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Morning In America host Bill Bennett interviews Senator John McCain

Saturday, January 6, 2007
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BB: We’re honored to be joined by the United States Senator from Arizona, member of the Armed Services Committee, Senator John McCain. Good morning, Senator.

JM: Morning, Bill. How are you?

BB: Fine. Are we going to play all football games in Glendale now?

JM: (laughing) I hope so. But that Boise State-Oklahoma game was one of the great games I’ve ever seen.

BB: Ever, ever, ever.

JM: Marvelous. You know, it was one of those…if they made it a movie, nobody would watch it.

BB: I know. I went to bed. My family debated…you’ve got a family like mine. They said wake Dad up or not wake Dad up. And I said next time, wake me up.

JM: I turned it off after Oklahoma had scored a touchdown with just about 20 seconds left, and I thought it was over. And I thought ah, well, you’ve watched it this long, I’ll go ahead…and turned it back on, and it was great.

BB: Good for you, Senator.

JM: It was great. Underdogs are always…wonderful to see them win. And you know, you and I know, a mutual friend of ours, David Boren, former Senator from Oklahoma…

BB: Yeah, sure, sure.

JM: …is the president of Oklahoma, so I felt badly for him, but anyway, it was still great.

BB: He’s a good guy. We could use some more Borens right now, couldn’t we?

JM: We sure could.

BB: I want to talk about Iraq. You just got back…

JM: Yeah.

BB: I want to talk first, this Vanity Fair thing.

JM: Yeah.

BB: …profiles running around.

JM: Yeah.

BB: Everybody in my audience knows how much I admire you and like you…

JM: Yeah.

BB: And as I say to people, I have my disagreements, but as Sophocles says, you take a man in the totality of his actions. And there are things I’ve done, you know, that aren’t great, and there are positions I’ve taken everybody disagrees with. But you know, the totality of your life, I think you’re a very admirable American.

JM: Thank you.

BB: People say come on, you can’t trust him, he’s not a conservative, look at this immigration thing, he’s quoted in the Vanity Fair as saying all right, I’ll build the G. D. fence.

JM: (laughing) Well, I think you know, sometimes things are taken out of context, as you and I know. I voted for the fence because I felt that it was important for us to have a fence, particularly in the populated areas. I just came back from a trip to Israel. The Israelis will tell you that fences are good in certain ways, but they’re certainly not the totality of the resolution to it. That was my point. In other words, right now in Gaza, they’ve got people tunneling, as we speak, underneath the fence that separates Gaza and Israel, and people smuggling arms, smuggling suicide bombers and others through. My view is that obviously, we have to secure the border first, but the fence isn’t the only part of the answer. In populated areas, fences are important. In unpopulated areas, rather than spending billions on building a fence, you can use UAV’s, you can use virtual fences, you can use sensors, you can use a whole lot of other high tech devices that will be far more effective than just building a wall across it. Now building walls, you have to then man those walls. You have to man them, otherwise people are going to dig under them, or they’re going to break through them. So my point was, and again, it was taken out of context as was some of the other statements that I was quoted in, in the article, but look, I’m a big boy. Life isn’t fair, Kennedy said. But the fact is, I have said repeatedly, we must secure our borders first. Our borders are broken. And that has to be the first position we take.

BB: Right.

JM: I just don’t believe that building a wall is simply the answer to securing our borders. I can take you to parts of Arizona today that it would be foolish…

BB: Yeah.

JM: …in the desolate areas to build a wall when we should have UAV’s, virtual sensors and others…

BB: Right.

JM: …that would be far more effective, in my view, in securing the border. It doesn’t change my hard and fast position that Americans very appropriately believe we must secure our borders. But then, when we get into the debate as to whether it be comprehensive or not, like a temporary worker program, then that’s where some of your listeners and I disagree. I think we need a temporary worker program, and so does the President of the United States. And I think it’s abundantly clear that that is something that both the high tech community needs, as well as the agricultural community needs.

BB: We’ll do this another time at length.

JM: Sure, sure.

BB: I know you just got back from Iraq. We admire, by the way, the service of your kids as well as yourself.

JM: Thank you.

BB: Senator, people are saying now it’s not a military question, it’s a political question in Iraq.

JM: In all due respect, I agree. But unless you have security, whether it be in a neighborhood in America that’s been taken over by gangs, or whether it be in Bosnia, or whether it be in Kosovo, you have to first have security in the area, so that you can then proceed with economic and political development. You can’t build a waste water treatment plant if you’ve got guys coming by and shooting every single one of the workers.

BB: Right, right, right.

JM: And so, you know what I don’t quite get is that there has to be an economic and political solution. Of course there does, but at first, you must have a secure environment. We do not have that in Baghdad today. We do not have that in Anbar Province. We do have it in many other parts of Iraq, and things are proceeding pretty well there. But unless you get the sectarian violence under control, then you’re not going to be able to have the political and economic solution. And might I point out, every time American troops have gone into areas, the violence has been dramatically reduced.

BB: Right.

JM: When we sent troops into Bosnia to stop the ethnic cleansing, guess what? The ethnic cleansing stopped. So when we sent folks into Kosovo to stop the ethnic cleansing, the cleansing…and then we proceeded with long, difficult process of political and economic restoration.

BB: Right. Doesn’t this mean we might have to put it to Muqtada al Satr, or at least his people?

JM: Sure, we have. We’re going to have to. The question is, do you take on the other areas of Baghdad first and then confront him? Or whether you go right to Satr City, and frankly, that’s a tactical issue that I’d rely on our military.

BB: Right.

JM: But we’ve got to have more troops there, we’ve got to have them…the present situation is getting worse, not better. And when you’re fighting an insurgency, and you are not winning, but you’re not losing, you’re going to end up losing, my friend.

BB: Pretty good lesson from the Ethiopians last week, isn’t it?

JM: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Yeah, but they’re probably going to have a political and economic solution.

BB: But they established a pretty good necessary condition, didn’t they?

JM: Exactly. But look, I understand the anger, I understand the frustration.

BB: Yeah.

JM: I reject the notion that all Americans, or the majority of Americans just want us out of Iraq. Joe Lieberman would not have been re-elected in a very liberal state if that were the case.

BB: Right.

JM: Bill, I just want to say, when I raise my hand and I vote aye to send this nation to war, I don’t know what other colleagues of mine were thinking, but I know it’s the heaviest responsibility that you can have as a United States Senator or Congressman. And I never believed it was going to be easy. I’m a student of history. I know that wars don’t go as they’re planned. Look at literally every, with rare exception, every major conflict we’ve been in.

BB: Yup.

JM: It’s a terrible responsibility, but when I vote yes, then I believe we’ve got to accomplish the mission. Now the mission is to get this situation stabilized, let the Iraqi army, help the Iraqi army become capable of handling their own responsibility, which they are not today, and proceed with economic development and a better life for people. Have mistakes been made? Sure. There are too many books that have been written about it.

BB: Right. Sure.

JM: But we’re where we are now. Bill Russell, the center for the Boston Celtics, said when things go bad, things go bad.

BB: Right.

JM: Things are bad in Iran. Things are bad in Syria. Things are bad in Lebanon. Things are bad with North Korea. Things go bad for America when our enemies, and the forces of evil that are out there, believe that we are weak.

BB: Is Petraeus…quick hits. We’ve only got you…

JM: He’s good.

BB: He’s good, and he knows about training, right?

JM: He’s very good. He knows about training, and he was one of the most successful planners after the initial invasion. Petraeus is good. He’s very good.

BB: So we’ll be having a new team, a lot of a new team…

JM: Yes, sir. You’ve got to have a new team. General Casey and some of the others don’t believe in this new strategy. You’ve got to have people working for you who believe in the strategy.

BB: Are you…back to borders, this time, Iraq and Iran borders.

JM: Sure.

BB: Should we be on record about Iran? I mean, that we would like regime change in Iran?

JM: Sure. We should be encouraging the forces of democracy in Iran, just as we have in other countries throughout the world. It’s not unique. Those students recently showed their distaste for the president of Iran. We need to have a radio free Iran, we need to do a better job in encouraging and assisting the forces of democracy in a repressive and oppressive regime.

BB: We’ve got a minute left, and we honored Gerald Ford this week. One of the odd things, however, in Grand Rapids, in that museum, you know what they have on display?

JM: What?

BB: That ladder from the Saigon embassy. I don’t know why the hell anybody would display that, but…

JM: I don’t, either.

BB: We don’t want that in Iraq.

JM: And I don’t want to see that…

BB: What’s the price of leaving?

JM: I don’t want to see that picture again.

BB: Right. What’s the price of leaving?

JM: Chaos in the region. Ask anyone. Brent Scowcroft had a pretty good article in the New York Times yesterday. He said a withdrawal would cause chaos in the region…

BB: Right.

JM: And they are…you know, everybody keeps saying to people like me, what’s your Plan B? I’m asking what their Plan A is after we withdraw.

BB: Good. Senator McCain, thanks…

JM: Thank you, my friend.

BB: As always, thanks very much.

JM: We’ve got to take up immigration, we’ve got to get it behind us, and we’ve got to satisfy the concerns of people, the majority of Americans who want our border secure. I’m for it.

BB: Yes, sir.

JM: Thank you, my friend.

BB: Great. You’ll come back, right?

JM: Sure. Thanks, Bill.

BB: Thank you, John McCain

End of interview.

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