Transcript from Brian Williams’ interview with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)
WILLIAMS: We are happy to welcome Arizona Republican Senator John McCain to our coverage.
Senator, you’re in the news this week for another matter, off the subject of Iraq, for ways that you can’t control—this missing briefcase from the Giuliani start-up presidential campaign. Senator, can you look me in the eye, via the camera and say that you had no prior knowledge this was missing until you read about it in the papers and that you’ve since not learned that, say, anyone connected to you has anything to do with it?
MCCAIN: I haven’t learned anything about it, Brian. I know nothing about it.
WILLIAMS: So all you know is what you read in the papers.
WILLIAMS: All right. To the matter at hand, and that is about to be Iraq. Tell me how this is going to work—with Democratic control of both chambers, sir, and with the American public telling pollsters—and the numbers we’re aware of, how much against this war they are turning—it looks like you’re going to be right behind the president, if he does indeed call for this surge. If it is a matter of sending more troops into Iraq, is 20,000 enough? Is 40,000 too much? Where do you stand?
MCCAIN: I’m not exact, but because I listened to people like General Kane (ph), former chief of staff of the Army, and many others.
But two combat brigades in Anbar province, 4 in Baghdad, with one in reserve—that’s roughly – 30-35,000 people roughly. And by the way, it has to be enough, or it will be worse than doing nothing.
We’ve made mistakes in Iraq. We all know that we have. The result of our withdrawal will be chaos. Do we have to do a lot better? Yes.
Does the Iraqi government have to be better and the economy better?
Yes. But unless you establish security, you cannot have political and economic development. That is a lesson of history that is—there are abundant examples.
So I believe that we need to win this. When I voted to support this war, I knew it was probably going to be long and hard and tough. And those that voted for it and thought that somehow it was going to be some kind of an easy task, then I’m sorry they were mistaken. Maybe they didn’t know what they were voting for.
WILLIAMS: I have to interrupt myself here.
MCCAIN: Yes, you’ve got to go.
WILLIAMS: And we apologize to Senator McCain for the interruption in our interview.
And Senator, a very basic political question—forgive me: How do you do this, and run as a candidate for president, as you’re widely believed to be here—is this—do you put this in the category of, folks, you’re not going to like this, we’re going to argue, fuss and fight over this in the House and the Senate, but this is the right thing to do?
And secondly, when do you pull the string if it doesn’t work, Senator?
MCCAIN: For over three years, I’ve argued for more troops and I predicted that we would be in the situation we’re in if we didn’t. And so this is not a new position. And I harbor ambitions to be president of the United States. But those ambitions are not such that I won’t do, first and foremost, what I think is best for this nation and its security. That transcends any other impulse that I might have.
I think we need to do it. I think we need to see it sustained, and I think we need to win. If we withdraw, the chaos will engulf the region, it will spread, and the United States’ vital national security interests will be threatened in many places in the world. That’s what is at stake here. When I voted to send our young men and women—the greatest responsibility we have—into combat, I knew that it was probably going to be long and tough and difficult. And these young people are very brave, they’re wonderful.
And by the way, I was just in Ramadi and in Baghdad and in Basra, and I find these young people understanding the mission, what needs to be done, and they’re more than willing to do it.
WILLIAMS: A man who has already made great sacrifices for his country in his years of military service and as a POW, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. Senator, always a pleasure. Thank you for taking our questions.
MCCAIN: Thank you, Brian.