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Home > India > News > Interview

The Rediff Interview/McCain aide Randy Scheunemann

'McCain will take Indo-US relations in a positive direction'

June 10, 2008


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Randy Scheunemann, director of foreign policy and national security for the McCain for President 2008 campaign, believes that a McCain Presidency will build on the solid foundation created by the George W Bush [Images] administration, and take United States-India relations to the next level.

In an exclusive interview with rediff India Abroad Managing Editor Aziz Haniffa, Scheunemann pointed out that Senator John McCain [Images] has always been supportive of Bush's vision for a strategic partnership with India, and that he views such a relationship as one of the building blocks of US foreign policy for the 21st century.

Scheunemann and McCain go back a long way. In the 2000 election campaign, he had worked for the Senator as defence and foreign policy coordinator in McCain's abortive bid for the Republican nomination. He brings to the campaign a reputation as a well-connected lobbyist and political insider, with strong ties to the neo-conservative political faction; in fact, Scheunemann was among those who, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America, pushed for the invasion of Iraq and even helped found the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq.

Exclusive: Barack Obama in his own words

What do you rate as the principal foreign policy and national security challenges Senator McCain will face if he is elected President?

The first is prevailing in both the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the longer term, the struggle with radical Islamic extremists, a struggle that the people of India have felt the effects of at first hand, with the many attacks that have taken place in Delhi and beyond...

And as recently as earlier this month in Jaipur, Rajasthan...

Exactly. Second, the dangers of nuclear proliferation to countries like North Korea that have already tested a bomb, and to a country like Iran, that aspires to nuclear weapons status.

Will moves to halt rogue proliferation operations, on the lines of the A Q Khan nuclear black-market, form one element of that thrust?

Absolutely. I mean, clearly the international community needs to take more steps to control the dangers of nuclear proliferation, whether they are done by private networks or state-sponsored networks.

What other foreign policy and national security priorities has the campaign identified as demanding immediate attention?

Global warming, even though it's not traditionally thought of as a foreign policy challenge. Senator McCain clearly sees it as one, because we cannot address a global problem without global cooperation. And of course, reducing America's dependence on imported energy, particularly oil, is another priority.

What are Senator McCain's views on US relations with current and emerging great powers, including India?

Senator McCain has spoken extensively about the need to bring strong, vibrant democracies, that are emerging leaders into international institutions, whether it is the G-8, where he has specifically said countries like India and Brazil [Images] should have a seat at the table, as well proposing a League of Democracies for countries who share values and can discuss common solutions to common problems. I think you well understand the problems with expanding the membership of the United Nations Security Council.

I think one of the interesting things about the proposed League of Democracies is that it would complement, not replace, the United Nations. It will also give countries which do not have a voice in the Security Council, a very strong voice -- and that is true whether we are talking about countries like Japan [Images] or India, Brazil, Mexico and so on.

How does Senator McCain's position differ from Senator Barack Obama [Images] in terms of pursuing greater relations with India?

Senator Obama hasn't spoken much about the US relationship with India. I think his campaign at one point had some pejorative comments about Senator Clinton being a Senator from Punjab. Senator McCain has not only refrained from this kind of economic populism, he has reaffirmed his commitment to free trade and a free and open global trading system and...

What you are getting at when you talk about 'this kind of economic populism' is the strong opposition to outsourcing by Senators Obama and Clinton, where both India and China have become whipping boys?

In terms of outsourcing -- and they've had a whole range of complaints about Chinese practices -- they have also criticised free trade agreements that have been negotiated with democratic allies of the United States like Columbia and South Korea, and they've talked about reopening NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement). Senator McCain understands that globalisation does have some negative impacts on certain parts of the US economy, and we need to do more through worker re-training and other programs to address those, but what we cannot do is walk away from the international trading system. If we do that, it will have disastrous impacts on the American economy as well as the economies of our trading partners.

After President Bill Clinton's [Images] visit to India in March 2000, there was a tremendous transformation of US-India relations, reinforced by President Bush who pushed for a deeper and broader strategic partnership with India and for the US-India civilian nuclear deal. Will Senator McCain continue that trend?

Senator McCain has expressed some criticism of President Bush's management of some alliances, particularly some of the things we've done with our European allies and some inattention to parts of the world, particularly Latin America. But Senator McCain is strongly supportive of the strategic partnership that has developed between the US and India under the Bush administration. He has strongly supported the civilian nuclear deal, and should he be elected President, he will look forward to building on this solid foundation that has been constructed over the last eight years.

Senator McCain views a partnership with democratic India as one of the building blocks of our relationships in the 21st century, because we share so much and have moved so far beyond the past relationship of the Cold War, in a very positive direction.

A potential hurdle for US-India relations is India's close relations with Iran, which the US frowns upon. How does Senator McCain view this issue, especially considering that India, with a long-standing relationship with Iran, will certainly view that country as a primary source to meet its growing energy needs?

I believe what has to happen is a discussion between strategic partners, and that includes an understanding of the strategic concerns of both sides. I think what Senator McCain would hope to do is to make clear that he is not in any way trying to undermine the long legacy of civilizational ties between the Persian people and the people of India, but that we have some very specific concerns.

We would hope that they are concerns that are not only understood but shared by the Indian leadership, in terms of preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and in halting Iran's support for terrorism throughout the Middle East, including support for Shia extremists in Iraq that are killing American servicemen.

Senator McCain came down pretty hard on Senator Obama when the latter spoke of attacking Al Qaeda [Images] in Pakistani territory if there is irrefutable evidence that Osama bin Laden and his cohorts were indeed in Pakistan. Senator McCain has been a strong friend and supporter of President Pervez Musharraf [Images] whom he considers a strong ally of the US war on terror. How is he going to develop relations with Pakistan, now that President Musharraf has been marginalised by the new, democratically-elected dispensation?

Senator McCain did have a strong relationship with President Musharraf, but he has never based his views on US-Pakistan policy solely on one person. He has said that we need to take action against Al Qaeda terrorists wherever they may be. But he also thinks it's counter-productive to stand at a podium and proclaim that you are going to do that on the territory of another sovereign country. It is very likely to lead to a national reaction that may complicate counter-terrorist operations, which, in fact, we may see a little bit of it already happening.

Are you talking of counter-terrorist operations being conducted in Pakistani territory?

The new government has undertaken in Pakistan some steps causing concern, particularly its agreement with some of the tribal leaders. Senator McCain would continue to place strong pressure -- more private than public -- on the Pakistani government to take action to ensure that areas like Waziristan do not become a sanctuary for the Al Qaeda terrorists.

So Senator McCain does have serious concerns about some of the agreements the new government has reached with some of these tribal groups in the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) that have been traditionally sympathetic and supportive of Al Qaeda and now the resurgent Taliban?

Absolutely. He has concerns and has expressed them publicly with the Musharraf government when they signed agreements with these individuals. And he certainly has these concerns now.


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