WASHINGTON – Republican Sens. George Allen,Va.,and John McCain,Ariz.,urged national and state political leaders to support the U.S. effort to secure freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan and the U.S. campaign to beef up border security.
Allen and McCain were among several speakers at a Washington briefing Wednesday commemorating the 40th anniversary of the American Council of Young Political Leaders. The bipartisan organization educates rising political leaders on economic issues and cultural perspectives through exchange programs around the world.
“The purpose of the annual briefing is to ensure our alumni stay engaged in international affairs,” Brad Minnick,the council's executive director,said.
Getting engaged in international affairs is just what the 70 members did – and they heard perspectives from the players.
Allen,who just returned from a trip to Iraq,called the current situation a global war.
“The focus now is on getting security into Baghdad because many of the other regions are now secured. We shouldn't be tucking in our tails and retreating now,” the senator said.
Allen supports freedom in the Middle East region,but said he recognizes how freedom and justice operate differently in certain areas.
“We need to promote freedom of religion,freedom of expression and private ownership of property. But there is a rule of law. We need to be respectful of sovereign nations,” he said.
“I was surprised a great deal that the military effort in Iraq has been successful,” Rep. James Clyburn,D-S.C.,said. “But I was shocked to find how unsuccessful and inadequate our fight is on the domestic front.”
The congressman called for a domestic Iraqi police force that was “at least 80 percent honest.”
McCain offered an encouraging take on Iraq,but called U.S. involvement “long,hard and slow.”
“There have been many bad mistakes,but we can still win,” he said.
“Success will occur if troops have confidence,promote economic development and withdraw troops gradually,” McCain said.
Sen. John Kerry,D-Mass.,was to have spoken but had to attend the funeral of a friend. A former Department of Homeland Security official described flaws in aviation security.
In addition to Iraq,Allen and McCain,who are both expected to seek their party's presidential nomination next year,discussed their similar views on U.S. immigration policy.
“We need more personnel,fences and even virtual fences,” Allen said. “What we cannot do is reward illegal behavior by granting amnesty.”
McCain agreed border enforcement is important,adding,“It is a national security issue. The main key to the problem is temporary documents – people are overstaying their visas.”
“Eleven million people are illegal immigrants in our country. We can let them earn citizenship or send them back,” McCain said.
McCain offered his solution to the immigration problem,discussing legislation he co-wrote with Sen. Edward Kennedy,D-Mass. The law would require illegal immigrants to learn English,have a criminal background check and pay all taxes owed,among other things. The House bill is narrower than the Senate bill and would criminalize all undocumented aliens.
“I am hoping for the chance to sit down and work this issue out,” McCain said.