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Interview with Senator John McCain

Interview with Senator John McCain

By The Situation Room - December 20, 2011

BLITZER: He's the ranking member of the Armed Services when he was the Republican presidential nominee. See these reports, Senator, must be so frustrating. Here's the bottom line question. Do you have confidence in Nouri Al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, that he's doing the right thing?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I do not and it's ironic that the president and vice president taking victory laps while the government in Iraq unravels more rapidly than I thought.

But I thought it would unravel and simply because we did not maintain a residual force of some 20,000 troops, which we should have, which the Obama administration would never agree to a specific number.

And now, the president's re-election campaign is already putting out propaganda, saying promises kept. It's really a low point in my view in the history of American involvement in national security affairs.

BLITZER: You know, the other argument, Senator McCain, and this is the one the Obama administration makes. That Nouri Al-Maliki's government would never accept immunity for those 20,000 or whatever residual troops, that were going to remain in Iraq and the U.S., the Pentagon, was not going to let U.S. troops stay there unless they had immunity from prosecution on the part of the Iraqi government.

MCCAIN: Here's the following facts, after seeing President (inaudible) and in meeting Prime Minister Maliki, Senator Graham and I, Maliki said, yes, he would accept American troops and would work with other parties to make it happen and they asked ambassador generals and how many troops do you want?

He said, we don't know. We're still working on that. That was last May. We never gave them a number and the president's campaign promise was he'd get everybody out of Iraq. He got everybody out of Iraq.

It could have been entirely different and any close observers such as General Keen and many other who knew what was going on in Iraq knows that the United States was never serious about keeping a residual force in Iraq and in keeping with president's campaign promise.

BLITZER: The president did make a campaign promise when running against you. He wanted to get all U.S. troops out of Iraq and he says he was living up to that campaign promise.

But here's another factor that concerns me, there's still about 17,000 Americans in Iraq right now. Half a sort of diplomatic personnel, support staff, and the other half, formal contractors.

Military contractors, civilians hired by the U.S. government. I'm worried about their safety. I don't know if I should be, but you've been there on many occasions. How worried should we be about the security of these Americans that are still there?

MCCAIN: I think you should be deeply concerned, especially since Sadr, who you know is part of the outsider who you know is part of the government, said he would view American embassy personnel as quote, "occupiers."

And can we carry out reconstruction projects and do the things we need to do to help the Iraqis if the government is fragmenting and there's a return to sectarian violence, which are there signs of.

I regret to say these all things, Wolf, because the Iraqi people deserve better. The families of 474 young Americans who died there deserve better, but this could have been avoided and should have been avoided.

BLITZER: Let me move on to Afghanistan right now because some controversial comments by the Vice President Joe Biden in the new issue of "Newsweek" magazine on the Taliban.

Let me read to you and our viewers, I'll put it up on the screen, what he said about the Taliban. That the Taliban per se is not our enemy, that's critical. There is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy because it threatened U.S. interest.

The vice president saying, you know what? Go ahead, you've got to negotiate peace with someone, you negotiate peace with your enemy, if you will. Al Qaeda is an enemy, but the Taliban not necessarily. What say you?

MCCAIN: I say that the men and women who are serving, I'm already hearing from them by Twitter and many other means. One of them says, one who's over there in Afghanistan now, quote, "well, if they aren't the enemy, who's been shooting at us all this time."

It's just bizarre. But it's not quite as bizarre as you might think because the administration now is placing their eggs in the basket of some kind of an agreement with the Taliban for a cease fire and some kind of reconciliation.

Well, when one of our friends was in Afghanistan a few weeks ago, said to the president Pakistan, you think we'll get peace with the Taliban and the head, the president of Pakistan said, why should they? You're leaving.

There's even Reuters reports, new report that we are willing to release some al Qaeda -- some Taliban prisoners in Guantanamo as a, quote, "confidence building measure." I mean, this is really, really incredible stuff they're doing. The Taliban would agree to a peace settlement when they believe they are beaten. Not when they believe we are leaving.

BLITZER: Let me move on to North Korea and I'm going to show our viewers your reaction to the death of Kim Jong-il and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's reaction in a formal statement.

First, what you said in your written statement. You said, I can only express satisfaction that the dear leader is joining the likes of Gadhafi, Bin Laden, Hitler and Stalin in a warm corner of hell. That was your statement, part of your statement at least.

Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state last night, a very different tone among other things. She says we are deeply concerned with the well being of the North Korean people and our thoughts and prayers are with them during these difficult times.

Your reaction to what the secretary of state, would you regard that as a formal statement of condolence to the North Koreans?

MCCAIN: I think I would view it as a formal statement of condolence. But the fact is, that this guy starved, beaten, tortured, his people the largest goo lag on earth is now in North Korea.

That the incredible brutality inflicted on his own people as I said earns him a very warm place in hell. The people who can beneficially affect this situation, which is very tense right now, is China.

China is the country that should be acting mature, as a world power and should be acting, making sure that with this transition period, to by the way, what "The Wall Street Journal" describes as a sadist Kim Jong-un, that things do not erupt into what could be a conflict or increase tensions between North and South Korea.

China should realize that a united Korea poses no threat to China and they should not be propping up a regime of this nature. Finally, we saved the taxpayers food aid we were going to give to North Korea and it turns for them to return to the six-party talks or four-party talks or two-party talks.

And then, of course, they would fail again because the North Koreans are not about to give up their nuclear capability. So we may have been saved some millions of dollars. There should be a reunification of the Korean Peninsula. It should be done gradually with democratic and free people and China can make that happen.

BLITZER: Very quickly on another subject, the payroll tax cut, the extension. You were among the 89 senators who voted to continue it for another two months. Your Republican colleagues in the House, they say they're not going to go along with that. Why are they wrong and you and your Republican colleagues in the Senate right?

MCCAIN: I think we have to recognize reality and that is we are not going to see the payroll tax cut expire on the first of January. And we have to accommodate to that reality. It would not be fair to the American people at this time.

And so, it seems to me that Republican leaders and Harry Reid and the speaker and Congresswoman Pelosi should sit down together with the administration and figure out a way through this. It is harming the Republican Party.

It is harming the view if it's possible anymore, of the American people about Congress and we've got to get this thing resolved and with the realization that the payroll tax cut must remain in effect. Not to mention the dock fix and unemployment insurance, yes. BLITZER: Of course. We're going to have a lot more on this part of the story coming up at the top of the hour. Senator, as usual, thanks very much for coming in.

MCCAIN: Thank you. 

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