Senators sound off on Iraq, torture and climate change | AspenTimes.com

Senators sound off on Iraq, torture and climate change

Allyn Harvey

Although they assiduously avoided making direct attacks on President Bush, U.S. Sens. John McCain and Joe Lieberman managed to level a fair amount of criticism against Bush administration policies during a talk in Aspen Saturday.McCain, R-Ariz., and Lieberman, D-Conn., shared the stage in front of an audience of several hundred at the Benedict Music Tent. Aspen Institute President Walter Isaacson led them in a conversation that touched on nearly every controversy that has engulfed the administration in the past year.They say Bush and his administration are mistaken to ignore climate change, and wrong in planning to withdraw troops from Iraq and continuing to dodge responsibility for the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.”I don’t care what you say – torture does not work,” said McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Much of that imprisonment was spent in solitary confinement.What makes Lieberman and McCain especially compelling critics of the administration’s policies is that they have worked closely together on a number of bipartisan alternatives on issues like climate change.”I have great admiration for his relentless desire to get things done,” Lieberman said of McCain. “To do that in the Senate, where you need 60 votes, you need to work across party lines.”McCain and Lieberman, whose climate change legislation has yet to make its way to Bush’s desk, say support is growing for laws that would reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and other activities known to be detrimental to the earth’s atmosphere. Ten years ago, they agreed, a significant majority of senators didn’t believe human activity had anything to do with rising temperatures around the world. That’s changed in the years since President Bush withdrew the United States from the Kyoto treaty on climate change.”It’s here and it’s real,” McCain said. “It’s worse than we thought it would be, and if we don’t do something about it we’ll leave a huge problem for the next generation.”But, according to experts, because action today on climate change will result in benefits that won’t be seen for a full generation, the issue becomes a difficult sell to the American people and their representatives in Congress.”That’s the challenge – telling people we’re doing something that’s difficult to pull off for our children and grandchildren,” Lieberman pointed out.He said America’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, which has been ratified by 141 countries since it was negotiated in 1997, was “a terrible step backward.” He added that it has separated the United States from other nations on an issue the people care deeply about.Both agreed that not only should America come back to the table, but that it should bring India and China into the fold, as well.They both shook their heads in disbelief when Isaacson brought up the latest proposal by the Defense Department to begin large-scale troop withdrawals from Iraq by next summer.”I find it troubling and puzzling that the administration would withdraw the troops,” Lieberman said.McCain, too, expressed dismay and confusion over the withdrawal plan. Both suggested that the United States should be bolstering its commitment with more troops.”We cannot afford to lose in Iraq,” McCain said. “There are people here who opposed our entry into Iraq, and I respect your opinions, but you have to agree now that we cannot afford to lose.”Neither brought up the fact that such a withdrawal would be timed perfectly with the midterm congressional elections in November 2006.Throughout the hour-and-15-minute discussion, one theme came up over and over: America and Americans have become the focus of ill will that ranges from dismay over issues like climate change, to mistrust over our relationship with international organizations like the United Nations, to hatred over the treatment of both combatants and noncombatants imprisoned in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.Said McCain on the effects on world opinion of torturing prisoners: “Everywhere I go, the treatment of prisoners is an open wound in our relations” with friends and foes alike.And “don’t underestimate the low opinion people around the world have for us,” he said on how the U.S. withdrawal from the Kyoto treaty has affected our international standing.The session ended with questions from distinguished members of the audience, including Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward. He asked the senators to give a character profile of President Bush.McCain and Lieberman both avoided making any substantive comments by saying Bush was likable and charming; they also both professed respect for his drive to get certain bills passed. And McCain credited the president for providing leadership after the Sept. 11 attacks.Both told New York Times columnist Tom Friedman that they would have voted to approve China’s attempted purchase of Unocal, a midsized American oil company, and if the question came up, they would back the sale of General Motors to a Chinese company.And they told former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that they thought the administration was appropriately handling negotiations with Iran and North Korea over nuclear weapons by allowing Europe to take a lead role with Iran and allowing China to do the same with North Korea. Neither senator professed much hope for the negotiations.They both suggested that the Untied Nations is the place to turn should the efforts in North Korea and Iran fail.And in answer to Aspen High School Senior Alex Feinstein’s questioning of America’s broken promises to the people and nations of Africa, Lieberman urged him to “keep asking that question to people in power because there are no good answers.”McCain and Lieberman agreed that corruption throughout much of Africa makes it difficult to back spending programs there, and there is a real need for new, more enlightened leadership.”I guarantee you that if I approved $2 billion to Mugabe in Zimbabwe, it would disappear into a Swiss bank account,” McCain said.Allyn Harvey’s e-mail is aharvey@aspentimes.com