Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., praised Facebook, Twitter and other social network sites Thursday, and called Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg the most popular man in the Middle East.
“This social networking cannot be underestimated in how all of these events, really the driving force in how all of this transformed and took place,” he said.
McCain and Independent Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, both fresh from a trip to the middle east region, participated in a wide ranging discussion at the Brookings Institution to share their views on the recent developments in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Libya.
Lieberman called the changes, “Even more consequential than the collapse of the Soviet Union” and suggested, “It’s in our strategic interest at this moment to help history move in the right direction.”
Further emphasizing the role technology has played, McCain relayed a story from a young man he met with in Egypt, who held up his blackberry and said, “I can get 200,000 people in the square in two hours.” And it’s Egypt the two lawmakers cautioned the Obama administration to keep an eye on.
“Egypt is the heart and soul of the Arab world,” McCain said. “What happens in Egypt will be vital to what happens in the rest of the region.”
He cautioned against the appearance of outside interference in Cairo, and insisted the best move for the U.S. to make was to help with job creation. To that end, he advised, “I hope the high tech community and friends of ours like John Chambers and Bill Gates and all of these people would come out and say, ‘Ok we’re gonna invest in Egypt, we’re gonna help people create jobs and opportunity.'”
On Libya, the two were united in their push for a no-fly zone.
“It’s not that hard to do…second of all the people on the ground are asking us to help,” McCain said. He quickly clarified that he was not interested in a ground conflict, but rather argued that, “We could neutralize very easily a very antiquated air defense system, with old airplanes…and that would help the very people who are sacrificing their lives as we speak.”
The Pentagon has confirmed that the Libyan government has used air strikes against the rebel forces, however Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Wednesday that establishing a no-fly zone would not be a simple task.
“A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy their air defenses. That’s the way you do a no-fly zone,” he told Congress.
When asked for their overall impression of the Obama administration’s handling of these events to date, Lieberman responded, “In my opinion they were a little slow…but there is a reservoir of good will that can be capitalized on and I think that it is very important that the President do that.”
However McCain held a much positive view, telling the group, “This administration came into power with an anti-Bush agenda, whether that was the right thing to do or not I think history will judge. But I also think that this administration has come a long way, especially in this last year and I give them credit for that. And so I certainly like what Secretary Clinton has been saying, I certainly appreciate many of the things the administration has been saying.”