ASU will be partner in international think tank
by Dan Nowicki - May. 23, 2012 11:17 PM
WASHINGTON - Sen. John McCain's political legacy is set to be preserved with a high-profile new institute established at Arizona State University.
The McCain Institute for International Leadership will be based in Washington, D.C., but also will have a physical presence on ASU's Tempe campus.
The McCain Institute is expected to formally launch in December, initially funded with the senator's surplus presidential campaign cash, and should be fully up and running by early next year. It's unusual, but not unprecedented, for a sitting senator who hasn't announced retirement plans to get his own institute. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has had a center at the University of Louisville since 1991.
"ASU is the prime mover in setting up the institute to focus on foreign-affairs issues that are important to Arizona," said McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee and the ranking GOP member on the Senate Armed Services Committee. "A big part of it is a (fellows) program for not only Americans but also for foreign students to come and study. I think it's something that really could be important in a very rapidly changing world."
The McCain Institute will stress "character-driven leadership" and provide a forum to vigorously debate the sort of national-security and foreign-policy issues that have shaped McCain's five terms in the Senate. The institute's fellows program will groom budding international leaders from the military, the media, politics and other walks of life. Institute leaders hope to set up an annual Arizona event called the Sedona Forum that would attract foreign leaders and American policymakers to the state.
"The charge of the McCain Institute for International Leadership fits in perfectly with Arizona State University's core mission of having a significant positive impact on the larger community, and we are grateful to Senator McCain for his support of this important university endeavor," ASU President Michael Crow said in a written statement. "It will be guided by the values that have animated the career of Senator McCain -- a commitment to sustaining America's global leadership role, promoting freedom, democracy and human rights, as well as maintaining a strong, smart national defense."
Several elements of the institute remain in the planning stages, such as exactly what form it will take in Tempe, although officials intend to take advantage of the innovative ASU Decision Theater, a high-tech computer center that allows users to visualize solutions to problems. The institute also will have an independent board of trustees that will have no governing authority but will provide guidance and advice.
"For McCain, he thought it was very important to have something that becomes institutional, that will focus on issues and things that he's cared about in his career that goes well beyond his own contribution," said Kurt Volker, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO who is the McCain Institute's Washington-based executive director. "He also wants to create a venue where people can gather together at a very senior level to talk about the world we're living in, what we're doing about it and 'Are we building good leadership to deal with it?' ... It's important both to McCain and to ASU that there be a footprint in Arizona itself as well."
McCain is using $9 million of leftover cash from his 2008 presidential campaign to get the institute started. He began transferring the money to ASU through a recently created charitable trust called the McCain Institute Foundation. Charitable contributions are an allowable use of surplus campaign money under federal election law. The $9 million donation is expected to initially generate about $500,000 in interest a year, an amount that ASU will match. The institute also is planning significant additional fundraising efforts.
McCain, 75, said his decision to donate the unused campaign money to his namesake institute should not be construed as an indication that he won't seek a sixth Senate term when he comes up for re-election in 2016. But he made clear the frustration he feels these days as a member of the minority party in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
"We can always raise money," McCain told The Arizona Republic when asked about his future political intentions. "I thought I'd wait a couple of years before we have to address that issue. I'm surrounded by such incompetency that it's very dispiriting sometimes."
The groundwork for the new McCain institute has been laid over the past several months.
In late April, McCain and some of his longtime allies gathered at the Enchantment Resort in Sedona for a "cornerstone meeting" intended to bring the vision for the institute into clearer focus. Besides McCain and Volker, attendees included CIA Director David Petraeus; Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.; and Hollywood actor Ben Affleck, who is active in humanitarian efforts in Africa.
Volker is confident the institute will be able to attract a high level of star power and intellectual firepower as it tackles hot-button issues such as human trafficking, the U.S./Mexico border and postwar Afghanistan. He predicted the institute will have a global reach.
"I don't think very many people have the same kind of access around the world that McCain has," Volker said. "When you mention his name, you do get top-tier people wanting to be associated and be helpful."
Volker also vowed that the McCain Institute won't turn out to be just another Washington think tank offering "rubber chicken" banquets. He said an emphasis will be put on following proposals to implementation.
"What a lot of think tanks do is write papers, hold conferences, put out their ideas and that's it," Volker said. "If you have serious, implementable ideas, take another year or year-and-a-half and work on the implementation with the people who have the power to do it."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., met with several allies April27-29 to April 29CQ at the Enchantment Resort in Sedona to discuss Arizona State University's new McCain Institute for International Leadership.
On hand at the "cornerstone meeting": were:
- CIA Director David Petraeus.
- Actor Ben Affleck.
- Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.
- Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
- Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.
- Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.
Former U.S. ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker, now the McCain Institute's executive director.
- ASU President Michael Crow.