The war on terrorism was the focus of an address by U.S. Sen. John McCain Friday afternoon at the University of Mississippi’s Ford Center for Performing Arts.
Winning the war on terrorism requires America to reach two specific goals, McCain said. First, ensure a stable Iraq, and more importantly, diminish the ideological divide separating Muslim extremists from true Islamic believers.
“This is a titanic struggle,” McCain told the standing room-only crowd. “We have to change the minds and hearts of the extremists, and prove to them that democracy can bring hope and opportunities.”
McCain, the senior senator from Arizona, admitted mistakes have been made in the war in Iraq, but he added that mistakes are always made in times of battle. He said America is making progress in the war, despite the daily setbacks.
“We didn’t choose this battle,” McCain said. “The terrorists chose us on 9/11.”
In regard to withdrawing American forces from Iraq, McCain said setting a timeline for removal would only allow the insurgents to sit back and wait. “If we fail in Iraq, the consequences will be catastrophic,” said McCain. “We can’t leave until the Iraqis can govern for themselves.”
Visiting UM’s Oxford campus for the first time, McCain spoke as part of the inaugural Trent Lott Leadership Institute Lecture Series. As he walked onto the stage to make his address, he received a roaring standing ovation from the audience, which included some 40 UM Naval ROTC cadets.
“Today, we celebrate leadership here at Ole Miss,” said Chancellor Robert Khayat. “This is a wonderful opportunity for our students to be able to have dialogue with one of the world’s most distinguished leaders.”
Before his main address, McCain was joined by Sen. Lott in the Ford Center’s rehearsal hall, where he addressed some 50 students from the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.
“Social Security reform has failed because politicians won’t work together,” McCain told the students. “Unless we work together for reform, you won’t be able to receive Social Security benefits when you become eligible for retirement.”
He also discussed rebuilding the Mississippi Gulf Coast devastated by Hurricane Katrina. McCain said Lott and Sen. Thad Cochran are working diligently with Gov. Haley Barbour to provide the funds for that restoration.
“This issue is fading from public consciousness,” McCain said. “We must raise it back up.”
Lott, whose Pascagoula home was destroyed by the hurricane, said it will require patience, time and tenacity to rebuild. “When we look back five years from now, south Mississippi will be better than it ever was before,” Lott said. “I want Mississippi to rise up from Katrina.”
A former Vietnam POW, McCain graduated from the Naval Academy in 1958 and began his career as a Naval aviator. In 1982, he was elected to Congress representing what was then the first congressional district of Arizona. In 1986, he was elected to the U.S. Senate to take the seat held by Barry Goldwater.
In 2000, McCain ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for president. He chairs the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and serves on the Armed Services, and Commerce, Science and Transportation committees.