Interview with Senator John McCain

Interview with Senator John McCain

By John King, USA - December 15, 2011

KING: Senator McCain joins us now from Capitol Hill.

Senator, what's the point of this exercise? Are you just having a little mano a mano with Vladimir Putin, or do you think, A., you want him to change something and, B., the United States in terms of our policy to do something? SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, John, first of all, later on, after that that you didn't include, he said that I was -- quote -- "nuts."

But -- and, in a way, it is a bit amusing. But it's also very serious. And I think the reason why Prime Minister Putin reacted the way that he did is because of the Arab spring that's taken place, because of the demonstrations which, frankly, surprised him a great deal.

And it will be very interesting to see what happens on December 24. But my point was that I have told you and I have discussed other times on this program the Arab spring is spreading around the world, to China, to Russia, to every country where there is an oppressive or repressive government and people want their freedom and they want their democracy.

And I think that December 24 will be a very interesting day, when the demonstrations say -- demonstrators say they're going to continue. So it's a little bit -- you know, I try to make light of it in some respects, but obviously the seriousness with which he takes it is warranted.

KING: And I want to speak to you again about the history of this day. You and I have had many, many discussions over the years about troop levels in Iraq, about when this day would come. Today's the day the United States officially brought down the flag and concluded its mission in Iraq.

I want you to listen to yourself here a bit because you took the opportunity just before this day to essentially tweak the commander in chief, saying, yes, you might be ending this war, Mr. President, but remember you're getting to do it because of the success of a policy you vehemently opposed. Let's listen.


MCCAIN: All I will say is that, for three years, the president has been harvesting the successes of the very strategy that he consistently dismissed as a failure.

I imagine this irony was not lost on a few of our troops at Fort Bragg today, most of whom deployed and fought as part of the surge.


KING: I remember, Senator, an interview we conducted on one of Saddam Hussein's palace balconies back in the last campaign when you were visiting Iraq in the middle of that.

What now? I know you wanted more U.S. troops left, a residual force left behind. Are you convinced now that all the troops can come home and Iraq will remain stable?

MCCAIN: By no means clear to me that Iraq can remain stable.

General Keane, as you know, who's one of the architects of the surge, said, we won the war, and now we risk losing the peace.

And I think it's important to point out that even though the Bush administration made the agreement, Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state, said, we had always envisioned a residual force. I had always envisioned a residual force because of the areas of intelligence, the area -- protection of airspace, the contested areas in Northern Iraq and on the Iraq/Kurdistan border.

And there was -- every military commander, every one, recommended that we have about 20,000 troops remain behind in order to try to help with the stability and the security of Iraq. And the president campaigned saying he was going to withdraw all of the troops. He did that.

And I think it places the whole situation in great risk of a disintegrating situation, and I hope and pray that I am wrong.

KING: Senator, I'm in Sioux City tonight to watch something unfold that you have a great bit of experience at, a debate among -- between the Republican presidential candidates. And Iowa votes in just 19 days. It's a consequential debate, the last one before Iowa votes.

One of the men who ran against you last time, and you vanquished him, is Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor. He says he looks at the race now. He sees Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney at the top. He thinks Speaker Gingrich is the better candidate. Let's listen.


RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: It may be that Newt is appealing to something that Mitt isn't appealing to. There's something wrong when you have been running as long as Mitt has and you're at 25 percent and you don't go much above and you go much below -- 75 percent of the other Republicans are telling you something about him.


KING: Does Rudy have a point there, Senator? When you look at Gingrich, Romney, who do you think's the stronger general election candidate?

MCCAIN: John, in all due respect, as you know, I have stayed out of this and I haven't been critiquing the flavor of the month and who's up and who's down.


KING: I thought this might be the night to get in.


MCCAIN: But thanks for trying, John.

KING: No. What's it like -- give me this. Don't pick candidates.

What it's like to be in that room when you know it's the last debate before a big vote?

MCCAIN: Well, I think they have had too many debates, because I think it's now who makes a mistake, rather than who articulates his or her vision for the future of the country.

I think it's, you know, I think, a certain sense of relief that it's finally coming to the first real voting part of the campaign. There's a certain relief there, because all of these candidates have been really at it for well over a year, some of them a lot longer than that, so a bit of relief.

But, also, you know, one mistake and you're in serious trouble, it seems, the way it works now, too many debates, not enough town hall meetings, not enough campaign events, not enough discussion about your vision for the future, in my view.

And that's just my impression. Remember, it takes three days of your week, the day to prepare, the day of it, and the day after. And so I think there's a lot more to campaigns than just debates.

KING: Senator John McCain of Arizona, appreciate your time tonight, sir.

MCCAIN: Thanks, John. 

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