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Interview with Senator John McCain

Interview with Senator John McCain

By Larry King Live - October 7, 2009

LARRY KING: Good evening.

It's always a great pleasure to welcome Senator John McCain to LARRY KING LIVE.

Senator, we're going to begin with a quote from your Senate colleague, in fact, the co-author of one of the most famous bills ever offered in the Senate, Russ Feingold -- you of the famed McCain- Feingold bill.

But here is his statement. He issued it earlier today and he concluded it with this quote: "After eight years, it's time to give the Afghan people, the American people and the people around the world an idea of when our massive military presence will end. A flexible timetable to drawdown our troops in Afghanistan will diffuse the perception that we're occupying the country, which fuels militancy and instability in Afghanistan and nuclear-armed Pakistan."

How would you respond to that statement by your friend?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, he is my friend and I have the highest regard for him and he's a man of integrity. We are obviously at different -- a far different viewpoint on Afghanistan.

The situation in Afghanistan, in the words of General McChrystal, is deteriorating. And so therefore, that means if it continues, then the Taliban will regain power. I am confident that that means, unfortunately, further working in alliance and cooperation with Al Qaeda. It means destabilization of Pakistan. As the foreign minister of Pakistan said yesterday, that it would destabilize Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country.

General McChrystal and General Petraeus Admiral Mullen have come up with a strategy that will succeed. We need to act and we need to act with all deliberate speed.

KING: But as you know, Senator, the commander-in-chief makes the decisions. And we can remember back to the war you fought in. In Vietnam, General Westmoreland said all I need is 50,000 troops and we have to stay there because communism is going to spread.

Generals aren't always right, are they?

MCCAIN: No, they're not always right. And the commander-in- chief has the final responsibility. And I have full respect for that. But these generals have a track record of success, when many others, including the present president, predicted that it would fail. And so did the vice president. And so did the secretary of State. And so did the national security adviser.

So what I hope is that in weighing the options, the president will give great credence to leaders who have already succeeded in Iraq and use that model to -- to succeed.

I know of no one who believes that what we're doing now, which is basically counter-terrorism, will work. Again, the Pakistani foreign minister said the Pakistani Army goes into places and they clear and hold and secure. Right now, because we don't have sufficient resources, we don't do that.

So we have to employ the same strategy, adjusted to Afghanistan, that succeeded in Iraq. And I'm confident we can do it.

And, Larry, I'm sorry for the long answer, but Americans are weary. Russ Feingold, I think, articulated that. This is long and hard and tough and tragic. And like the surge in Iraq, there's going to be an increase in casualties in the short-term. I just don't believe that America's national security wouldn't be threatened if there was a return of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

KING: You and other members of Congress, you met with the president yesterday and you reportedly told him -- and I want to see if it's true -- that deciding what to do in Afghanistan would "not be a leisurely process."

Does that mean -- if you said that, does that mean a decision has to be made like yesterday?

MCCAIN: Well, I think it should be made -- be made very soon. The strategy was decided on last March, when the president said this is a war of necessity, we have to win, etc. And there have been some events that would impact the strategic situation. But overall, it's the same strategy that would be employed as was adopted last March.

I don't think that the president should be rushed in. I think the appropriate phrase would be deliberate speed, because we have 68,000 over there. As you well know and Americans well know, we just lost 10 very tragically. And so -- and the situation continues to deteriorate. It calls for action.

KING: But, also, as you well know, the public opinion is now against this. If America -- and I know that's not the way we do things, but if this were a referendum, they would say leave.

Do you agree?

MCCAIN: I understand Americans are weary. And nobody is more weary than the men and women who serve and their families and those who have already sacrificed.

But I really believe that if the president of the United States, who has -- is held in very high esteem made the MCLEAN to the American people as to what we need to do and why we need to do it, I think that they would support him.

And I'd also like to say, I've never worried about the president announcing a pullout. I worry about half measures such as we employed in Iraq before the surge, which could lead to a bloodletting that, frankly, I would rather get out than not take measures to win the conflict.

KING: If we left -- give me the bad side.

What would happen if we left -- out, gone in three months?

MCCAIN: Well, I think the first thing that would happen is you'd see a return to power of the Taliban. As you know, they're already in control of certain areas. That -- the brutality of that regime ranks up there among the worst in history, especially where women are concerned.

Then I think you would see a certain destabilization in Pakistan, as their foreign minister said yesterday. And they are a nuclear power -- a nation with nuclear weapons. And then I think you would see the shared hatred that the Taliban and Al Qaeda have for us, that you would see them working together. And Afghanistan could return to a base for attacks on the United States and our allies. And Pakistan could be very destabilizing.

The foreign minister of Pakistan said yesterday, why did Benazir die?

In other words, Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated, had taken a position of taking on Al Qaeda and -- and Taliban. And he believes that that's one of the reasons why she was assassinated.

KING: Yes.

We'll be right back with more of Senator John McCain on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Senator John McCain.

He is on Capitol Hill at the Russell Senate Office Building.

Do you have problems with Stanley McChrystal, who was appointed by this president to run things in Afghanistan, speaking out publicly?

We remember one famous general named Douglas MacArthur spoke out publicly and lost his job because the commander-in-chief didn't agree.

Do you think the general should have spoken out?

MCCAIN: Well, I think so, given the situation. First of all, he had been invited to and had been cleared to make the speech in London that he made. And he responded to -- to questions.

Second of all, during the Vietnam War, as you recall, we wished that the military leaders had spoken out more. General Shinsheki, who spoke out that we needed 300,000 troops in Iraq, was made -- was certainly applauded for those comments.

I -- I think that General McChrystal would have rather remained quiet on this. I think he was answering a question. I know he respects the chain of command and respects the authority of the president.

But I would also add, I know this is a very tough decision for the president of the United States. I just think we need to make it with all deliberate speed.

KING: If he goes for it, though, that will enhance his reputation in your party and decrease it in his own, will it not?

MCCAIN: I think -- again, that's too -- it makes it -- that presents difficulties for the president because the left base of his party, obviously, is very strongly against it. And I also know that he's very popular with his party. He enjoys good approval ratings amongst Americans, and, obviously, he has great eloquence. I was exposed to that at least three times.

But the point is -- also, could I point out, Larry, that other presidents in history -- Harry Truman staying in Korea, Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, Franklin Delano Roosevelt prior to World War II -- they acted in the country's interests. I believe that this president will, too.

KING: And very often, though, Senator -- you know your history as well as anyone -- both Lincoln and Roosevelt overruled their generals.

MCCAIN: Yes, they did. And President Obama fired General McChrystal's predecessor. Harry Truman fired MacArthur and Matthew Ridway did extremely well. And Westmoreland was removed and his replacement, Creighton Abrams, succeeded, to a large degree.

KING: And where -- what do you think is going to happen?

We know what you want to happen.

What do you think he's going to do?

MCCAIN: I think that the president will agree with the recommendations of Admiral Mullen, General McChrystal and General Petraeus. I think he will. As I mentioned before, I think half measures would be the worst of all worlds. I'd rather get out than go back to the kind of counter-terror strategy that we employed in Iraq prior to the surge. And I think the American people, when talked to with some straight talk, will at least give him some slack on this very tough issue.

KING: Was he very open to it at your meeting?

MCCAIN: I think the president very appropriately said he wanted our input and our -- and our words of advice. And I thought we had a very good exchange, a very respectful exchange. And I think he pointed out very appropriately that he was still in the decision- making process, but wanted to hear from us. And I'm glad that he invited us over.

KING: A couple of other quick things.

Are you going to get a health bill?

MCCAIN: I think the Democrats, because they have the votes, may ram something through. The question is, is whether that will be good for America or not. And this is -- I think it could have very serious economic impacts on the country.

KING: Has the economy turned?

MCCAIN: I think, in some respects, the economy, if you live on Wall Street, I think it's returned and I think that all these profits and bonuses make them feel good.

If you go down Central Avenue in Phoenix, Arizona, certainly the economy has not come back. Unemployment is high. People are not able to stay in their homes. Unemployment, which was predicted by the administration, if we passed the stimulus bill, would not exceed 8 percent, is now 9.8, as you know, and going higher.

I think it's good for Wall Street. I think it's bad for Main Street. And I'll tell you, they told these big institutions they were too big to fail. Unfortunately, they told small businesses they're too small to save.

KING: Always good seeing you, John.

Stay well.

MCCAIN: Good to be with you, my friend.

KING: Senator John McCain of Arizona.

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