Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, spoke to Crowley about US airstrikes in Iraq, ISIS’ threat to national security, and Obama’s leadership and strategy in the Middle East.
“While the president has continued to say this is an Iraqi problem, this is an Iraqi problem, but it's a United States problem and it is a threat to our national security.” Senator John McCain
McCain on President Obama’s strategy in Iraq: “The president made it clear that this was to avert the humanitarian crisis that they were taking these actions and to protect American military personnel that are in Irbil and Baghdad. That's not a strategy. That's not a policy. That is simply a very narrow and focused approach to a problem which is metastasizing as we speak. Candy, there was a guy a month ago that was in Syria, went back to the United States, came back and blew himself up. We're tracking 100 Americans who are over there now fighting for ISIS. ISIS is attracting extreme elements from all over the world, much less the Arab world. And what have we done?”
McCain on the withdrawal of troops in Iraq: “the consequences of our failure to leave a residual force and our announcement that we are leaving the area in a vacuum of leadership, especially in that part of the world, we are paying a price for it.”
McCain on what he would do in the Middle East: “I would be rushing equipment to Irbil. I would be launching airstrikes not only in Iraq, but in Syria against ISIS. They have erased the boundaries between Iraq and Syria. I would be providing as much training and equipment as I can to - as I said, to the Kurds, and I would do a lot of things that we can not have to wait for Maliki to leave there. And I would be giving assistance to the Syrian - the Free Syrian Army, which is on the ropes right now because we failed to help them. And this all goes back to a number of steps the president took, including a failure to leave a residual force in Iraq.”
Full transcripts of these interviews are available after the jump.
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CROWLEY: Welcome, Senator McCain. We appreciate your time this morning. Let me start out by quoting your initial reaction to the president's plans in Iraq. And that was that it was pinprick and that it was almost worse than nothing. You feared that he wouldn't follow through on what he said he was going to do. There have been now three U.S. - separate U.S. airstrikes aimed at ISIS forces in Iraq. Are you reassured?
MCCAIN: Three airstrikes, one taking out a Howitzer, and I'm not sure what the other two did.
Meanwhile, ISIS continues to surround these people. ISIS continues to make gains in Syria, destabilizing Lebanon and Jordan, even into Turkey, the - nearing Irbil, the capital of Kurdistan. Look at what has happened over the last few weeks since the crisis began.
While the president has continued to say this is an Iraqi problem, this is an Iraqi problem, but it's a United States problem and it is a threat to our national security. And I say that with the full backing or the quotes from our director of national intelligence, our secretary of homeland security, the director of the FBI, and even the attorney general of the United States.
This is turning into, as we had predicted for a long time, a regional conflict which does pose a threat to the security of the United States of America, and launching three strikes around a place where a horrible humanitarian crisis is taking place, meanwhile, ISIS continues to make gains everywhere, yes, is clearly very, very ineffective, to say the least.
CROWLEY: Well, it's been less than two days and three strikes. But I don't know - because I know you're traveling - whether you got a chance to hear the president's news conference yesterday.
But I want to play you something that he said in response to a question. And, first, he said that he would not give an end point at which point he would stop the airstrikes against ISIS targets, and then he had this to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We have to make sure that ISIL is not engaging in the actions that could cripple a country permanently. There's key infrastructure inside of Iraq that we have to be concerned about.
So there's going to be a counterterrorism element that we are already preparing for and have been working diligently on for a long time now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: So he's talking about counterterrorism plans that they have been working on. He has sent U.S. airplanes over there for three missile strikes, which he says we will not put an end to. We are going to protect Irbil, one of the towns that you mentioned.
So, does it not sound to you like this mission is larger and more toward what you're talking about?
MCCAIN: The president made it clear that this was to avert the humanitarian crisis that they were taking these actions and to protect American military personnel that are in Irbil and Baghdad.
That's not a strategy. That's not a policy. That is simply a very narrow and focused approach to a problem which is metastasizing as we speak. Candy, there was a guy a month ago that was in Syria, went back to the United States, came back and blew himself up. We're tracking 100 Americans who are over there now fighting for ISIS.
ISIS is attracting extreme elements from all over the world, much less the Arab world. And what have we done?
CROWLEY: So, what do you suggest, Senator?
MCCAIN: We have said this is a - quote - "Iraqi problem."
CROWLEY: Well, yes, what do you suggest? What is it militarily that you would do? As I understand it, you're not suggesting boots on the ground. What would you do?
MCCAIN: I would be rushing equipment to Irbil.
I would be launching airstrikes not only in Iraq, but in Syria against ISIS. They have erased the boundaries between Iraq and Syria. I would be providing as much training and equipment as I can to - as I said, to the Kurds, and I would do a lot of things that we can not have to wait for Maliki to leave there.
And I would be giving assistance to the Syrian - the Free Syrian Army, which is on the ropes right now because we failed to help them. And this all goes back to a number of steps the president took, including a failure to leave a residual force in Iraq.
CROWLEY: Senator, I hear you, but I think, when Americans hear you, they see someone who wants to get America engaged in a part of the world that, frankly, Americans are tired of in terms of having U.S. involvement.
They are now looking at a force that is using American equipment that we left in Iraq for the Iraqi army against people we now want to protect. Doesn't that speak to a need for the U.S. to be pretty careful about who it gives weapons to?
MCCAIN: Well, obviously, when we - I think when the president of the United States proudly announced that the last combat troop was out of Iraq, that, by the way, it's not a matter of whether, it's a matter of when Bashar al-Assad will be leaving power, and all those other statements about how the war is - conflict is winding down, all of which have turned out to be false, because there's a vacuum of American leadership all throughout the Middle East, not just - look at the Israeli-Hamas situation and others. But the fact is that there's no leadership. And decisions have consequences, and the consequences of our failure to leave a residual force and our announcement that we are leaving the area in a vacuum of leadership, especially in that part of the world, we are paying a price for it.
And we could have avoided it, and it is not inevitable. It's not like an earthquake or a hurricane. These things happen because of decisions that are made. And, again, I don't view the president stating that he's protecting American troops and trying to prevent a humanitarian crisis as an intervention that will have any effect whatsoever on the activity.
ISIS, in the last few weeks, while we have been waiting for a change from Maliki, they now control the two major dams in Iraq. They have the possibility of flooding parts of the country and cutting off energy. Meanwhile, ISIS is moving towards Irbil. This is a cataclysmic - this is a possibility of a cataclysmic scenario.
And the president says that he's going to protect American troops and try to prevent humanitarian disasters. That's the extent of his policy. There is no policy. And so, therefore, there's no strategy, so, therefore, things are going very, very badly.
CROWLEY: And, Senator, the result of this going very, very badly, when you say - and this is a direct threat, I know others are saying that, too - but when Senator John McCain says ISIS is a direct threat to American security, what people hear is to the American homeland. What is it that you mean? Where is that direct threat?
MCCAIN: Well, these people that are coming to fight on the side of ISIS are returning to their countries in Europe. And there's 100 of them that we are tracking in the United States.
As I mentioned to you already, one was in Syria, came back to the United States, and then went back to Syria, and blew himself up. Mr. Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, when he left our Camp Bucca, the camp in Iraq, said, see you in New York.
If you read what they're saying, we are the enemy. They want to destroy us. They are getting stronger all the time. They have attracted 1,00 young men from around the world who are now fighting on their side. This ISIS is metastasizing throughout the region. And their goal, as they have stated openly time after time, is the destruction of the United States of America.
And it's not John McCain that's saying it. It's the director of national intelligence, director of the FBI, the secretary of homeland security, and lately the attorney general.
CROWLEY: Senator McCain, lots of people, when we have you on, often say, why do you have him on so often? And we say because he answers our questions, because he expresses his views quite clearly.
And very often, what we get back - and I think you get it on Twitter, too - is, that's just John McCain. There isn't a thing this president could do that John McCain would approve of when it comes to foreign policy.
MCCAIN: Well, my reply is that there are a number of things that the president has done foreign policy-wise that I have not only approved of, but supported.
If I look at the world in January of 2009, and I look at the world today, I can tell you this, Candy. It's very, very different. And I believe that's because, when the United States of America withdraws from leadership from the world, it creates a vacuum, and bad things happen.
And, by the way, I predicted what was going to happen in Iraq. And I'm predicting to you now that if we pull everybody out of Afghanistan, not based on conditions, you will see that same movie again in Afghanistan.
CROWLEY: Senator John McCain, thank you so much for your time this morning.
MCCAIN: Thank you, Candy.
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