Russert Grills McCain on Iraq: Uses Own Words Against Him

By: E&P Staff In one of his toughest grillings ever, Tim Russert of NBC's "Meet the Press" put Sen. John McCain's feet to the fire concerning his hawkish views on Iraq today, often using his own optimistic views in the past -- or his pro-pullout statements relating to other U.S. engagements -- against him.

Early on, he asked McCain why he would not accept the views of the Iraqi legislature, which is now asking for a timetable for an American withdrawal. McCain essentially said it is not up to them.

Told that based on his statements, the U.S. would be in Iraq for at least 10 years, McCain responded by stating that we've had tens of thousands of troops in Korea for fifty years and no one seems too upset about it.

A lengthy exchange follows from the transcript.

MR. RUSSERT: Under your plan, you're strongly suggesting we're going to be there for the next 10 years at least in order to secure and stabilize that country.

SEN. McCAIN: I am suggesting that we will have--hopefully reach a situation where American troops will not be on the front lines, where--and, by the way, that will not be immediately--where American troops are able to withdraw. We've had troops in South Korea for 60 years, and Americans are, are very satisfied with that situation. The key to it is, is the Iraqi military and police taking over these responsibilities. And that is, I believe, the ultimate way we're going to know whether we can reduce American casualties and they take over the responsibilities for, for governing their own country and militarily attacking and resisting al-Qaeda and other sectarian violence which will be there for a long, long time.

MR. RUSSERT: And we're going to be there for a long time.

SEN. McCAIN: But if it is--if it is--if it is only in a role that is of support and American casualties are minimal, then I think it's probably worth the investment. If the level of casualties stays where it is and we do not have success, then we know that that will be a, a condition that we cannot stand for.

MR. RUSSERT: By when?

SEN. McCAIN: I don't have a date. I think that the important thing is whether we assess as we move along. Everybody talks about--some people talk about April or May--August. Some people talk about September. The fact is that we've got to be showing progress along the way, and we will be--have plenty of time to assess that.

Look, Tim, I understand you, you are voicing the frustration that Americans feel. We've only got four of the five brigades over there now. We have just begun this new strategy. It is barely beginning, and I think it ought to be given a chance to succeed or fail. And for us to, to go for two months of funding after we voted time and time again. The president, the president has vetoed, and we continue to, to try to micromanage this war, and, and if you want us out of there, then cut off the funding and bring them home tomorrow.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you the kinds of things that are often said when soldiers are overseas, like this: "There's no reason for the United States to remain. The American people want them home. I believe the majority of Congress wants them home. Our continued military presence allows another situation to rise, which could then lead to the wounding, killing or capture of American fighting men and women. We should do all in our power to avoid that. What should be the criteria is our immediate, orderly withdrawal. And if we do not do that and other Americans die then I say that the responsibilities for that lie with the Congress who did not exercise their authority under the Constitution. For us to get into nation-building, law and order, etc., I think, is a tragic and terrible mistake."

You hear those kinds of words, right?

SEN. McCAIN: Sure I do. Americans are frustrated and saddened by the enormous sacrifice we've made and the gross mismanagement of the war. Now, my response to that statement is and what happens after we leave? Listen to all of the experts who will tell you that we can have a situation in the region which will, in, in the long run, entail far greater casualties, far greater dislocation, far greater threats to our national security than trying to give this an opportunity to succeed. That's what the--my response to that heartfelt statement is.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, those are your words from 1993 about Somalia....

SEN. McCAIN: Well, if you compare--want to compare Somalia to what's at stake in Iraq, please feel free to do so. I don't see any comparison except that there was chaos in the streets of Mogadishu, and this now is got to do with vital national security interests. I also said that we should get out of Beirut when we did, because a, a presence of a few Marines in a barracks was not going to, in any way, significantly impact what was going on in Lebanon. And I was right, and a lot of young Marines died because we--of the way that we put a presence in there without any chance of success.

MR. RUSSERT: You say we're making progress. You've been on this program talking about Iraq. In 2003...

SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT: said, "I believe we've achieved significant goals"; 2005, we view it as, as "hopeful," we're making "progress"; 2006, we're on the "right track," "I want to emphasize again" the "good things happening"; we're "showing signs of success" in 2007. It's upbeat, upbeat, upbeat.

SEN. McCAIN: I think...

MR. RUSSERT: And yet the reality is quite different than that kind of optimistic message.


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