April 26th, 2015
01:16 PM ET

McCain: U.S-Iran alliance an “illusion”


Today on CNN’s State of the Union, John McCain (R-AZ) joined Jim Acosta for an exclusive interview to discuss the U.S. drone policy, Iran-U.S. negotiations, and 2016 elections.

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS

On the U.S. drone program: “ And there is kind of an internal struggle going on within the administration and within the Congress as to which - whether it should be an armed services operation, this whole issue of drone strikes, or should it be done by the CIA? Obviously, as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, I have some bias, but it seems to me that as much as we could give responsibility and authority over to the Department of Defense, because that's really not the job of the intelligence agency.  But back to your question, I think then that raises the debate. Do we need to continue drone strikes? And if so, how? Obviously, better intelligence. But we are now facing a new form of warfare, these nonstate terrorists organizations that are spread all over hell's half-acre. And, really, the only way you can get at them that we know of now that is viable is through the drone operations.  They have taken out leadership. And we can argue - in fact, I would argue strenuously we - there are places where we could have done a lot more, but this is sort of an aspect of the frozen conflict, where we are not going to send boots on the ground to go get those people, and that is certainly understandable. “

On the U.S.-Iran alliance: “ I think diplomacy should be given a chance. And what I was saying is - was - they are the facts. The facts are that the ayatollah depicts the state of negotiations as far as inspections are concerned, as far as lifting of sanctions are concerned and other aspects of this deal that are diametrically opposed to what John Kerry and the State Department is telling us. I mean, that's just a fundamental fact. I think George Shultz and Henry Kissinger were correct in the op- ed they had in "The Wall Street Journal," where they said these negotiations begin in order to rid of Iran of ever having a nuclear capability to delaying Iran from having another nuclear - a nuclear ability. And I can assure you, Jim, that if this deal goes through the way it appears it is, you will see a nuclear-armed Middle East. And that's incredible dangerous.”

On running as Lindsey Graham’s vice president: I don't think Lindsey would be - he is really a smart guy. So, I don't think he would ever consider such a thing.”

TRANSCRIPT
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ACOSTA: Senator McCain, thanks very much for joining us. Thanks for getting up so early this morning. SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Thank you, Jim.

ACOSTA: You have had a couple days to mull this over, the drone strikes that resulted in the deaths of those two hostages. Were their deaths preventable, in your view?

MCCAIN: I think it was probably preventable, in that there was an obvious breakdown in intelligence. They didn't know that they were there, and our - as you know, all of our prayers and thoughts are with their families.

So, it was obviously preventable, but the question then is, do we continue these drone strikes, and how important are they? Those raises all - that raises all of those questions, and it's clearly a subject for review by both Intelligence and Armed Services committees and the entire Congress.

ACOSTA: And I noticed this week, after the president's admission about these drone strikes and the terrible tragedy that occurred, that both he and the White House did not use the word drone, and they did not say that the CIA program existed.

But we do know that to be a fact, isn't that right, Senator, that these drone strikes are run by the CIA?

MCCAIN: Yes.

And there is kind of an internal struggle going on within the administration and within the Congress as to which - whether it should be an armed services operation, this whole issue of drone strikes, or should it be done by the CIA? Obviously, as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, I have some bias, but it seems to me that as much as we could give responsibility and authority over to the Department of Defense, because that's really not the job of the intelligence agency.

But back to your question, I think then that raises the debate. Do we need to continue drone strikes? And if so, how? Obviously, better intelligence. But we are now facing a new form of warfare, these nonstate terrorists organizations that are spread all over hell's half-acre. And, really, the only way you can get at them that we know of now that is viable is through the drone operations.

They have taken out leadership. And we can argue - in fact, I would argue strenuously we - there are places where we could have done a lot more, but this is sort of an aspect of the frozen conflict, where we are not going to send boots on the ground to go get those people, and that is certainly understandable.

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: And that's something that - that's something that White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said earlier this week, that they can't conduct an Osama bin Laden every time they want to take out terrorists on the battlefield. But I want to pick on something you just said a few moments ago, which is - and I know you said this a couple of years ago - that you would like to see the drone program moved out from the CIA and over to the Pentagon. Why has that not happened?

MCCAIN: Turf battles.

ACOSTA: The CIA doesn't want to give it up?

MCCAIN: Failure to - in all candor, obviously.

And the president said a couple years ago he wanted them moved. There is some question about the capabilities and the equipment that the CIA - that the DOD, as compared with CIA.

What this will do, Jim, is we will renew this discussion with the administration, within Congress as to who actually should be running the drone operation.

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: In your view, the CIA should not run this - yes.

But it's - in your view, the CIA should not run this program? I don't mean to interrupt, but want to get that point in.

MCCAIN: I do not think so. That's why they are - that's why they are called the intelligence agency and why we call the armed forces the - obviously, the people that are supposed to be carrying out military operations.

[09:05:06]

And I can understand, when it was a very small operation, why it would be done by the intelligence agencies, such as U-2s and other reconnaissance aircraft, for many years. Now it has reached the point where it's an integral part of the conflict and a very essential one, so I think it should be conducted and oversight and administered by the Department of Defense.

ACOSTA: I want to turn to Iran.

As you know, earlier this week, there was the potential for this military confrontation between the U.S. and Iran when it was feared that the Iranians were sending arms through their naval ships over to Yemen to support the Houthi rebels there who are sort of fighting this proxy war on the part of the Iranians.

And the U.S. sent an aircraft carrier to - the White House would not say that they were essentially whether there to block those weapons from being delivered. But do you think a - some sort of military action would have been advisable if push came to shove, if it was necessary to block the shipments?

MCCAIN: Absolutely. There is no doubt that the Houthis are sponsored, trained, and equipped, they're a proxy of the Iranians, who are again on the move in another country. You look where Yemen sits geographically, and it could be a threat to one of the world's most important waterways.

And I applaud the Saudis' efforts, their operations. And for us to continuously argue that they stop their campaign, I think, is ludicrous, part of this delusion that there is going to be a new U.S./Iranian alliance after the nuclear deal is consummated.

And so I applaud what the Saudis are doing. And it's going to be tough. And it going to be tough and hard, but they did the right thing. And why in the world the president wouldn't just say that? The president said, because we are going to preserve freedom of navigation? Come on. Let's be straight with the American people. It was all about resupply of the Houthis.

ACOSTA: Do you think he was afraid of spoiling this deal? Do you think he was afraid of spoiling this nuclear deal?

MCCAIN: Every - so much - so much of their actions are related to this - this nirvana, this mirage out there that, with the nuclear deal, we are going to have some kind of new relationship throughout the Middle East.

That scared the hell out of our Sunni Arab allies. And, frankly, it scares the hell out of me, because they are on the move in the - all of these countries, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. And they are on the move in other places as well. They are carrying out very aggressive operations.

ACOSTA: And, Senator, you know that the president, a couple of weeks ago, slammed you, when he essentially accused of you trusting the ayatollah more than Secretary of State John Kerry when you said that the administration and the ayatollah were on separate pages when it comes to this nuclear deal.

Do you think that diplomacy has any chance of success? And don't you think diplomacy should be given a chance here?

MCCAIN: I think diplomacy should be given a chance. And what I was saying is - was - they are the facts.

The facts are that the ayatollah depicts the state of negotiations as far as inspections are concerned, as far as lifting of sanctions are concerned and other aspects of this deal that are diametrically opposed to what John Kerry and the State Department is telling us. I mean, that's just a fundamental fact.

I think George Shultz and Henry Kissinger were correct in the op- ed they had in "The Wall Street Journal," where they said these negotiations begin in order to rid of Iran of ever having a nuclear capability to delaying Iran from having another nuclear - a nuclear ability.

And I can assure you, Jim, that if this deal goes through the way it appears it is, you will see a nuclear-armed Middle East. And that's incredible dangerous.

ACOSTA: Let me turn to 2016, because I know there was this dust- up between you and Senator Rand Paul.

And Senator Rand Paul referred to you as a lapdog. And you said he was the worst possible candidate of the 20 or so that are running on the most important issue, which is national security. That comeback from you, wouldn't that make a great Hillary Clinton campaign ad if Rand Paul is the nominee of your party?

MCCAIN: Well, my first obligation is to the security of the country, and Rand Paul is behind leading from behind. The - the...

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: Would you serve as his running mate if he were to - if he were to ask you to be on his ticket, would you - would you serve on his ticket?

MCCAIN: You know, the vice president has two duties. One is to enquire daily as to the health of the president, and the other is to break a tie vote in the United States Senate.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN: I am not interested.

ACOSTA: So, you wouldn't - you wouldn't serve as vice president on anybody's ticket?

What about Lindsey Graham? You are essentially his surrogate now in this upcoming campaign.

MCCAIN: Well, I just - I just feel, Jim, that I can be far more effective as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

There are challenges - well, again, Henry Kissinger and George Shultz and Madeleine Albright and all those people we respect have stated unequivocally we are in greater crises than we have ever been since the end of World War II. I agree with them.

ACOSTA: But, getting back to Lindsey Graham, you - you are going to be, I suppose, his chief surrogate in this upcoming campaign.

If he were to ask you to be his vice presidential running mate, I assume you would say yes to that. Isn't that right?

MCCAIN: Well, that's - I don't think Lindsey would be - he is really a smart guy. So, I don't think he would ever consider such a thing.

(LAUGHTER)

ACOSTA: Do you wish...

MCCAIN: And we are very close, and there is no doubt about that, but he understands national security as no other candidate does.

ACOSTA: And do you wish you had picked him as your running mate back in 2008?

MCCAIN: Oh, no, no, I certainly don't.

But I have watched him grow. I have watched him handle his responsibilities on the Armed Services Committee and the Budget Committee, and I have seen him. And it's one of the great life stories that we have ever had, frankly.

ACOSTA: OK.

And let me ask you about the president's remarks last night. I am sure you probably noticed or you have heard since - since last night the president took a little swipe at you when talking about the security lapses at the White House and fence-jumpers and so forth.

He suggested - he made a suggestion as to how to beef up security at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Let's throw to that tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am happy to report that the Secret Service, thanks to excellent reporting by White House correspondents, they are really focusing on some of the issues that have come up. And they have finally figured out a foolproof way to keep people off my lawn.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Senator, I don't know if you can see it there in Arizona, but there was a picture of you basically saying "Get off my lawn" over at the White House.

What was your response to that? What did you make of that?

MCCAIN: Well, I am reporting for duty on Monday morning...

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN: ... in my usual laid-back, casual style, my diplomatic style.

I am telling you, I will get that Secret Service squared away. I am ready for the job.

(LAUGHTER)

ACOSTA: All right, very good. Senator John McCain, thanks for joining us this morning, and being a good sport there at the end. It's always great talking to you, sir.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

ACOSTA: Thank you, Senator.

END

 


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