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Interview with Senator John McCain

Interview with Senator John McCain

By The Situation Room - October 20, 2011

BLITZER: The celebration continuing on the streets of Libya, throughout the country. We're following the breaking news this hour, the death of the Libyan dictator, Moammar Gadhafi. I talked about it earlier with Republican senator John McCain, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and I asked whether the Obama administration deserves any credit.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I congratulate the British and French for their leadership and their effort. And so it's been a significant success and we should celebrate today.

BLITZER: But the U.S. played a significant role in the NATO operation, not just the British and the French, Senator McCain, the first few weeks, first two weeks in particular, U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles and U.S. air refueling capabilities. The Obama administration, from your perspective, deserves a lot of credit for this, as well, don't they?

MCCAIN: Oh, I think they deserve credit. The fact is, if we had declared a no-fly zone early on, we would have never had -- Gadhafi would have fallen at the beginning.

The second thing is that if we had used our capabilities, the A10 and the AC130, this would have been over a long time ago. But I think the administration deserves credit, but I especially appreciate the leadership of the British and French in this -- in carrying out this success.

BLITZER: What do you think the U.S. should do with the $30 billion or $33 billion in frozen Libyan assets that have been held over these past several months?

MCCAIN: Well, the Libyans -- obviously, it's their money. They are going to reimburse us and our allies for the expenditures that were entailed in this operation. They obviously are going to be a very wealthy country. And again, if we send a hospital ship to Tripoli to help them with their wounded -- they have 30,000 wounded, Wolf. We could send some of their wounded to our hospital in Landstuhl. Right now, this is one of their key requirements.

We -- Senator Rubio and Kirk and Graham and I went to the hospital there in Tripoli. They don't know how to care for these kinds of wounds and people who are harmed in conflict, and we could be of enormous help and generate enormous good will by helping out in that respect.

BLITZER: So are you saying that you have, when you were in Libya, received official confirmation from the transitional authority there, the interim government, that they will reimburse U.S. taxpayers the, what, approximately $1 billion that have been already been spent in liberating Libya from Gadhafi??

MCCAIN: They said that they would seriously consider it. They did not make a commitment to me, and nor should they have, but they certainly have showed a willingness to do so--

BLITZER: I asked the question-- MCCAIN: Just as the Kuwaitis did after Desert Storm.

BLITZER: I remember when the Kuwaitis paid, basically, for the liberation of their country from Saddam Hussein -- Kuwait, like Libya, a wealthy country.

I asked the question because there's been some suggestion, before the U.S. were to transfer back that $33 billion in frozen assets, it deduct a billion dollars for U.S. expenses and deduct other expenses that other NATO allies like France, Britain, Italy, other NATO allies, may have had. Would that be smart? Would that be legal, to simply deduct whatever it cost?

MCCAIN: I don't think it's either legal or smart. They're a sovereign nation. They now have a government that's recognized, basically, throughout the world. And I think it would generate enormous ill will if we carried out such activity. I don't know who would suggest such a thing.

BLITZER: Well, there have been those suggestions. Among others, I've written about it myself, but that's just me.

MCCAIN: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: So for what it's worth, on our blog. But that's just--

MCCAIN: It's not our money, Wolf. It's their money that's been frozen. It's not our money. That's--

BLITZER: Right. I know--

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And the Obama administration -- by the way, the Obama administration takes exactly the same position as you're taking, that it shouldn't -- that the U.S. shouldn't simply unilaterally eliminate or deduct some of the funds that have been spent. But let's get out to the bigger picture--

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Go ahead, Senator.

MCCAIN: Could I just point out very quickly, Libyans right now are very grateful to us and there's enormous good will there. And if we can help them succeed getting these weapons under control, helping them with their -- organize their government, helping them with their wounded, a lot of things, there'll be a lot of further good will here. And that's important, I think, especially in that part of the world.

BLITZER: I think you make an excellent point. And if you look at the sweep of changes, it's breathtaking over these past several months of the Arab spring, in North Africa and the Middle East. You think a year ago what was going on over there and you take a look at how it's changed over these many months now, it's dramatic. And no one has been more closely associated in watching what's going on than you, Senator.

Senator McCain, thanks very much. Any final point you want to make before I let you go?

MCCAIN: I think it's a great day. I think the administration deserves great credit. Obviously, I had different ideas on the tactical side. But this is -- the world is a better place and the Libyan people now have a chance. But this is just the beginning. We know how hard democracy is. They're going to need a lot of assistance not in money, but in other ways, and I think we're -- should be eager to provide it.

(END VIDEOTAPE) 

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