Watch the video of his remarks here: Values Voter Summit Below you will find the prepared comments, but in the video he went off script, sharing an account of his time as a Vietnam prisoner and a fellow prisoner, Mike Christian.
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) delivered the following remarks at Family Research Council’s 2015 Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C.:
“Thank you. Thank you to my friends and your stalwart servant-leaders, Tony Perkins and General Jerry Boykin. I would also like to thank Cathi Herrod, for the great work that she and Center for Arizona Policy do in promoting our shared values. Indeed, thank you all for the opportunity to speak with you about some of our shared concerns in the world.
“I know you’ve got a lot going on today. You’re going to hear from many important speakers, including a number of candidates for President of the United States. Listening to a former, unsuccessful candidate from two presidential elections ago – which is practically a century in Washington years -- probably isn’t your first priority.
“So, I mean it sincerely when I say, thank your for your courtesy, and for the privilege of addressing you on a subject close to my heart and yours – the cause of human dignity in a world plagued with too much tyranny, too much injustice, too much violence, too much suffering, with too much evil.
“That’s a rather dark introduction to my remarks, and I don’t want you think I’m disheartened or resigned to a world where suffering and evil are always on the ascent. On the contrary, it’s in the American character to see the good in things, to see the glass half full, to face adversity with hope and optimism. We must see plainly and fully the threats to our values in order to defeat them. But considering the remarkable global advances our values have made in our lifetimes alone, we should have confidence in their continuing power and progress.
“I have always believed, no matter how long it takes, how many setbacks are suffered, how resilient the forces of tyranny are, the righteous will prevail. Those who terrorize and persecute and destroy can be overcome with moral and physical courage. We are on the right side of history. And we have been since our founders forged a government that existed not to preserve the privileges of a regime or a class, but to protect the people’s God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“It’s also important to remember that our founding belief in inherent human dignity is not limited to our own society, to the experiences of Americans alone. We believe our political values to be universal. We believe that the dignity of all human life should be recognized and supported through shared respect and responsibility.
“I’ve had differences of opinion over the years with former President Jimmy Carter – who is in my prayers as he suffers ill health with grace and courage. But he was never more right or wiser than when he observed that America didn’t invent human rights. Human rights invented America. And our allegiance to our country cannot be separated from allegiance to our founding ideals and our conviction that they are the birthright of all mankind.
“We can manage to retain our freedoms while other populations are denied them, but not the sense of virtue that we refer to as American exceptionalism, and that made our revolution a moral as well as a political and military crusade. Accepting the degradation in other countries of values we believe are God-given and universal is to relinquish some of our own humanity.
“The older we get the more we realize that the pursuit of genuine happiness is so much more than the experience of pleasure. It requires us to serve causes greater than self-interest, causes that might encompass us but are not defined by our existence alone. I believe the same holds true for the conduct of nations as well as individuals. And no cause is greater than defending human dignity wherever it is threatened, at home or abroad.
“We are morally obliged to confront evil. That might seem obvious when it comes to terrorists who behead their innocent victims in front of cameras, and murder us in our own country. But what is less obvious, in fact, what doesn’t necessarily ring true to many Americans, is that confronting evil is a much broader responsibility than killing terrorists who are trying to kill us. It includes the responsibility not to turn a blind eye to threats to the peace and security of our friends and allies, and even to threats to people with whom we share nothing other than our humanity. It includes opposing assaults on human dignity however they occur and wherever they occur.
“Our opposition cannot always be military obviously, but it should always be clear in the conduct of our policies, in our public and private diplomacy, in the material and rhetorical support we give the victims of tyranny, and in our relations and communications with their oppressors.
“There is no more fundamental right in a free society than the free practice of religion. No society that denies religious freedom can rightly claim to be good in some other way. And no person can be true to any faith that believes in the dignity of human life, if they do not act to support those whose dignity is under assault because of their faith.
“Yet in countries around the world human beings are imprisoned and worse for the crime of worshiping God in their own way. In some places, that’s happening at the direction of government or with government’s acquiescence. The United States should be first among all nations to denounce religious persecution in all its forms and locations, even when it takes place in nations with whom we have important and complicated relations, such as, China and Saudi Arabia, for example.
“Of course, nowhere has religious persecution been more extreme, more brutal than the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa at the hands of ISIS and other terrorist organizations. Whole Christian communities are being brutalized, murdered, driven from their ancestral homes and destroyed in the land where the faith was born and first took root in the hearts of humanity. As yet, neither the administration, the governments of Europe or other allies have shown seriousness of purpose in devising effective responses to these atrocities.
“Promoting religious freedom should be in the forefront of our counterterrorism efforts. It should be central to our development programs in the region, and in our efforts to build alliances with local and regional leaders, who will oppose radical Islamic ideologies and advocate tolerance and pluralism.
“Tony Perkins and I wrote an op-ed on the subject earlier this summer, and I ask your indulgence for doing one of the things politicians most love to do: quote ourselves.
“‘American support for religious liberty sends a potent and unmistakable message to threatened communities around the world: America is your friend. Such support builds enduring good will towards our country among those who could be leading their nations in the years ahead. And it reminds all observers, whether friendly or hostile, that the U.S. remains committed to a world where justice and human dignity are central to legitimate governance.’
“The triumvirate of rights we proclaim in the Declaration of Independence encompass all other human rights. Of course, the right to life is the most sacred of all. No other rights exist without it obviously. Naturally, then, our greatest moral obligation is to oppose the taking of innocent life. It is that paramount obligation that instructs our opposition to abortion.
“I know many Americans sincerely believe a child is not a human life until it is born. They are wrong, and we have a moral obligation to say so, and defend the right to life of the most innocent.
“Contrary to conventional Washington wisdom, public support is growing for our position, and will continue to as more Americans are exposed to the cruelest realities of abortion, and the apparent indifference to suffering and loss of life exhibited by some leading abortion advocates. Opportunities to restrict abortion should improve … not as quickly as we want or as much, but I have to believe that Americans’ sense of justice and humanity will prevail eventually.
“Senator Graham introduced a ban on abortions beyond the time a child in the womb can feel pain, which I strongly support. I know restricting abortions isn’t sufficient, but it’s progress. Fewer unborn children will perish. Senate Democrats blocked it from coming to a vote the other day. That’s frustrating, but it won’t be the final word. We’ll be back again, for as long as it takes, until this compassionate, sincere measure receives the vote and support it deserves. Hopefully, we’ll have a pro-life White House to work with soon.
“Defending innocent life should be a high priority in the conduct of foreign policy, too. Yet, time and again, the free world has been slow or inadequate in our responses to attempted genocides in the unfree world. We were slow in Cambodia, Rwanda, Srebrenica, Kosovo, Sudan and elsewhere. We have been woefully ineffectual to date in efforts to stop the horrors occurring in Syria, which include mass murder on the scale of genocide, the use of chemical weapons, millions of displaced, starving innocent people, and the most brutal, dehumanized form of terrorism we’ve yet witnessed.
“In response to all this violence and suffering, and the dangers it poses to peace and security in the Middle East and our own security, the U.S. government has managed to periodically bomb ISIS targets, and train about a half a dozen moderate Syrian resistance fighters. Meanwhile, ISIS and other terrorist organizations, as well as Russia and Iran, continue to strengthen their position in that wretched, utterly destroyed country. The instability this is causing in the always dangerous Middle East is enormous and worsening.
“Add to that instability, the fact that we have concluded an agreement with Iran that won’t prevent it from eventually acquiring nuclear weapons, but will flow billions of dollars in revenues to a regime that is bent on dominating the Middle East, and is sworn to the destruction of the State of Israel; a regime that has killed hundreds of American, remains an implacable enemy of the U.S., and is also the biggest sponsor of terrorism in the world.
“In pursuit of regional hegemony, while under the full pressure of international sanctions, Iran expanded its interventions in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Gaza, Bahrain and elsewhere. Imagine what the Revolutionary Guards Corps and Quds Force, who will be further entrenched in power by this agreement, will do with the windfall of sanctions relief. Iran will provide more arms and supplies to their terrorist proxies in the region, and more support for tyrants like Bashar Assad, whose ruthlessness in clinging to power has destroyed his nation and provided opportunities for expansion to ISIS and other terrorist forces.
“Despite repeated assurances to the contrary, administration officials did not restrict their negotiations with Iran to its nuclear program. They made major concessions on Iran’s conventional weapons and ballistic missile programs. They agreed to lift the international arms embargo against Iran in five years. Russia and China and others eager to provide Tehran with the advanced conventional capabilities it desires will likely ignore any American concerns or protests, as they routinely do today on many other issues.
“In eight years, the ban on ballistic missiles will be lifted, allowing Iran to obtain systems whose purpose is to deliver nuclear weapons, while under the terms of the agreement, it is permitted to remain a threshold nuclear state with an industrial enrichment capacity.
“We are allowing the Middle East to become drastically more dangerous while squandering our influence there, which was already at low ebb thanks to administration policies and failures to act in response to other crises in the region. Israel and other friends will face an imminent existential threat, and Iran’s power and influence in the Middle East will be greater than any other regional player should it acquire ballistic missiles, and then suddenly abrogate the agreement and race to develop nuclear warheads. Other powers in the region aren’t going to stand by for the next few years and watch this threat develop. They’ll do what they have to do, irrespective of U.S. wishes. A nuclear arms race will likely ensue in the most volatile, terrorist ridden region on earth.
“We have put the lives of American soldiers at greater risk. By allowing Iran to develop an advanced military arsenal, our concessions have greatly increased the probable cost of a military response to Iran’s violations of the agreement.
“Many pundits have hailed the agreement, and the Democrats’ obstruction of a vote in Congress on a resolution disapproving it, as a great accomplishment for the President. This might sound funny coming from me, but I sincerely hope they’re right. I hope the agreement proves to be a great success in the judgment of history. That would mean our worst fears weren’t realized.
“I’m very worried they will be, that the situation in the Middle East will be made exponentially worse as a nuclear arms race is added to the usual violence and instability there; terrorist networks become stronger, better funded and more effective; and one of our best and most important allies, Israel, confronts an existential threat that compels it to make a very hard, dangerous decision without the reliable support of the United States. I’m pretty sure, considering the nature and past behavior of the Iranian regime, that history will judge this agreement and current U.S. policy toward Iran as a catastrophe. I would be thrilled and relieved to be proved wrong.
“There are times when the natural optimism of Americans is challenged by exposure to inhumanity we can barely comprehend. For most of us, slavery is something we thought was eradicated in the 19th Century. But human trafficking, slavery by another name, is thriving in the world today. And not just in the dark corners of Asia or other parts of the Third World. It’s happening in Europe and the United States. Each year, hundreds of thousands of victims, mostly destitute women and children, are sold into bondage and transported across international borders to places where they are cruelly, wickedly abused.
“We must do more, as government and as individuals, to fight this depraved indifference to the humanity of the victims. We can start by recognizing the magnitude of the problem, and how it is tolerated by a social attitude that ignorantly considers prostitution a victimless crime.
“I’m very proud of my wife, Cindy’s efforts to bring attention to the scourge of human trafficking, to help the victims and bring the perpetrators to justice. I’ve enlisted as a soldier in her cause, and I hope many more people will join me.
“We often hear complaints that we can’t be the world’s policeman. We have our own problems. We need to concentrate our resources on fixing them, and let other countries that are never grateful for our help, that don’t even seem to like us, sort out theirs. That’s a popular sentiment in some quarters these days, even with one or two of our presidential candidates. I don’t agree with it, and I hope most of you don’t either.
“We are not a perfect nation. But each time we fail, our conscience should sting and we should resolve to do better. Whatever our flaws, whatever dangers we face, however sharp our debates, we must remain a country with a conscience. And our conscience should always sting and call us to action when we let inhumanity persist where we could do something about it.
“Growing up, my favorite book was Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. The title, of course, is taken from the poet John Donne’s meditation. It is his call to action I would like to close with for it has inspired me to be better public servant, to be a better human being, all my life.
“Any man’s death diminishes me,
“Because I am involved in mankind,
“And therefore, never send for whom the bell tolls,
“It tolls for thee.
“Thank you and God bless.”