October 12th, 2014

McCain ISIS “is winning, and we’re not”

Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) join Candy Crowley to discuss the advancement of ISIS in the Anbar Province and Ebola in the US.


Senator McCain on Ebola: “my constituents are not comforted. There has to be more reassurance given to them. I would say that we don’t know exactly who’s in charge. There has to be some kind of czar.”

Senator McCain on the battle against ISIS: “First of all, they’re winning and we’re not. And the Iraqis are not winning, the Peshmerga, the Kurds are not winning, and there’s a lot of aspects of this. But there has to be a fundamental re-evaluation of what we’re doing because we are not — we are not degrading and ultimately destroying ISIS.”

Senator Sanders on US involvement in Iraq and Syria: “What I do not want, and I fear very much, is the United States getting sucked into a quagmire and being involved in perpetual warfare year after year after year.”

A full transcript of the interviews are available after the jump.



CROWLEY: With me now Senator John McCain, Republican from Arizona. Welcome, Senator. We appreciate it. Let me talk to you first about this breaking news we have this morning, and that is, look, I’m not a doctor, you’re not a doctor, we can only listen to doctors. But do you get the sense that the federal government is on top of this? Is there anything more you think the federal government can do?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, first of all, from spending time here in Arizona, my constituents are not comforted. There has to be more reassurance given to them. I would say that we don’t know exactly who’s in charge. There has to be some kind of czar.

I think that we have to look at people coming into the United States, not only at our airports here but the places where they leave from. As you know, there are not direct flights from Africa. And Americans have to be reassured here. I don’t think we are comforted by the fact that we were told there would never be a case of Ebola in the United States and obviously that’s not correct. I was impressed by your panel, but frankly I’d like to know who’s in charge, among other things.

CROWLEY: OK. And let me get you back to something that you and I have talked about before, and that is this war on ISIS.

We see territory — Kurdish territory in Syria that seems in danger of falling to ISIS. We now see Anbar province, which just seems to be just one city or so away from being taken over by ISIS. This is despite two months worth of U.S. or U.S.-led air strikes. So what is next in this activity against ISIS? I know you want to call it a war. Whatever you want to call it, what does the U.S. do next?

MCCAIN: First of all, they’re winning and we’re not. And the Iraqis are not winning, the Peshmerga, the Kurds are not winning, and there’s a lot of aspects of this. But there has to be a fundamental re-evaluation of what we’re doing because we are not — we are not degrading and ultimately destroying ISIS.

I don’t believe that ISIS will take Baghdad, but I think they can take the airport and that is crippling. And I also think that they can infiltrate into Baghdad with explosives, suicide bombings, et cetera, they can really dislocate — well, the first thing you’ve got to do is recognize that this present pinprick bombing is not working. Second of all, you need more boots on the ground in form – in the form of forward air controllers, special forces and other people like that.

You have to arm the Peshmerga, who are using old weapons that are Russian vintage against ISIS, who’s using ours. You have to do, I believe, what Erdogan and the Turks are asking and that is we create a buffer inside Syria and a no-fly zone. It’s immoral to send free Syrian army people into the barrel bombing of Bashar al Assad. And by the way, as we bomb is, Bashar al Assad moves in and he has intensified his strikes against the free Syrian army.


MCCAIN: So there has to be, Candy, a re-evaluation and a reengineering of what we’re doing, because it’s not working.

CROWLEY: There are U.S. advisers, as you know, some of them with Iraqi troops, at least in the protection of Baghdad or around Baghdad. You know that there is not public support for any kind of battalions of U.S. soldiers going back to Iraq. But there has not seemed to be any other country willing to put people inside Iraq to fight ISIS. So where does this go?

I mean, when the — if the administration — I’m sure every day they’re looking at it and saying, OK, do we need to refigure this? I mean, how do you refigure it given all of the restraints there are in taking this fight to ISIS?

MCCAIN: First of all, I’m not advocating sending battalions back in…


MCCAIN: …but we can do a lot more down at the operating level. We have to understand there’s no boundary between Syria and Iraq. Why should we differentiate? Certainly ISIS doesn’t.

We certainly must give them the weapons and capabilities that they need. But right now we are going to have to have effective air strikes. You can’t have that without forward air controllers on the ground. In Kobani, there’s no way you can use — orchestrate air support in that kind of urban fighting.

The ISIS has adjusted to these air strikes. Fortunately for them we gave them two weeks warning. And so this has to be a robust campaign with American forward air controllers and Special Forces on the ground supplying weapons to the Peshmerga and also supplying the free Syrian army and recognizing that you have to go after ISIS and Bashar al Assad at the same time or you will not succeed.

CROWLEY: I want to ask you about Kobani.

The U.N. special envoy to Syria has warned that if Kobani falls, the civilians that are left in that city, as I understand it almost half of it now under ISIS control that they will all be massacred, who likely to be massacred. Who protects those civilians?

MCCAIN: I don’t think that it’s possible to protect those civilians who are basically trapped within Kobani. I also agree there will be a massacre.

I remember when 8,000 people were ethnically cleansed in Srebrenica, which then galvanized Bill Clinton for us to intervene in Bosnia some time ago. We can’t afford to let this continue. And the stronger ISIS gets, the greater the threat to the United States of America. That’s what we have to understand and that’s why tough decisions have to be made and not gradually. We have to completely revamp our strategy, which clearly is not succeeding.

CROWLEY: And by revamping, you want more powerful, broader more expansive air strikes and boots on the ground insofar as they can be with Iraqi troops and forward-looking for the air assaults, is that correct?

MCCAIN: Buffer zone in Syria, no-fly zone, take on Bashar al Assad the same as we have ISIS. Recognize there’s no distinction between Iraq and Syria, arm the Peshmerga and let it be known that we are in this thing to win because it is a threat to the United States of America if they are able to establish this caliphate.


MCCAIN: General Allen had said that it would take more than a year to retake Mosul, the second largest city. We can’t afford that.

CROWLEY: Senator John McCain, thank you so much…

MCCAIN: Thank you.

CROWLEY: …for being with us this morning from Phoenix. We appreciate it.

CROWLEY: I want to go at the ISIS problem from a different perspective now. Senator Bernie Sanders is an independent from Vermont. He joins me. Senator Sanders, I think it’s fair to say and describe you as a dove, but you have also warned that you think ISIS is a dangerous and lethal operation and needs to be stopped. Tell me as you look at what’s happening now, and that is that while the air assaults continue and have some effect on their targets, they don’t seem to be slowing ISIS in any way. What’s your next move?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Well, Candy, I think the main point being made is of course ISIS is a brutal, awful, dangerous army and they have got to be defeated. But, Candy, this is not just an American problem. This is an international crisis. This is a regional crisis. And I think the people of America are getting sick and tired of the world and the region, Saudi Arabia and the other countries saying hey, we don’t have to do anything about it. The American taxpayer, the American soldiers will do all the work for us.

Most people don’t know is that Saudi Arabia is the fourth largest defense spender in the world, more than the U.K., more than France. They have an army which is probably seven times larger than ISIS. They have a major air force. Their country is run by a royal family worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

CROWLEY: Sure. But they have shown no sign at all that they want to go in and neither have the Jordanians although they seem a little more interested or the Turks. And so I’m just wondering since everyone agrees there needs to be ground forces of some sort that are effective, whether if those Arab nations don’t step forward as you want them to do and come in on the ground, does the U.S. then pull out its air strikes? I mean, how would — how do you handle that?

SANDERS: Well, here’s — the question that question that we have got to ask is why are the nations in the region not more actively involved? Why don’t they see this as a crisis situation?

Here’s the danger, Candy. If the Middle East people perceive this is the United States versus ISIS, the West versus East, Christianity versus Islam, we’re going to lose that war. This is a war for the soul of Islam and the Muslim nations must be deeply involved. And to the degree that developed countries are involved, it should be the U.K., France, Germany, other countries as well.

So I worry very much, and I go out around Vermont and around the country, and people are saying, yes, we’re concerned about ISIS, but we’re also concerned about the collapse of the American middle class. And infrastructure…


SANDERS: …which is falling apart. The need to create jobs in America. We can’t do it alone. It has to be an international and a regional coalition.

CROWLEY: Well, in fact I mean the president and his administration have collected any number of nations both in Europe and Arab nations who say, we support you and we support this idea of going against ISIS. And some countries have said, we’ll help you train some troops. We’ll give you money. We’ll provide a training base. But in the — at the end of the day what’s needed is folks on the ground.

I wonder what you think of Senator McCain saying, what we need is a much more aggressive, much more expansive air strikes from the U.S.- led coalition. We need to arm the Peshmerga and we do need to have more — not U.S. battalions of troops, not a group marching in, but more of those advisers and more of those people who can tell the air assaults where they should go. What about that role for America?

SANDERS: It’s a problem for the international community. And you asked me a moment ago, why aren’t other countries more deeply involved? I will tell you why.


SANDERS: Because they believe that the American taxpayers are going to do it and American soldiers ultimately will do it. And as long as that signal is out there, that is what’s going to happen.

I want the Saudi Arabian government to be actively involved. I want their troops to be on the ground. I don’t want them to believe that we’re going to do it for them. So, yes, I think we have to play a very strong and supportive role with the U.K., with France, with Canada, with other countries. It cannot and should not be the United States alone.

CROWLEY: And as far as the role so far that the U.S. is playing, is that too far for you or just about right?


CROWLEY: I mean, we’re leading the air assaults —

SANDERS: I think the president — it is very easy to criticize the president, you know, but this is an enormously complicated issue.

We are here today because of the disastrous blunder of the Bush- Cheney era which got us into this war in Iraq in the first place which then developed a can of worms that we’re trying to deal with right now. So I think, again, it has to be an international effort. I think the United States along with other countries have got to play an active role. ISIS is a terribly dangerous organization. This is — we have to do it internationally and regionally.

CROWLEY: And if that support is not there in terms of the ground troops that you are calling for from the Saudis, the Turks, the Jordanians, et cetera, if that help is not forthcoming on the ground, then does the U.S. pull out? It seems to me it’s a catch-22 to say, hey, you know, somebody has to deal with this but it shouldn’t be us so — but it’s dangerous and it is a threat to us, so when does the U.S. step back?

SANDERS: It is a threat to us, it is a threat to the U.K., maybe even a greater threat and to France. And so long as the word is out that people think we’re going to do it, they’re not going to step up to the plate. So I think what the United States has got to demand, yes, we’re going to be in this thing, not with troops on the ground but with air attack support and other support, arming those people who need to be armed. But you guys are going to have to get into this as well.

CROWLEY: So would you support broader air strikes and would you support arming — it sounds like you would, arming the Peshmerga, the Kurdish forces?

SANDERS: Yes. I think we should arm — even that’s a difficult issue to make sure that the people that we arm today don’t turn against us tomorrow. But I think providing arms for those people who we can trust and providing air support is in fact something we should be doing.

CROWLEY: But for you, would it be confined to the Peshmerga? I know that you voted against arming and training Syrian rebels. So is there a difference to you between the Peshmerga and the Syrian rebels?

SANDERS: Here’s where I am. We have been at war for 12 years. We have spent trillions of dollars. I’m chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. We have 500,000 young men and women who have come up — come home with PTSD and TBI. What I do not want and I fear very much is the United States getting sucked into a quagmire and being involved in perpetual warfare year after year after year. That is my fear.

CROWLEY: Senator Bernie Sanders, I thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate it.

SANDERS: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Come see us in Washington.