November 28, 2007

McCain Conference Call

John McCain started off this week's call by talking about his recent trip to Iraq. He told us that he had a "better" meeting with Nouri al-Maliki and his Shi'ite VP. McCain says troop morale remains high, but that General Petraeus expects a small uptick in violence from al-Qaeda; they see their position badly eroding and may try to seize some momentum. He stresses that drawdowns should come as a result of facts on the ground, not political schedules.


* Economic philosophy -- We needed a restraint on spending, and McCain says he's for tax cuts of all kinds. He wants any future cuts more focused on middle-income Americans. He also wants less regulation to decrease the government burden, and we need to end out-of-control spending. Any efforts to expand government will meet with his veto.

* Iowa, Romney on Muslims -- McCain acknowledges that the effort hasn't paid off in Iowa despite a "really great organization". On Romney's comments on Muslims, McCain says if Muslims are qualified to serve in the armed forces (which they do), they can qualify for other positions of responsibility.

* What about the Iraq supplemental? -- The funding gap is serious, and Congress needs to act. The uncertainty has serious negative implications for planning. The Democrats attached the hate-crimes legislation to the supplemental, where it doesn't belong. Congress needs to pass a clean supplemental.

* Clinton's comments on the war -- cover for Hillary? -- "Hard for me to gauge what the former President does." It will lead to examination of his failures on foreign policy. "I'm sure it's just a coincidence" that it came as Barack Obama gains on Hillary.

* Security partnership agreement -- His understanding that it kept the status quo until the end of 2008. He's certain that it won't lead to large troop drawdowns in that time frame, and his briefing contained no mention of that. He thinks that it may have been misreported by the media. He likes the agreement as he understands it, as it normalizes the partnership we already enjoy with Iraq.

* Why does McCain do so well in Washington state? -- McCain thinks his environmental efforts help, as well as the strong military presence in the state.

* Would it be particularly useful to have a high-ranking Muslim in the next administration to help in the war? -- McCain says that we should focus on selecting the highest-qualified person for the job, not their religious affiliations. What about Zalmay Khalilizad? -- He was selected for his qualifications, not just his religion. Ryan Crocker has 33 years in that region and has been a very effective ambassador without being a Muslim.

* What's the post-opener strategy for the primaries? -- McCain's team is focusing on the west. Washington will be a very important primary.

* Any political progress in Iraq? -- It will be tough, especially with the Sadrists. They are sharing oil revenue now and de-Baathification reform is being considered. The Thomas Jeffersons of Iraq got murdered by Saddam Hussein, and right now the Iraqis need to find their replacements. McCain does think that Maliki is showing improvement in this area.


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