SERVES US RIGHT
McCain advocates national service
BY SETH GITELL
President George W. Bush is a good war leader. Senator John McCain, who challenged Bush for the Republican nomination in the 2000 presidential primary, has the makings of a great one.
That was my overriding thought as I observed the Arizona senator at the John F. Kennedy Library on June 17. McCain was in town along with Indiana senator Evan Bayh, a Democrat, to promote national-service legislation. In leading the nation, President Bush’s occasional missteps in recent months have resulted from failures of imagination and vision. While he has taken to calling on college students to embrace public service in recent weeks, the president wasted important opportunities to channel the nation’s patriotic outpouring in the immediate wake of the September 11 attacks into concrete initiatives. For example, he made no overall call for military volunteers, and he offered no proposal for the sale of bonds to finance the war effort. Regarding the Middle East, Bush allowed himself to be lectured by Saudi crown prince Abdullah, the de facto leader of the nation from which 15 of the 19 September 11 terrorists came.
Now McCain, a former Vietnam War POW, has begun using his place in the Senate as a bully pulpit to inspire young people to serve the nation. "Senator Bayh and I are here are doing what we can to encourage the concept and the reality of national service," he explained on Monday. "We have a piece of legislation that we’ve introduced that encourages and expands existing programs and also provides for a military component."
In addition, where Bush has gone wobbly on the Saudis, McCain remains consistent on the need to extinguish terrorism wherever it festers. "When you have a country such as Saudi Arabia that funds those who teach this hatred of not [just] Israel but [also] the West and everything we believe in, then we’re in for a long-term struggle," he said in response to questions from the Phoenix. "The Saudis are feeding the tiger, and unless they bring about some fundamental changes in the way they do business, sooner or later their regime will be in danger."
The Arizona senator went so far as to tweak the Saudi kingdom for its treatment of women, something about which Bush has not uttered a peep. "I think they might start out by allowing a woman to ride in the front seat of a car," he said. "That might be a nice step forward."
McCain has indicated that he has no plans to run against Bush in 2004 in any guise — Republican, Democrat, or Independent. But he can still be an important voice in prodding Bush forward on the war on terrorism, and rallying Americans to serve.
Issue Date: June 20 - 27, 2002
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