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Senator John McCain on Libya

Senator John McCain on Libya

By The Situation Room - August 22, 2011

BLITZER: Senator John McCain, as you just saw, was among the first to call for intervention in Libya. And now that the regime has basically collapsed, Senator McCain says the Obama administration should have been more aggressive. Senator McCain is joining us now, right now.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let me get your quick reaction to the news that we broke here in THE SITUATION ROOM. The Libyan ambassador here in Washington, who represents the rebels, the transitional authority in Libya, he says that one of the sons of Gadhafi, Mohammad Gadhafi, has been hijacked or escaped.

What does that say to you?

MCCAIN: It seems to me that the situation is still rather unsettled and, again, there's two steps forward and one step back. And there's still a lot of work to do, not only militarily, but there will be a great task ahead is, building a democracy in a country that's never known it. And it's going to require a lot of work and a little luck.

BLITZER: Some have suggested that those Gadhafi loyalists, the mercenaries, the troops, the others, they may just take off their uniforms, blend in and start some sort of insurgency along the lines of what we saw in Baghdad after 2003.

Should we be worried about that?

MCCAIN: I think we should be worried about a lot of things, but the fact is, Wolf, that you saw the rapid collapse of the Gadhafi forces. The only thing that was holding him in power was money and fear; and once those are dissipated by military strength, then it's very difficult for anyone to be loyal to Gadhafi, unless they are a blood relative.

So I -- I worry about that. I worry about the different tribes. I worry about the piece that you just had on weapons of mass destruction. I worry about the prisons. I hope we can secure them soon, because there's hundreds, if not thousands, of political prisoners. I hope that we won't see a repeat of what happened in Baghdad: looting of public buildings. I -- I'm -- I think that there's a number of other -- especially, and I appreciate the National Transition Council's message on reconciliation and national unity. There's a lot of bad blood there, and let's hope that the people will restrain themselves and recognize that a bloodbath is not in anyone's interest.

BLITZER: You and Senator Lindsey Graham issued a statement last night, saying it could have happened much more quickly, but the president today, as you just heard say -- the president said, "You know what? In six months they've eliminated a 42-year reign of terror." How much credit does he deserve for this strategy that he put together?

MCCAIN: Well, I think the president deserves credit for stopping Gadhafi when he was at the gates of Benghazi and had vowed to go house to house to kill anyone when opposed him.

But the fact is, if we had used the full weight of American air power, it would have been gone -- over a long time ago, and the fact is that young Libyans were wounded and were killed because of that, quote, "leading from behind."

That's -- I am pleased at the outcome. I'm sure the president will take a lot of credit for it, but the facts on the ground are that it could have been over a lot earlier than it was.

And now let's move forward, try to work together, Republicans and Democrats, without spending federal dollars, because it's not money that they need, in working to help Libya make this transition to Democrat -- democracy and a beacon of freedom.

BLITZER: Well, explain why you believe the U.S. air power would have been more successful than the French and the British, the other NATO air power, because they've launched thousands of sorties, as you well know, over these past several months.

MCCAIN: Wolf, I've seen the sortie count before. I saw it in the Vietnam War. The AC-130, the A-10 and other capabilities that our allies do not have, could have been put into -- into action, and we could have taken out Gadhafi's forces earlier. That's just a military reality.

Our allies are wonderful people. Eight nations out of the 28 in NATO were involved in it. Especially helpful were Qatar and UAE. They deserve great credit. But there's no country in the world that has the unique air power, as well as other power, but particularly air power we could have deployed by deploying U.S. air power into the fight. And it's just fact.

BLITZER: But there -- no American lives have been lost over these six months. That's a significant fact, as well, right?

MCCAIN: Yes, and no allied lives have been lost that I know of. Because this is unique terrain, unique advantage to air power, when you have long stretches that the enemy has to go over unprotected, and the -- and it's -- it's ideal for the use of air power and has been since World War II -- the conflict in World War II. So air power is the key and dominant factor, and our allies, as wonderful as they were, didn't have the capabilities that we have.

By the way, we did supply Predator, and we gave them some additional information. We did help in some way, but not with a full weight of U.S. air power, which is unique in the world.

Look, that's over with. I want to work with the administration and with the TNC and these brave people to move forward, and now meet the challenges, which will be incredibly difficult, but achievable, of building democracy.

BLITZER: Two years ago you actually met with Gadhafi at his ranch. You got to know him a little bit. I -- there's a tweet that's now been widely distributed that you put out at that time, in which you said, "Late evening with Colonel Gadhafi at his ranch in Libya. Interesting meeting with an interesting man."

What were your impressions of him? Specifically, will he give up now, or will he fight to the death?

MCCAIN: I don't know, because there's different -- you can't read somebody after -- know somebody after a brief meeting. I think that, if I had to guess -- and it's a pure guess because I don't know him -- that he would probably fight to the death, but I don't know that for sure.

I do know that he has American blood on his hands because of Pan Am Flight 103. I know he is responsible for other acts of terror in the region, and I think that people who worry about what comes after Gadhafi, I think we would be well served if we make sure that there is not an extremist takeover or hijacking of this revolution, and the ones that I met of the transition council are very fine people.

BLITZER: One final question, Senator, before I let you go. What do you say to those Republicans, including some Republican presidential candidates like Michele Bachmann or Ron Paul, who say the U.S. has no business getting involved in these countries? They have plenty to do here. Just stay away from countries like Libya. What do you say to these Republicans?

MCCAIN: I say that the United States of America is a unique experiment in history. I believe in American exceptionalism. I wasn't for sending ground forces into Libya. It would have been counterproductive, but we are an inspiration to these people. I know because I've looked them in the eyes, and they looked at me. They look to America for inspiration and leadership.

And when they're struggling for freedom under brutal and oppressive dictatorships, if we can help them -- and it's a big "if" from time to time -- then we should go to their assistance and make ourselves and our children and our grandchildren and their children and grandchildren proud.

BLITZER: Senator McCain, thanks for coming in.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much. Senator John McCain of Arizona. 

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