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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

In Tampa, McCain hits Obama on Libya, Syria



U.S. Sen. John McCain said President Barack Obama is failing to address "tectonic and historic change" sweeping the world, which is making the United States look weak.

"If we show weakness, then obviously the things that may occur may not be in America's interest," McCain told 120 students at the University of Tampa on Tuesday.

McCain discussed a number of recent international crises with the students, including the anti-Islam video that contributed to the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Libya.  A student asked if the Obama administration's request of Google to review the video was insulting to free speech (Google has censored the video in several countries). McCain said the video was unknown until radical Islamists used it to fuel violent protests.

"It wasn't a hateful video. It was a group of radical Islamists who will do anything to hurt the United States of America and everything we stand for and believe in," he said. "So we play into their hands when we say, oh yeah, this was a hateful video. It wasn't a hateful video. The hateful video was the vehicle that these people use, that want to stone women for revealing their face, who want to hang people from the goalpost, who want to repress the rights of people.

"To blame it all on a video, you're blaming the messenger, not the message itself," he said.

McCain expressed particular disappointment for the administration's inaction in Syria, where he said the U.S. should be providing weapons to rebels trying to overthrow Bassar Assad.

"It's not an honorable chapter in American history, I can tell you that," he said. "We've stood up for people throughout our history who were the subject of brutal oppression by dictators all over the world."

Other issues: He said Al Queda is back in Iraq and things are going downhill there without a strong U.S. residual military force; that we should be very worried about Egyptian unrest; that a nuclear-armed Iran poses the great threat of all; and Obama should have shown more support for Iranian protests of the country's 2009 presidential elections.

The Mitt Romney campaign billed McCain's visit as the first of three stops on his "Veterans for Romney" bus tour. Indeed, he left campus aboard a giant Romney bus. The talk better suited the description from a UT professor: a "seminar on leadership, the future of the military and veterans affairs."

McCain did not mention Romney's name until reporters huddled with him for questioning after his talk.

The students, some of whom are veterans, asked him about issues such as complaints with the VA and cuts in GI benefits.

Other tidbits:

* The U.S. should withdraw foreign service officers from countries that cannot guarantee their safety, he said. "For example, I just saw where Sudan said they wouldn't let 50 Marines come in. Fine, adios, Sudan."

* On why he didn't run again for president this year. "There's no education in the second kick of a mule, somebody said."

* On Sarah Palin: "I saw a brave American there with a Palin T-shirt on, and can I say, I am very proud of Sarah Palin. I'm proud to have served with her. She energized our party and she energized our base. And I know especially the left has criticized her, and said all kinds of things about her. I'm proud of the fact that she ran with me."

*On the poor approval rating of Congress. He joked he wanted to know who actually approves of Congress and why. "When you get down to 11 percent approval, you're down to paid staff and blood relatives," McCain quipped.

[Last modified: Tuesday, September 18, 2012 5:43pm]


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