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Senator John McCain On Brussels And The Way Forward In The War Against ISIS

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The transcript:

HH: I’ll spend a lot of the program today talking about the latest throw down between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump as Ted Cruz pushes back against Donald Trump’s attack on Heidi Cruz. But I begin by focusing on the civilizational struggle that manifested itself in Brussels two days ago with United States Senator John McCain of Arizona. Senator McCain, welcome back, good to talk to you again.

JM: Thank you, Hugh, and thanks for having me on again, and I’m sorry about the circumstances. But it was all predictable and predicted.

HH: There was a story in yesterday’s New York Times, Senator, that said important pockets of the disenfranchised and isolated are embedded in most European countries. It named Bradford in England, the heavily Kashmiri and home to the London subway bombers, largely Muslim, East Birmingham, and then it talked about parts of Belgium, which have become basically self-ghettoization and ungoverned spaces. The same problem exists in France. How in the world does the West get its act together against this?

JM: Well, first of all, you have to go to Raqqa and take them out there, because that’s where they’re getting their direction and inspiration, from ISIS. And as long as they have this base, by the way, the information, and I know you’ve heard, they’re setting up a chemical weapons factory in Raqqa. And you have to go to Raqqa and Mosul, and it’s going to take some, I emphasize some, American boots on the ground. I’m talking about 10,000 out of a force of Sunni Arabs of about 100,000. Will they do that right now? Probably not with the failure of leadership of Barack Obama, but they will, because they view ISIS as a threat to them as well. So you’re going to have to either kill them there, or you’re going to kill them in the United States, or in Europe. Now as far as these enclaves are concerned, obviously you’re going to have to monitor them. Obviously, you’re going to have to use sophisticated monitoring, and it doesn’t mean foot patrols throughout these areas. But it’s also a bit of a lesson, Hugh, and you may disagree. If people come to a country and they never had a chance to be part of that country, then you see this kind of polarization that is, that we’re seeing take place in the ghettos around Paris, major cities in Europe. But the first thing we have to do is take out their inspiration, who they believe is winning, and that’s ISIS, whose geographic base is in Raqqa, Syria, and we have no plan to do that. As former Secretary Bob Gates said, there is no strategy. And this president seems to act as if these threats were inconsequential at best, some of the most bizarre behavior on the part of any president I have ever seen.

HH: So I came up with a pneumonic device, Senator McCain, Every Liberal Really Seems So Sad. That’s E is for Egypt, L is for Libya, R is for the reset button, S is for Syria, S is for the SOFA that didn’t get signed, and S is for the server. I mean, this last eight years has been a complete abrogation of responsibility vis-à-vis Islamist terror.

JM: Yeah, and could I mention, Hugh, three seminal moments. One was when we pulled everybody out of Iraq, which we didn’t have to.

HH: The SOFA, yeah. Yup.

JM: And you know, they kept saying we had to have a special status of forces agreement with the Iraqi Parliament. We’ve got 3,500 back in there. There’s no status of forces agreement.

HH: Exactly.

JM: We’re just using that as an excuse. When we pulled everybody out, after we had it won, at the great expense of American blood and treasure, and I’m telling you, I have met family members of those who died in Fallujah and other places that are incredibly bitter. Second was when David Petraeus, then head of the CIA, Leon Panetta, the head, Secretary of Defense and Hillary Clinton, then Secretary of State, went to Barack Obama and said we need to arm and train the Free Syrian Army. He turned them down. The third seminal moment was when the Syrians crossed the quote red line and gassed thousands of innocent men, women and children. And the president of the United States said he was going to act and didn’t. That destroyed any shred of credibility that the president of the United States had, and the Sunni Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE and others, decided they had to go on their own. A good example, the Saudis attacked Yemen, the Houthis, who are Iranian-backed, without every telling the United States of America. They’re buying weapons from the Russians, and this president has not only no credibility, but example, one of the Gulf State foreign ministers told me, he said we think that it may be better to be America’s enemy than its friend. That’s how far we have come under this president.

HH: Let me bring three other elements, though, in. The Egyptian dance we did with the Muslim Brotherhood when we overthrew Mubarak and then embraced the MB and then had to get rid of them, and President Obama has not yet made nice with al-Sisi. We also have the Libyan fiasco, and now that’s a colony of ISIS, in essence, turning out as many fighters moving into Europe from Libya as they’re coming out of Syria, and then finally, our attitude towards Russia. The reset button reset them into a major Middle Eastern player. It’s a fiasco.

JM: It’s a fiasco. Let me make a comment about Libya and about Russia really quick, because I am in agreement on the first. On Libya, we had, we killed Qaddafi, and then we left. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman and I wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal saying what we had to do. And we just, this country had never known any democracy and we just walked away. We just walked away. We had, we should have gone in there with a stabilizing force to help them. We should have helped them with democracy. We should have helped them secure their borders. We should have helped them with the caches of Qaddafi’s weapons. And we should have helped them become a country. Hugh, we have let, we’ve still got 38,000 troops in Korea after the Korean War. We have troops in Japan. We have troops in Bosnia. If we had walked away from Europe after World War II, I don’t know what it would have turned into, probably a satellite of Russia, of the Soviet Union. And on the issue of Russia, of course, for the first time now, the Russian have a major role in the Middle East since Anwar Sadat threw them out of Egypt in 1973. They are now the major players, and they have now, of course we have a ceasefire. They have achieved their objectives on the ground, what we call frozen conflict. They won. And of course, they’re maintaining their air power there. And they said they were going in to attack ISIS, right? They didn’t attack ISIS. They attacked the moderates that we had armed and trained and equipped while we watched. And this Secretary of State keeps going to Russia with his begging bowl on his knees for reasons which are just bewildering, this delusional thing. And of course, we know how the reset button worked out with our former Secretary of State now running for president.

HH: So I asked the Republicans on the debate stage would they send the necessary forces, and we got a variety of answers. We are now down to three candidates – Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and John Kasich. Your colleague and friend, Lindsey Graham, has embraced Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump really is the great unifier. He brought Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz together. Are you doing the same thing, John McCain?

JM: (laughing) I am staying out of it, Hugh. I think that it’s an issue that I can’t really much affect anyway. And second of all, I’ve got my own campaign to run. I did issue a statement saying that I agreed with Mitt Romney’s comments, and I wanted people to think long and hard before they choose to vote for, and I would argue that when you look at the world today, as described by the Director of National Intelligence, General Clapper before the Armed Services Committee three weeks ago, the world is in more danger than any time since the end of World War II with more refugees, more conflicts and more threats to the United States of America. That’s really what I am making my judgment on.

HH: Let me ask you, then, not to assess as between the candidates, but the Senator with whom you’ve worked, Senator Ted Cruz. Do you think he can be brought up to speed and understands the dynamics at work in the Middle East and how to cap ISIS, and at the same time hold the Iranians at bay?

JM: I believe he can. I believe he must if he is the president of the United States, and I intend to work with any of these nominees if they are president, because there’s too much danger in the world. We had, I have to put aside my anger in some cases, and work with them in every possible way that I can, whoever it is. And so as you know, and maybe it’s not a real valid comparison, Hugh, but when Ronald Reagan came to the presidency, his experience had been governor of the state of California. But the genius of Ronald Reagan was his instincts and his principles, and his ability to bring around him the smartest people in America to work for him in his administration. I’m talking about George Schultz. I’m talking about Cap Weinberger. I’m talking about a whole lot of people that you and I remember who gave him the strength and the knowledge. But he had the instincts and the principles.

HH: He also had a Senate Armed Services Committee with people like Pete Wilson, I believe yourself at the same time, and the Senate worked with him, even across partisan lines, to rebuild the American military and project force again. Do you think we can do that, Senator? We’ve got 30 seconds.

JM: I do, but we have to reach across the aisle. He and Tip O’Neill did a lot of things together, which some conservatives would find unacceptable today. He remains my role model. Yes, I believe we can and must, because the world’s in too great a danger. America is, there will be more attacks on the United States of America. I regret saying that.

HH: Senator John McCain, always bracing. I appreciate the time, Senator. Thank you. Good luck in your campaign. People know I’ve endorsed you. I hope you win going away.

End of interview.


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