the circumstances were surrounding it, I don’t know, so therefore we have to wait until I get that information before I could make a judgement as to its impact, its seriousness, whether there was a cover-up or not, I just don’t know.
I admire and like Jack Murtha a lot. We are very old friends. But to make these comments before we have a full body of evidence at hand, I just don’t see how that is helpful.
FT: Are you satisfied that the Pentagon is taking this issue as seriously as they should?
JMC: Everything I am told is that they’re taking this seriously. And as you know there are a couple of other allegations as well.
FT: There were recently three suicides at Guantanamo?
JMC: I went down there two or three years ago and came back and said you have to let these guys go, or do some kind of tribunal, adjudicate their case. Some of them I am sure should be in jail for the rest of their lives, or even executed, but their has got to be some kind of tribunal set up where you can have their cases reviewed.
Now the latest rationale is were waiting for a court decision. I don’t buy that. You could go ahead with the process, and if the court wants to declare it an illegal proceeding, then maybe they can suggest another way, but to just do nothing. This is an obvious outcome, unfortunate. And it is not Guantanamo itself, it is the process. Everybody says close Guantanamo, but that doesn’t address the issue. What addresses the issue is how you handle these cases. It is unfortunate, very unfortunate. I am sure those three individuals are now martyrs on al-Jazeera and other parts of the Arab world.
FT: The Senate lately has been a little flaky, on gay marriage, and flag burning appears to be next. Is that just the price of doing politics these days?
JMC: You would have to ask the majority leader [Senator Bill Frist] that question. He schedules it.
FT: Is it a frustration that other topics that aren’t…?
JMC: I would have liked to have taken up the department of defence authorisation bill sooner. Senator Frist is the elected majority leader and I have to respect his scheduling. That is his job.
FT: When you travel in the US, there is one view that these issues helps energize Republicans voters. Do you see that, or does it do the reverse?
JMC: I don’t know. But I do know that our approval ratings are very low, including from our own base. I think there is a variety of reasons for that. I think a major reason why a lot of our Republican base is upset with us is because we’re spending. They are very angry. They are not going to vote Democrat but I think there is every possibility that they might stay home.
So spending, the fact that we don’t seem to be addressing their concerns, the fact that I think if you could make progress in Iraq, address the spending issue, come up with an immigration bill that is acceptable, I think we could make regain some ground that we’ve lost. I think the president’s leadership on the immigration issue has been very good. I think that the next time he gets one of these appropriations bills across his desk that is loaded with porkbarrell project that if he vetoes it will be very reassuring to a lot of our base that is disaffected.
FT: Do you think he might do that to send a message?
JMC: I hope so, I hope so.
FT: Are you surprised at how protectionist the mood seems to be in the country at the moment given how low employment is, and how high growth is?
JMC: I am a little surprised because when you look at the economic figures, they are quite good as you know. But when you look at the underlying unease in America then it is more understand. Somewhere between 65 per cent and 70 per cent of the American people think we are on ‘the wrong track’. That is because there is a great deal of unease about healthcare, future employment, social security, very little if any real wage increase as we experience this period of economic prosperity.
All those together have made Americans very uneasy about their futures even though their present situation may be pretty good. So, I think that contributes a lot to the situation that we see today. Their fathers and mothers worked for IBM for 35 years and retired with a pension and healthcare. Nobody is going to do that anymore. So you get this unease which then lends itself to a belief that all the jobs are fleeing overseas, that we need to protect American jobs, we need to protect the textile mills, the steel mills, the traditional manufacturing sector. So we see a real rise in protectionism/isolationism among some elements of my party.
FT: What do you need to prevent getting worse as economy slows?
JMC: We have to provide for workers in a more effective way that have lost their jobs because of jobs fleeing oversees. We have to fix social security and Medicare so they know they will be there when they retire. We have to hope that, not hope, but try to implement policies that get more of this prosperity more evenly distributed.
By the way, I am not saying redistribution of the wealth. I am saying that more benefits of free trade and globalisation and lower prices could flow to more middle and lower income Americans. And I want to emphasise again. I am not interested in class warfare, saying you have to got to give up more or raise taxes on the rich. But I do believe there are some economics that come into play here where people could get more prosperity out of these good economic times. But there certainly is great uncertainty out there.
I talked to a senator from Minnesota today who said there is 3.7 per cent unemployment in his state. That is virtual zero unemployment. I said ‘what is the mood’? He said they are very uneasy. It is a real paradox.
FT: On Iran, what is your assessment of the timing and conditions of the Condoleezza Rice statement 10 days ago?
JMC: I strongly support it, I approve it. I believe that we have to try finding incentives [for] Iran to abandon these efforts. I think that it is very important that we work with our European allies, including the Russians if we can, and the Chinese. And I hope that it succeeds. We sort of go back to the beginning of our conservation. The majority of the Iranian people want to have nuclear weapons. The government themselves feel that it is a right of theirs. And I have not yet quite understood that these package of incentives would overcome those other ambitions. I hope that it does. I will be grateful if it does. But I am just not sure that it will. And obviously the next step if that fails is at some point we are going to have to go to the United Nations Security Council.
I want to emphasise again. When the president says ‘I am not taking the military option off the table’, it is because you can’t. It doesn’t mean you are considering the military option. But suppose we knew that
Iran was going to attack Israel, are we saying that we would nothing. Clearly, we can’t do nothing. But to somehow interpret the president’s words as oh well he is making war plans that is just not the case, that is not the case. Not to mention the complexities air operations anyway, much less that of an air and ground operation.
FT: Is there any chance that this will turn out differently to the 12 years of talks with North Korea?
JMC: I am an eternal optimist. But I think that it is becoming increasingly difficult restraining nations from acquiring nuclear weapons capabilities. Look at A.Q. Khan’s success. It is just that the technology is more readily available. We have people who are capable of working on these projects and it is one of the great challenges of the 21st century.
FT: Does the India nuclear deal complicate this?
JMC: I understand why they did it. By the way the Senate has to address this issue as you know. I understand why they did it and I understand the benefits of it. And I am not saying I will oppose it, but I still would like more hear more argument in its favour. I understand our unique relationship with India.
All of those things I understand but when you carve out an exemption then of course you run the risk of others wanting the same exemption. India and Pakistan having nuclear weapons is far different from Iran and Iraq having nuclear weapons. Lets not put them on the same plane. Two years ago there was concern about India and Pakistan going to nuclear war? Yeah, that they would exchange. And things are a lot better between the two countries, yeah.
The A.Q. Khan scandal, which really I am not sure we yet realise the full implications of that.
FT: There are concerns that in the Indian deal, because the US or other countries will be able to supply the Indian civilian programme with fuel, then that gives their limited uranium enrichment ability to the military products. So the constraint on their weapons development has been lifted which has consequences for China and Pakistan.
JMC: Yes, but as you know, for what its worth, we have received assurances that India will not do that but so this is taking a risk. I believe that the Senate needs to be fully briefed and [Senator foreign relations committee chairman Richard] Lugar hold hearings, and we go through the regular process. I have a tendency to support it, but I really think we need to be well informed, and I think we need to play our role.
FT: Does that mean that prospects for movement this year are not good?
JMC: You would have to talk to Lugar, but from what I can tell it is unlikely that we would get that resolved this year. But Senator Lugar is far more informed.
FT: On the 2008 presidential race, are you going to run for president and when are you going to make a decision?
JMC: I will make a decision early next year, focus my attention between now and November on the 2006 elections. It could be a very rough year for Republicans. I am trying to help out as many candidates as I can. I have a very heavy schedule of travel, raising funds, and helping campaign to help Republicans, and then make the assessment on the decision.
FT: What are the pros and cons?
JMC: I think the major question is do my talents, experience, and capabilities match up with the priorities of the American people, which mean that I would have a fairly good chance to gain the nomination of my party and win a general election.
I enjoy campaigning very much. It is exhilarating to me almost…but it also a heck of a grind. And it is also very tough because you get a lot of shots taken. And it is not beanbag as somebody once yet. So you have got to make that assessment.
FT: Would your family like you to run?
JMC: I think my wife probably needs some more convincing if I decided that I wanted to. I think my kids, they are teenagers, they might consider it might cramp their style a bit, but I think they would be [supportive].
FT: John Zogby said six months ago he did a poll that found that 55 per cent of Republicans were more likely to support a candidate if you campaigned for them, and 61 per cent of independents were more likely to support a candidate if you endorsed them, and 56 per cent of Democrats said they were likely to support a candidate if you endorsed them?
JMC: That is why we are inundated with requests. They seem the same polls.
FT: Are Democrats asking you to campaign for them?
JMC: No, but Democrats are not happy when I show up [laughing]. But I don’t go in and criticise the Democrat opponent. I have never done that. I just campaign for the Republican candidate, I have never gone in and criticised the opposition. There is no point in that.
FT: What do you think you talk about that is most attractive to Democrats?
JMC: I think it is my reputation for independence, of straight talk, it sounds very self-serving but a little star power, they’ve seen me on Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, David Letterman, hosting Saturday Night Live..…
FT: In the Financial Times!
JMC: And in the Financial Times [laughs]. “There is a little buzz there that people kind of like. And, again very self-serving statement, I know how to campaign. I can feel a crowd, I can get them enthusiastic, and try and help the candidates out. If I couldn’t they wouldn’t keep asking, and I enjoy it. When you enjoy something, then it can be fun. I enjoy seeing people getting enthusiastic…in a campaign.
Occasionally, I fall flat [laughs]. At the New School University, it was very tough. It was a very tough
appearance. It saddened me that people who call themselves liberals would not listen to the views of those who disagree with them. But on Sunday I spoke at Ohio state university graduation [in front of] 47,000 people and I was very warmly received so kind of makes up for it.
You never really are tough, you never get that thick skin – at least I never do – but you also have to expect that sometimes things just don’t go right. It is part of political life. Every once in a while, I will pick up on a column or an article where somebody says something pretty critical and it is not that you ignore it because you don’t, but you have to understand that there are people who will disagree.
I will never forget when I called up a dear friend of mine who was a mayor of Scottsdale Arizona who was the most popular guy and he got 93 per cent of the vote. I called and said congratulations herb. And he said ‘John why do you think seven per cent of the people voted against me?’ We all have that syndrome.
FT: Did your Liberty University appearance undermine your reputation for straight talk?
JMC: Reverend Falwell came and sat in that chair and said I want to put our differences behind us. I am more than eager to put something that happened 6 years ago behind us. He asked me to speak at his school. I go and talk to students at a significant part of their life and try to impart on them a little wisdom and a little advice so I was glad to go. Bob Kerrey asked me to go to the New School which is a very liberal institution. He is a dear friend of mine and an American hero. By the way, they call him a war criminal. The guy left his leg in Vietnam. It is fascinating. So, I was glad to go there, and I was honoured to go to Ohio State University, which is one of the largest institutions in America.
That was viewed somehow as pandering to the right. The torture amendment wasn’t pandering to the right. My vote against the gay marriage amendment wasn’t, my advocacy for us to do something about climate change. My positions really haven’t changed on the issues.
But I also understand that when you are “perceived frontrunner” every phrase is analyzed, and every nuance is criticised in some quarters and I understand that. I am not complaining. I am just saying that, that is one of the realities of the situation that I am in. And since I haven’t decided but still it is nice to be the “perceived frontrunner” than the “perceived loser”.
FT: If you were to run, who would be the most interesting Democrat to run against?
JMC: Senator [Hillary] Clinton. She would be very interesting to run against. First woman nominee, very smart, very tough, very principled. She would be a very interesting opponent. Others would be too…
FT: Is she the most likely opponent?
JMC: Oh yeah. I don’t know how she is not the nominee of her party. I have a great deal of respect for her and we get along very well together.
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