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Interview with Senator John McCain

Interview with Senator John McCain

By The Situation Room - September 21, 2012

BLITZER: That's very exciting news. And let's not forget, Arwa, and our viewers should remember as well, it was only a few days ago when the U.S. ambassador was at the consulate in Benghazi and he was shot -- he was killed. And three other Americans were killed at the same time right in that same area where you are right now.

Arwa, hold on. I want to bring Senator John McCain into this conversation. He's joining us now from Capitol Hill, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator, you've been to Benghazi, you've been to Libya. Give us your immediate reaction. You just heard this dramatic report from Arwa what's going on in Benghazi.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZONA: Somewhere, Chris Stevens is smiling. This is what we knew -- what Chris Stevens and I and others knew about Libya. Chris Stevens and I were in Tripoli as I'm sure your correspondent was on the night of July 7th after they had voted in overwhelming numbers to reject Islamists.

Thousands were in the downtown and Chris and I were down there. And as they drove by by the thousands said thank you especially to Chris Stevens, thank you, America. Thank you. And they obviously overwhelmingly wanted to reject this radical Islam, which has committed such a horrible crime. And I'm very happy about it.

Could I just mention one thing? It's interesting it comes when a few hours from now, we're going to have a vote on a Senator Rand Paul amendment to cut off all aid and assistance to Libya. This shows how ill-founded and frankly bad idea that Senator Paul and the isolationists have.

BLITZER: Senator Paul while he was on the show the other day, he not only wants to end all U.S. aid to Libya. He wants to end it to Pakistan, he wants to end it to Egypt. I think he wants to end all foreign aid to every country. But the question to you, senator, does he have the votes to do it? Who's going to prevail in the Senate?

MCCAIN: I'm confident that he does not. And I know that what's going on is more important. But, Wolf, there's been a history in our party, the isolationist, the wing of our party going all the way back after World War I, the Henry Cabot Lodge, the league of nations, and then in the 1930s, Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford, isolationist.

After World War II, you had the Taft wing and the Eisenhower wing of our party. And this is always out there, this debate, in hard economic times understandably that a facet or part of our party gains traction. But history shows that the United States cannot retreat to fortress America. And when we do, we pay a very heavy price.

BLITZER: I want you to listen to what the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said today about that extraordinary briefing yesterday behind closed doors to all members of Congress by her and other U.S. intelligence and administration officials. Listen to what she said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Yesterday afternoon, when I briefed the Congress, I made it clear that keeping our people everywhere in the world safe is our top priority. What happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack, and we will not rest until we have tracked down and brought to justice the terrorists who murdered four Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You were at that briefing.

MCCAIN: Yes.

BLITZER: Are you and the secretary of state on the same page based on what you heard yesterday?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, the secretary and our U.N. ambassador and Mr. Carney and everybody else should be apologizing, because they said that this attack was a spontaneous attack which defied all logic. People don't bring mortars to spontaneous demonstrations. That's what they said. And there was a total reversal that she's saying today.

Second of all, she didn't tell us anything nor did the other people there at this briefing, secret briefing we had, and said that they couldn't give us any details because it was an ongoing investigation. So, this morning, in detail, the whole situation was described to us. And as it happened in the "Wall Street Journal" and the "New York Times."

It was, frankly, insulting to the United States Senate. I know that she's busy, but -- we have something to do with our time rather than go in a secret room and be told, well, we can't tell you what happened.

BLITZER: It's a sad story, indeed, if, in fact, they can't tell members of the United States House and Senate what's going on, but they have to read about it in the newspapers the next day. I spoke to David Ignatius, the columnist for "The Washington Post." He has information and I want to run it by you senator, if you seem to agree, that the killing of Ambassador Stevens, the U.S. ambassador at the consulate in Benghazi and the other Americans was revenge.

He says he has some indication it was revenge for the U.S. taking out an al Qaeda leader, al-Libby, back in June. Does that sound accurate based on everything you know?

MCCAIN: Of course not. What it was is an al Qaeda affiliated organization, the one that you're just seeing has been taken down by brave Libyans that were involved in this operation. How long it was planned and all that is hard to know. But that's just -- I don't think it's logical, but it may have been.

Mr. Ignatius has a direct line to the administration since he always prints whatever they tell him to. So, I think that to somehow allege that is as bogus as the first allegations that this was a result of a spontaneous demonstration, which is incredible.

BLITZER: I will say David Ignatius is a friend of mine. He's a very solid, decent reporter, but you and I can disagree --

MCCAIN: He's been wrong on every issue. He's wrong on the surge. He's been wrong about Syria. He's been wrong about Afghanistan. And he's wrong now.

BLITZER: All right. Well, you can disagree with David Ignatius. I'm sure he disagrees with you from time to time, senator, as well.

MCCAIN: Sure.

BLITZER: On that surge, though, what do you think about that? All the surge added forces, what, those 30,000 additional U.S. troops, they are now out of Afghanistan. U.S. down now to about 68,000 or 70,000 troops. They're supposed to stay, at least many of them, another two years until the end of 2014. But the surge, the added troops are out. Are you happy about that?

MCCAIN: It's an abject failure, total failure. First of all, the military advised 40,000 rather than 30,000 so we could never go to east, only south. And then, of course, the president kept announcing withdrawal, which is not lost on our enemies, and of course, which we now reach a point where we can't train and operate because of these horrible and terrible attacks by a uniformed Afghans on uniformed Americans. So, how can we train them and equip them and have them ready to take over? It's impossible. And so, here we are -- and by the way, attack on our most secure base, which is the biggest damage inflicted since the ted offensive in the Vietnam War. So, $200 million worth of U.S. aircraft were destroyed in the last few days.

And this is a result of a failed policy of withdrawal which the president's never uttered the word success or victory. And obviously, the people in the neighborhood are making the necessary adjustments. We're failing in Afghanistan. We've failed in Iraq. Iranian planes are now overflying Iraq with surprise and arms to Bashar Assad.

And meanwhile 25,000 Syrians have been killed, and the president hasn't said a word much less provide them with weapons that they could defend themselves with.

BLITZER: Senator McCain, thanks for coming in.

MCCAIN: Thanks for having me on. 

Copyright 2012,

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