The Corner

McCain on WikiLeaks: Nobody Really Knows Exactly What Went Wrong

Washington — Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, tells National Review Online that the WikiLeaks scandal will have consequences “far beyond the leaks of these cables.”

“This will have a terribly devastating and chilling effect on our ability to carry on relationships with foreign leaders, harming our ability to fight this war against radical Islamic extremism,” McCain says.

As the Unites States reacts to the situation, and delves into related national-security issues, McCain urges his fellow lawmakers to give a “great deal of attention” to the “implications of cyberwarfare.”

One of McCain’s chief concerns is about how U.S. allies will respond to the leaks. He wonders whether American diplomats will be able to have “candid and forthright discussions” with foreign leaders in the near future. “If I were the king of Saudi Arabia today, I wouldn’t be very happy; if I were the president of Yemen today, I wouldn’t be very happy.”

The impact of WikiLeaks, the Arizonan predicts, may soon become noticeable. “I have had many, many meetings with foreign leaders,” he says. “Some of them have been very candid because I’ve gotten to know them well over the years. I am sure that my next meeting, for example, with General Kayani in Pakistan will be much less candid than the last conversation that we had.”

But for now, McCain hopes that the administration continues to focus on finding out what went wrong. “I think the first thing we need to do is find out exactly what happened,” he says. “Nobody really knows yet . . . all we know is that one private in the United States Army had a lot to do with this. That’s a remarkable comment, when you think about it. So we need to know what happened, find out who’s responsible, and make sure that those who had responsibility — those who didn’t carry out their responsibilities adequately — are punished.”

Turning to domestic politics, McCain applauds President Obama’s announcement of a two-year pay freeze for federal workers. The move, he says, though a “small step” and “well short of what we should be doing,” is “certainly a change from anything [Obama] has advocated in the past.”

Beyond a two-year pay freeze, McCain would like to see the president push for freezes on federal hiring and bonuses — bringing federal salaries “more in line” with private-sector salaries. “We should be looking at reductions in the federal workforce, instead of just freezes,” he says.

Looking ahead to tomorrow’s bipartisan policy summit at the White House, where the president will huddle with GOP leaders, McCain hopes to see the group agree to extend the Bush-era tax cuts. Republicans, he says, must make that their number-one priority. “That should be the next agenda item,” he says.

With regard to the remainder of the lame-duck session, “It’s obvious what Harry Reid’s strategy is,” McCain says. “He would like to waste time before we bump up against Christmas, then jam a bunch of things down, from the DREAM Act to and ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” to forcing some kind of deal on tax cuts.” McCain pledges to fight any Democratic shenanigans. The American people, he says, will have little patience for a “bunch of lame-duckers quacking around.”

Robert Costa — Robert Costa is National Review's Washington editor and a CNBC political analyst. He manages NR's Capitol Hill bureau and covers the White House, Congress, and national campaigns. ...

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