by Steve Fyffe
U.S. Senator John McCain told a select group of Stanford undergraduate students that technological innovation had created both unparalleled opportunities for the United States as well as new national security risks, during a visit to Silicon Valley this week.
“This has changed the world,” Senator McCain told the students as he held up his smart phone.
“This is the biggest change in our ability to inform and educate than any invention since the printing press.”
However, McCain told students that he believed the United States needed to develop a clearer policy for responding to cyber attacks from foreign nations.
“You’ve got to accept a fundamental premise, that cyber attacks are an act of war…but that doesn’t mean you’re going to war in a conventional fashion,” he said.
“The people who are doing these cyber attacks have to realize that the costs will be higher than the benefits of the attack. Everybody has to know that there will be a price to pay for it.”
McCain called on the students, who included several computer science majors, to step up and defend the United States in cyber space.
“I would call on the people here to help us develop defensive capabilities, and frankly, offensive capabilities,” McCain said.
In the wide-ranging conversation, McCain fielded questions from students and shared his views on the conflict in Syria, the Iran nuclear deal, Russia’s imperial ambitions and the pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
“I study international security, and I feel that his dedication to national security and to veterans have been fundamental, and it was an honor to meet him and hear him talk about these issues,” said Chelsea Green.
The forty students who met with McCain were selected for their special interest in international affairs and politics, and included representatives from the Center for International Security and Cooperation’s honors program, Hoover Institution National Security Mentees and Stanford in Government student group.
International relations major Kayla Bonstrom said she was excited to meet the Senator from her home state of Arizona.
“He was very easy to talk to,” she said.
Bonstrom said McCain’s casual style, which included the occasional joke, helped put the students at ease.
“It was nice to see him in a different setting.”
Mathematical and computation science major Varun Gupta said he was touched by the empathy McCain showed when he shared his experiences visiting refugee camps in war zones.
“It was good to see his concern, his actual visceral concern for these issues,” Gupta said.
“It was really great to see the more human side.”
Other students were also impressed by McCain’s sincerity.
“He seems to sincerely believe in all of his views,” said Alexa Andaya, a political science major.
“You can tell when he says something he’s genuine about it.”
Matt Nussbaum, another political science major, said that while he disagreed with many of McCain’s hawkish positions on national security, he welcomed the opportunity to hear the opinions of such a seasoned veteran of foreign policy.
“A lot of times, we’re looking at the academic side of things, and I think that’s very interesting, but Senator McCain and other policy makers use the theory to create policy, so it’s useful to see what they think, how they think and why they think that way,” Nussbaum said.
McCain ended his talk by urging the students to get more involved in politics, whether they were “Democrat or Republican, libertarian or vegetarian.”
He told them that he believed the next presidential election was going to be the most important decision point for the country since 1980, when Republican Ronald Regan defeated Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter.
“Pick the cause that you want to support, pick the candidate you want to support, and be engaged,” he said.
“It’s your future. You’re the ones that are going to live with the person that you choose to be president of the United States.”