October 4th, 2015
12:03 PM ET

McCain on Trump’s Syria plan: “I don't think he understands very well the situation”

SOTU

Today on CNN’s State of the Union, Senator John McCain, R-Arizona joined anchor, Jake Tapper.

For more information, see http://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com/. Also, text highlights and a transcript of the discussion are below.

MANDATORY CREDIT: CNN’s “State of the Union”

Contacts: Lauren Pratapas — Lauren.Pratapas@turner.com; 202.465.6666; Liza Pluto – liza.pluto@turner.com

 

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS

McCain reacts to President Obama’s remarks on avoiding a proxy war between the US and Russia in Syria: [TAPPER]:  “My question to you, Senator, is this conflict in Syria already a proxy war with Russia?”
[MCCAIN]:  Of course it is.  And when the president says we're not going have that strategy, we don't have a strategy.  Excuse me?  We don't have a strategy.  Jake, you had to recall the events that took place over the weekend, when the president - when John Kerry, when we were watching this and - military buildup, including anti-aircraft missile batteries and fighter aircraft. ISIS doesn't have fighter aircraft or - and so that was kind of interesting.  But, more importantly, John Kerry called Lavrov three times to find out what was going on.  The president met for 90 minutes with Vladimir Putin.  Then, 48 hours later, a Russian general shows up at our embassy in Baghdad to give us an hour warning that strikes are commencing.   That is treating the United States with disdain and contempt.  And, of course, they are hitting the Free Syrian Army enclaves and places which have had some success.  This is the CIA-run operations.  And they want to take them out.”

Jake Tapper asks Sen. McCain on who he sides with this on this idea of a no-fly zone, Secretary Clinton or President Obama?  [TAPPER]:  “Hillary Clinton broke with President Obama this week.  She called for a no-fly zone over Syria.  President Obama was asked about that.  And he said there's a difference between running for president and being president.  Who do you side with this on this idea of a no-fly zone, Secretary Clinton or President Obama?” [MCCAIN]:  “Well, obviously Secretary Clinton.But, more importantly, General David Petraeus testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee not too many days ago, where he really laid out a strategy of what we need to do, which many of us have been calling for, for a long time, stop the barrel bombing, establish a no-fly zone, arm the Kurds, get some forward air controllers at work there, build up the Free Syrian Army again.”
McCain responds to Trump’s position regarding situation in Syria:I just don't think he - one, I don't think he understands very well the situation.  And he's entitled to his opinion.  As far as other members of my party are concerned, that all I can say is that, I know the realities.  I have been there for years.  We have said what needed to be done and predicted what was going to happen.  If there isn't a reassertion of American leadership in a variety of ways, such as recommended by General David Petraeus and many other experts, then we will face further consequences of an abject failure of American leadership.”

 

McCain on GOP Candidates Muslim Comments:I think we are hurting ourselves and our chances to win the general election.  If we disparage each other and impugn the character of each other, then, after the primary is over, then obviously there's a trust and support deficit amongst the American people.
I'm not utopian, Jake.  You know, I have always believed that a fight not joined is a fight not enjoyed.  But I wish that we would think about Ronald Reagan and the way he conducted his campaigns.  We can fight like blazes with each other where we disagree, but to impugn each other's characters and integrity is very harmful to each other, ourselves, and our chances of winning a general election.”

 

 

FULL TRANSCRIPT

THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Joining me now is Senator John McCain. Senator, thanks for joining us.  I want to get to Syria in just a moment, but I do want to start with Afghanistan.  We learned yesterday that it seems as though a United States airstrike badly damaged a hospital run by Doctors without Borders in the Afghan city of Kunduz, killing 19 members of the staff and patients and injuring 37.  The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights says it may be criminal.

I know we're still waiting for all the details to come in on this, but you're a former Navy pilot.  So, you have some insight into this that many of us don't.  How can something like this happen?

SENATOR MCCAIN:  Well, we call it fog of war, unfortunately.  And it's a tragedy, and our thoughts and prayers are - go out to them.

These - it's a wonderful organization, as you know, the Doctors Without Borders.  If we had had a forward air controller, it very - most likely would not have happened.  And this is also a result of our withdrawal.  And, by the way, it was surprising, this Taliban attack in Kunduz, because it's in the northern part of the country, where the Taliban have never been as strong as they have in other parts of the country.

So, it was an element of surprise, failure to have forward air controllers there, and fog of war.  And it's one of the reasons why we hate wars, Jake.

TAPPER:
  All right, let's move on to Syria, President Obama saying on Friday that his administration is not going to make Syria into a proxy war with Russia.  Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  We're not going to make Syria into a proxy war between the United States and Russia.  That would be bad strategy on our part.  This is not some, you know, superpower chessboard contest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER:  My question to you, Senator, is this conflict in Syria already a proxy war with Russia?

MCCAIN:  Of course it is.

And when the president says we're not going have that strategy, we don't have a strategy.  Excuse me?  We don't have a strategy.  Jake, you had to recall the events that took place over the weekend, when the president - when John Kerry, when we were watching this and - military buildup, including anti-aircraft missile batteries and fighter aircraft.

ISIS doesn't have fighter aircraft or - and so that was kind of interesting.  But, more importantly, John Kerry called Lavrov three times to find out what was going on.  The president met for 90 minutes with Vladimir Putin.  Then, 48 hours later, a Russian general shows up at our embassy in Baghdad to give us an hour warning that strikes are commencing.

That is treating the United States with disdain and contempt.  And, of course, they are hitting the Free Syrian Army enclaves and places which have had some success.  This is the CIA-run operations.  And they want to take them out.

With Vladimir Putin and Bashar Assad want to do is provide us with the choice between ISIS and Bashar Assad, that - but - and in order to do that, you take out the Free Syrian Army, which in the case the DOD-trained one, group, is now down to four or five, approximately $9 million each.

TAPPER:  Hillary Clinton broke with President Obama this week.  She called for a no-fly zone over Syria.  President Obama was asked about that.  And he said there's a difference between running for president and being president.

Who do you side with this on this idea of a no-fly zone, Secretary Clinton or President Obama?

MCCAIN:  Well, obviously Secretary Clinton.

But, more importantly, General David Petraeus testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee not too many days ago, where he really laid out a strategy of what we need to do, which many of us have been calling for, for a long time, stop the barrel bombing, establish a no-fly zone, arm the Kurds, get some forward air controllers at work there, build up the Free Syrian Army again.

And it's not too late.  We - this flood of refugees is a direct result of our failed policy.  It was a year ago the president said our goal was degrade and destroy ISIS.  We have made no progress there, and, of course, we now see Vladimir Putin inserting himself into the Middle East in a way they have - that Russia has not been since Anwar Sadat threw the Russians out in 1973.

He's maintaining his base and he's now dictating the pace of events in Syria, which is, of course, an abdication of American leadership.

TAPPER:  Senator, with the exception of Lindsey Graham, who you have endorsed, and maybe to a degree Rick Santorum, none of the other Republican presidential candidates are calling for such aggressive recommendations as you are.

In fact, listen to what your party's front-runner, Donald Trump, told CNN's Erin Burnett in terms of letting Russia fight ISIS in Syria.

Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT")

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:
  Let Syria and ISIS fight.  Why are we - why do we care?  Let ISIS and Syria fight.

And let Russia - they're in Syria already - let them fight ISIS.  Let Russia take care of ISIS.  How many - how many places can we be?
(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER:  That's your party's front-runner, sir.  What do you say?

MCCAIN:  Well, I guess the question is, is, do we want to keep slaughtering people in Syria that are fighting for freedom?  Do we want to continue the barrel bombing, which is one of the reasons why 240,000 Syrians have been murdered?

Do we want this flood of refugees to continue, which will eventually...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER:  Right.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER:  But what do you - what do you think of Donald Trump's position?

MCCAIN:  Now...

TAPPER:  And why do you think your party is...

MCCAIN:  I just don't think he - one, I don't think he understands very well the situation.  And he's entitled to his opinion.  As far as other members of my party are concerned, that all I can say is that, I know the realities.  I have been there for years.  We have said what needed to be done and predicted what was going to happen.

If there isn't a reassertion of American leadership in a variety of ways, such as recommended by General David Petraeus and many other experts, then we will face further consequences of an abject failure of American leadership.

TAPPER:  I want to ask you about the tone and tenor of the race on the Republican side.   A couple of weeks ago, Donald Trump was at a town hall when somebody said that the problem in the United States is Muslims.  He didn't say anything to correct the individual, who also said President Obama was a Muslim, which is obviously not true.

You took a very different position in 2008.  When somebody said something in a town hall, you corrected the woman in question.  You called then Senator Obama a decent family man and a citizen that you just happened to disagree with on policy.

What is your impression of what is going on, on the campaign trail when you hear your party either reacting or not reacting when such language is used?

MCCAIN:  I think we are hurting ourselves and our chances to win the general election.

If we disparage each other and impugn the character of each other, then, after the primary is over, then obviously there's a trust and support deficit amongst the American people.

I'm not utopian, Jake.  You know, I have always believed that a fight not joined is a fight not enjoyed.  But I wish that we would think about Ronald Reagan and the way he conducted his campaigns.  We can fight like blazes with each other where we disagree, but to impugn each other's characters and integrity is very harmful to each other, ourselves, and our chances of winning a general election.

TAPPER:  Do leaders have a responsibility to condemn bigotry when they hear it?

MCCAIN:  Oh, yes, I believe so.

TAPPER:  Why do you think people in your party are not doing that?

MCCAIN:  I'm not sure, but I think there's a lot of people in the party that are not happy about the tenor of some of the remarks and the allegations about each other.

And, again, I sense a great dissatisfaction with Washington here in Arizona.  But I also hear a lot of dissatisfaction about, one, the issues that are being discussed, which are not particularly relevant, and, two, the personal attacks that are being made.  And I'm afraid we will pay a price for it at the polls.  And I hope we will change.

TAPPER:
  Senator John McCain, thank you so much for your time.  I appreciate it so much, sir.

MCCAIN:  Thank you.

 

###END INTERVIEW###

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