Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and newly minted CNN contributor and former Obama press secretary Jay Carney spar over the Iraq war and if the current situation in Iraq and Syria could have been avoided.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I think it was a very weak argument. And by the way, I'm astounded that Mr. Carney should say that the Free Syrian Army is now stronger. In fact, they have been --
JAY CARNEY: Well, that's not that I said, Senator. If I could, sir, what I said is, if we know a great deal more now about the makeup of the opposition. --
McCAIN: Come on, Jay, we knew all about them then. You just didn't choose to know. I was there in Syria. We we knew about them. Come on, you guys were the ones -- your boss was the one when the entire national security team wanted to arm and train them that he turned them down, Mr. Carney after --
CARNEY: Well, Senator --
McCAIN: The fact is --
CARNEY: I think we have to agree to disagree on this.
McCAIN: No, facts are stubborn things, Mr. Carney, and that is his entire national security team, including the Secretary of State said we want to arm and train and equip these people and he made the unilateral decision to turn them down. The fact he didn't a residual force in Iraq, overruled all of his military advisers, is the reason why we're facing ISIS today.
So the facts are stubborn things in history and people ought to know them. And now the president is saying basically that we are going to take certain actions, which I would favor, but to say that America is safer, and that the situation is very much like Yemen and Somalia shows me that the president really doesn't have a grasp for how serious the threat of ISIS is.
CARNEY: Well, again, Senator, we're going to have to agree to disagree. And I think on the question of the residual force, there was another player in that which was the Iraqi government. A, and B, it was the fulfillment of the previous administration's withdrawal plan. And it was also the fulfillment of the president's promise to withdraw from Iraq and not maintain a true presence, in perpetuity, which is pretty consistent with what the American people wanted and believed it was the right approach.
McCAIN: Mr. Carney, you are again saying facts that are patently false. The fact is because [Senator] Lindsey Graham, [former Senator] Joe Lieberman and I, we were in Baghdad, they wanted a residual force. The president has never made a statement during that or after that he wanted a residual force left behind. The Iraqis were ready to go. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the number cascaded down to 3,500. That was not sufficient to do anything but to defend themselves. And you in your role as a spokesperson bragged about the fact that the last American combat troop had left Iraq. If we had left a residual force the situation would not be what it is today. And there would be a lot more --
CARNEY: Senator, I can posit for great respect for you we can disagree on that.
McCAIN: You can't.
CARNEY: Sir --
McCAIN: You don't have the facts, Mr. Carney, that's the problem.
CARNEY: Senator, I understand that that you present the facts that you believe are true based on the arguments that you have made for a long time, sir, that we should leave troops in Iraq for perpetuity. And that is not what this president believes. Obviously, he was elected president to fulfill what he believes is right for our country and right for our national security.
McCAIN: It is a bad decision.
CARNEY: I certainly understand where we are today.
McCAIN: It is not a matter of disagreement; it is a matter of facts, and you have yours wrong and you have distorted it.
COOPER: Jay, do you believe, does the president believe at all, if a residual force had been left on the ground in Iraq, that we would not be in this situation now?
CARNEY: Anderson, I think it is a mis -- basically a whitewash of history to suggest that there was not -- were not periods of enormous chaos and fighting and bloodshed in Iraq when there were tens of thousands of troops, of American troops on the ground. That is a fact. And it was true in 2004, it was true in 2007. And it was true even when we had the highest number of U.S. troops on the ground.
We cannot -- the United States of America ask our military to be a permanent occupying force in a country like Iraq. We have to get to a situation where we can help build up and assist an Iraqi security force, where we can put pressure on Iraqi political leaders to form an inclusive government, which they have taken steps to do, as was noted earlier. And then we can provide the kind of military support that we're providing, an action that we're taking against a threat like ISIS as appropriate.
But the alternative of leaving a permanent, massive U.S. force on the ground in Iraq, not for 10 years, not for 20 years, but in perpetuity, is simply not sustainable financially; it is not consistent with what the American people think we should do.
MCCAIN: Again, Mr. Carney misstates the facts. We had it won, thanks to the surge. It was won. The victory was there. All we needed was a force behind to provide support, not to engage in combat, but to supply support, logistics, intelligence. And by the way, the Koran War, we left troops behind. Bosnia, we left troops behind. Not to fight but be a stabilizing force. And Mr. Carney neglects the fact that thanks to David Petraeus, and Ryan Crocker, who by the way, are very strong on this issue, that we won the conflict, and then by pulling the rug out and setting a date for withdrawal and bragging about it --
CARNEY: Excuse me, sir, but I think you have forgotten that the date for withdrawal was --
MCCAIN: I think you have forgotten -- no, the date for withdrawal. They always contemplated an additional date behind it. And you can ask Condoleezza Rice, or George W. Bush.
CARNEY: Absolutely, and so did we, and we--
MCCAIN: So that is absolutely false too. And we didn't need to go through the Iraqi parliament. All you had to do was have an agreement. And we were there on the ground.
COOPER: Senator McCain, let me ask you about in terms of what you heard tonight, do you believe the U.S. can fight an effective counter- terrorism strategy, which is what the president is calling this fight against ISIS, without U.S. military personnel on the ground? In harm's way?
MCCAIN: We -- this is another falsehood the president is purveying. We already have boots on the ground, well over 1,000. We need more. But we don't need them like the 82nd Airborne sent in direct -- to do -- into direct combat.
We need to have additional support there, and we need to help the -- the Iraqi army rebuild its capabilities. But we don't have to have a ground combat invasion of the type we had before. But, the fact that they didn't leave -- we were not there before is a direct result we are paying a very heavy price for. And it doesn't mean in perpetuity, but it does mean to keep the situation stable, which we could have done.
COOPER: Senator McCain, the president also said that we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland. Americans who hear those words might wonder, if that is really the case, then why do we need to take action against ISIS? To that you say what?
MCCAIN: I say that today, we had a hearing, and there was testimony from the counterterrorism people and the Department of Homeland Security. There is Twitter traffic right now and FaceBook traffic, where they are urging attacks on the United States of America. And there is a great concern that our southern border and our northern border is porous and that they will be coming across.
So is there a specific, direct threat? No, but is there any doubt to what their goal is? Mr. Baghdadi, the day he left our prison in Iraq, Camp Bucca, said "see you in New York."
COOPER: And in terms of, as you said, you have been in Syria, you met with Syrian moderate opposition a while back, do you believe there are enough on the ground right now in Iraq who actually have military capabilities that can actually stand up and fight against ISIS, against the Assad regime?
MCCAIN: I do, but it is going to be very tough, and it is going to be a heck of a lot tougher, despite what Mr. Carney said, than it would have been two years ago when it was recommended by his entire national security team.