Updated: 11:51 a.m.
Sen. John McCain argued Sunday that the ban on openly gay service members has not been a problem for the military and that the effort to repeal it is a political move.
“We should remember where this all started,” the Arizona Republican, who is ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“There was no uprising in the military. There were no problems in the military with ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ ... It’s called ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ OK? If you don’t ask them, you don’t ask somebody, and they don’t tell.”
“The fact is, this was a political promise made by an inexperienced president or candidate for presidency of the United States,” he said. “The military is at its highest point in recruitment and retention and professionalism and capability, so to somehow allege that this policy has been damaging the military is simply false.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) echoed McCain’s argument on “Fox News Sunday.”
“This is a political promise made by Sen. Obama when he was running for president. There is no groundswell of opposition to ‘don't ask, don't tell’ coming from our military. This is all politics,” Graham said.
While McCain agreed with a recent statement by Defense Secretary Robert Gates that military policy decisions should not be held to a referendum by service members, the Senator said that the military’s system is working and that a proposed repeal of the ban must be assessed for its effect on morale and battle effectiveness. Gates has called upon Congress to repeal the ban.
A Pentagon report on repealing the ban will be released Tuesday, and the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the review Thursday. The Senate is expected to take up the repeal language as part of the annual defense authorization bill, and the House has already passed a defense bill with a repeal provision.
“I don't believe there's anywhere near the votes to repeal ‘don't ask, don't tell’ on the Republican side,” Graham said. “I think we'll be united in the lame duck. And the study I would be looking for is asking military members should it be repealed, not how to implement it once you, as a politician, decide to repeal it. So I think in a lame-duck setting, ‘don't ask, don't tell’ is not going anywhere.”
On international matters, McCain called on China to toughen up on North Korea, which launched an artillery attack last week against the South Korea island of Yeonpyeong. The United States began joint naval exercises with South Korea on Sunday as a show of solidarity, and North Korea regards the exercises as a display of aggression. “The key to this, obviously, is China. And unfortunately China is not behaving as a responsible world power. It cannot be in China's long-term interest to see a renewed conflict on the Korean Peninsula,” he said.
China called Sunday for an emergency session in December of six-party talks between China, Japan, Russia, North Korea, South Korea and the United States, which McCain called a “fine first step.” But he argued that “significant penalties” may be necessary. “It seems the purpose of everything is to get the North Koreans to the table. The North Koreans' only claim to their position on the world stage is their nuclear capability. And they have a terrible, most repressive, oppressive regime in the world. They have hundreds of thousands of people in slave labor camps. And all of that seems to be sacrificed in the altar of, quote, ‘negotiations,’” he said, adding later, “I think it's time we talked about regime change in North Korea, and I do not mean military action, but I do believe that this is a very unstable regime.”
When asked if he believes the Korean Peninsula is on the verge of war, McCain said, “I think if past behavior holds true, the North Koreans will walk up to the edge and then step back and try to get more concessions and more money and more economic aid, and more jobs for North Koreans sponsored by South Korea. I'm not sure that the South Koreans are going to go along this time.”
When asked about the political future of his former vice presidential running mate, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, McCain gave no indication that he has insider knowledge of the Republican’s presidential aspirations. “I read, I think, she's keeping her options open, and I think she should,” he said. “I think she is an incredible force in the American political arena.”