Today on CNN’s State of the Union, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) told Gloria Borger the Obama administration has no strategy to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq. In addition, Senator McCain discussed the nature of the terrorist attacks in Paris and the possibility of indicting General George Petraeus. Text highlights and a transcript of the discussion are below.
McCain on General Petraeus: “He deserves better treatment than have a leak to “The New York Times” about a recommendation, which is a violation of his rights and any citizen’s rights.”
McCain on the nature of the attack in Paris: “The nature of that attack showed a degree of professionalism that no lone wolf could have carried out. And right now, in training camps throughout particularly Syria, where we are leaving Bashar al-Assad alone with some incredible hope that the Iranians will work with us, which is bizarre, but right now in Syria, they are training people to go back to the country they came from, and commit acts of terror. That was the view of the head of British intelligence, not just mine.”
McCain on the Obama Administration’s foreign policy failure: “When we didn’t leave a residual, a sustaining force behind in Iraq, and when the president turned down the advice of his head national security advisers not to arm the Free Syrian Army, and a number of other decisions, that laid the groundwork for ISIS. And now we have a situation where the largest extremist caliphate in history is now in Iraq and Syria, and we have no strategy. We have no strategy to degrade or defeat it.”
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BORGER: And the Paris attacks have launched a new round of criticism here in the U.S. about President Obama’s foreign policy. And with me now is the man we were just talking about, Senator John McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee and also a member of the Homeland Security Committee.
Thanks so much for being with me this morning, Senator McCain.
We will get to Paris.
Let me just now have you respond to what Eric Holder said on General Petraeus. He said that this investigation has been handled appropriately. You say it’s been grievously mishandled.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Gloria, is it appropriate to leak information that is supposed to be kept sealed until a decision is made, the recommendation, not the decision?
It’s a violation of any citizen’s rights to have that information leaked, much less a man, as Dianne Feinstein just said, that is a genuine American hero.
And, by the way, I don’t know if there’s guilt or innocence. I might add, as an aside, classified information is leaked to the media every day in our nation’s capital. But that’s beside the point. But the fact is, this…
BORGER: Well, Dianne Feinstein didn’t seem to think he should be indicted.
MCCAIN: Well, I think that — look, I can’t make that judgment, because I don’t know the information.
But I do know that this is — I — one of the great honors of my life is to meet, to have known some great military leaders. This man is unique. He is one of the great leaders. Ask anybody who served under him. He — with the — he was an architect of the surge which turned Iraq around. He may have saved thousands of American — young Americans’ lives.
And, obviously, he deserves better treatment than have a leak to “The New York Times” about a recommendation, which is a violation of his rights and any citizen’s rights.
BORGER: OK. And, Senator, thank you on that.
Let me just switch now, if I might, to Paris, the terror attack there, the unity rally we have been watching and is now up on our screen as well in Paris.
You have just heard the attorney general, Eric Holder, saying that he’s going to try to coordinate more with the French. There needs to be better coordination among — among all the allies. You have said that what occurred in France is a direct threat, not only to Europe, but to the United States.
Can you elaborate on that?
I paid attention to what the head of British intelligence, MI5, said in his speech, and others have said, experts, that these — these organizations pose a direct threat, pose a direct threat. Now, whether it’s an immediate threat or not, I don’t want to get into wordsmithing.
But when Mr. Baghdadi left our Camp Bucca, after spending four years there in Iraq, he said, “I will see you in New York.” He wasn’t kidding. But the point here is that I’m glad that Eric Holder is keeping an eye on people and all that.
But this is because — the result of leading from behind. This — this is the same organization these people are trained from that the president of the United States said Yemen and Somalia were success stories. We made — when we didn’t leave a residual, a sustaining force behind in Iraq, and when the president turned down the advice of his head national security advisers not to arm the Free Syrian Army, and a number of other decisions, that laid the groundwork for ISIS.
And now we have a situation where the largest extremist caliphate in history is now in Iraq and Syria, and we have no strategy. We have no strategy to degrade or defeat it.
BORGER: Well, you are — you are calling for a coherent strategy to combat this global terrorist movement, which we’re clearly witnessing.
But what would that be? Would that be more boots in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen? How — what would that coherent strategy look like, Senator?
MCCAIN: Well, first of all, it would require some — some boots on the ground, not like the — before.
But we certainly need forward air controllers. We haven’t been able to drive ISIS out of a town called Kobani using the full weight or using American airpower for several months now. We lost — we lost 86 brave Americans and 400 wounded to take Fallujah. That’s one-tenth the size of Mosul.
ISIS right now is winning. And we need to go after them, and we need to have more boots on the ground. We need to understand that Syria and Iraq are the same. We need to arm the Free Syrian Army. We need a no-fly zone, which many of us have been calling for, for years, and a coherent strategy that can be presented to the Congress, because they’re going to be wanting an authorization for the use of military force.
BORGER: And — and let me clarify that.
BORGER: When you say boots on the ground, do you mean intelligence? Do you mean combat?
MCCAIN: I mean — I mean intelligence. I mean forward air controllers. I mean trainers. I mean more air assets. I mean across the board an increase.
And if you talk to any of our military experts, those not in the administration, they’ll tell you that’s basically what we need, and it’s fairly obvious what we need. And it’s also obvious when the president did not leave a residual force behind as Ryan Crocker, Bob Gates and Leon Panetta have said we could have, that was the seminal moment that led to the situation we are in today, the largest terrorist organization in history.
So, I appreciate Eric Holder keeping an eye on people that come and go, but the fact is, as long as the incubator is there, we’re going to have people who are going to try to do what they did in Paris a few days ago.
BORGER: Senator, before I ask you another question, I want to point out to our viewers what they’re seeing on the screen, which is a picture now of all the world leaders, more than 50, who are linking arms and are marching in unity against terror down the streets of Paris. It’s quite an astonishing view. You see, Angela Merkel there with Hollande.
Let me get back to you, Senator, on this. If you put boots — if you put boots, if you put intelligence on the ground, how does that stop what Attorney General Holder called, the lone wolves, the folks who are being radicalized over the internet, as Senator Feinstein was talking about…
BORGER: …those people who are uneducated perhaps, maybe poor, maybe looking for some kind of salvation in another world? And how will that…
BORGER: …stop those people, because that’s what some folks are saying the Kouachi brothers may have been? And how can you combat all of the activity and what the British director of intelligence called, all those dark places?
MCCAIN: Well, first of all, we have to have every Muslim cleric in the world, especially in the West, condemn this as a violation of the Koran, and an honorable and decent religion. That has to happen and it hasn’t been happening.
Second thing is obviously we have to again (ph) try to track these people, but look, it’s a threat, the lone wolf. It is a serious threat, but that’s far different from sleeper cells manned by people who were trained as one of these young men was in Yemen, the success — Yemen. Trained in Yemen and trained — and they’ll be trained — and they’re training them right now in Syria, where we have refused to help the Free Syrian Army. They’re killing more than we are training, and that we have to go to the heart of it, because there’s one thing to have a lone wolf, and that’s bad. But far worse is a person who has been trained and equipped and sent on a specific mission. That’s where you get the big attacks.
BORGER: And Senator, this female suspect as we know is probably on her way to Syria, if she’s not there already.
MCCAIN: Yes, and obviously there was at least some training.
The nature of that attack showed a degree of professionalism that no lone wolf could have carried out. And right now, in training camps throughout particularly Syria, where we are leaving Bashar al-Assad alone with some incredible hope that the Iranians will work with us, which is bizarre, but right now in Syria, they are training people to go back to the country they came from, and commit acts of terror. That was the view of the head of British intelligence, not just mine.
BORGER: OK. Senator, thanks so much for being with us this morning, because now we’re going to go back to Paris where Jake Tapper is.