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 TIME on politics TIME CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and TIME

McCain decries influence of politics in military

By Bill Delaney/CNN

December 7, 1999
Web posted at: 6:05 p.m. EST (2305 GMT)

CONCORD, New Hampshire (CNN) -- In friendly territory at a Rotarian luncheon here, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) talked Tuesday about the state of U.S. military and what he would do to improve it.

Buoyed by what campaign officials felt was a strong performance in Monday's GOP presidential candidate debate in Arizona, the former Navy pilot and Vietnam prisoner of war used the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to lament the state of the armed forces.

"America has the strongest, best-trained, best-led military force in the world, and we have failed them. Our military today is struggling in virtually every category that measures preparedness," McCain said.

The remarks came a few hours in advance of a major national security address by McCain. He was scheduled to give the address Tuesday night at the USS Intrepid Sea Air Space Museum in New York.

McCain blamed both political parties for allowing political priorities to misdirect defense money and strategy.

"Rogue states are the main threat to peace and freedom, and they require a strong, comprehensive policy response -- a policy that I call 'rogue state rollback,' in which our goal is not simply to contain rogue regimes, but to drive them from power," McCain said.

As is often the case with McCain, he suggested the solution was to cleanse politics as usual in Washington. The senator said defense dollars get absorbed by what he called political pork.

"We must restructure our military to effectively respond to the threats of the 21st century, by utilizing lighter, more flexible, and rapidly deployable forces," he said.

To avoid nuclear blackmail by so-called rogue states, McCain called for making a ballistic missile defense system a national priority.

He also suggested the United States may need to renegotiate the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty with Russia.

"I want to be candid with you: If these talks fail, I'll do what is right for the security of millions of Americans and for global strategic stability," he said. "I will withdraw from a treaty that has become a relic of the Cold War if it cannot be made relevant to our current security needs."

McCain planned to make the New York address as polls continue to show him in a statistical dead heat with Texas Gov. George W. Bush in New Hampshire.

"I think my major challenge, very frankly, is to maintain the traction," McCain said. "I've seen many campaigns here in the state of New Hampshire look good for a while, and then the air comes out of the balloon."

Campaign officials see the continuing debates as good for them, because they show Bush as mostly rhetoric and McCain as substantive, they said.


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