Senator John McCain said today that the United States needs to be on the "right side of history" in responding to the disputed Iranian elections and ensuing protests.
Appearing on CBS' Face The Nation, the Arizona Republican said the U.S. has had a long history of defending disenfranchised citizens across the world, and that the violence apparently inflicted by a government upon its citizens makes this a "human rights issue."
"America's position in the world is one of moral leadership," the senator said. "It's not about what takes place in the streets of Iran. It is about what takes place in America's conscience."
McCain said he "appreciates" President Barack Obama's statement warning Iranian authorities that the world is watching its crackdown on protestors, but said that the comments by other world leaders, such as France's Nicholas Sarkozy and Germany's Angela Merkel, have been stronger than President Obama's.
Host Bob Schieffer asked how the president can avoid Iranian authorities blaming the United States for the upheaval. Commenting on Mr. Obama's recent statements, which some critics say have not been condemning enough, Schieffer said, "He is walking a very fine line here."
"The fine line is being dictated by the brutalities on the streets of Tehran and other cities," McCain said. "The United States hasn't done anything.
"Every time that there has been a totalitarian dictatorial government that has faced protestors from their citizens, they blame the United States," the senator reasoned.
He congratulated members of Congress (including himself) for issuing strong language condemning the authorities in Iran who are punishing peaceful protesters.
He cited the Prague Spring where the United States was called "the beacon of hope" after it stepped in rhetorically.
"America has a moral obligation" to provide moral and other forms of support, he said.
Schieffer asked what happens if the Iranian government does not heed a stronger condemnation from the United States.
McCain quoted Daniel Webster, who argued that rhetorical support could help those involved in the Greek Revolution of 1823. "I hope it may, it may give them courage and spirit," Webster said according to McCain, "teach them that they are not wholly forgotten by the civilized world."
"The fact is, America has been and will be the beacon of hope and freedom," McCain said. "We are on their side as they seek freedom," he said of the protestors. He also spoke proudly of how American technologies such as Facebook and Twitter have been influential in allowing protestors to communicate.
McCain insinuated that questions about the legitimacy of the Iranian election results affect how Washington proceeds in its relations with Tehran — relations that were severed following the 1979 Revolution. "We ought to decide which government to negotiate with," he said. "Certainly a lot of the Iranian people aren't exactly expressing confidence in the one that is in power now."
He argued that the United States should see what happens on the streets of Iran first before jumping into negotiations on such matters as Tehran's nuclear program, but admitted that "We don't have a lot" of options. But, McCain argued, that's been the case in other historical situations.
More from Face The Nation (6.21.09):
To watch Part One of John McCain's appearance on Face The Nation click on the video player below.
To watch Part Two of John McCain's appearance on Face The Nation click on the video player below.
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