MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issue this Sunday: He ran for president in 2000 as the anti-Bush.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN, (R-Ariz.): Governor Bush is a Pat Robertson Republican who will lose to Al Gore.
MR. RUSSERT: He has now become one of the president’s closest allies. What would he do about Iraq, Iran, immigration and the Christian right agenda? With us, probable 2008 presidential candidate Senator John McCain of Arizona.
Then, way back in 2003, this military man issued a warning about Iraq.
(Videotape, February 11, 2003):
GEN. ANTHONY ZINNI: This is, in my view, the worst time to take this on, and I don’t feel it needs to be done now.
MR. RUSSERT: His outspoken criticism of the war continues in his new book, “The Battle for Peace.” Our guest: the former commander in charge of U.S. central command, General Tony Zinni.
But first, he has just returned from his third visit to Iraq. With us, Senator John McCain.
SEN. McCAIN: Thanks, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, also in Iraq this morning, the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. There she is, meeting with the Iraqi prime minister. Do you believe that Mr. Jaafari is the man to lead Iraq?
SEN. McCAIN: I don’t know if he is or not. I think that that’s a decision that should be made by the Iraqis themselves. Do I think that Allawi was better, from my personal view and perhaps others? Yeah, but the urgency here, Tim, is the formation of a government. And I and my colleagues who visited, both with me and before me, tried to impress that on the Iraqi officials, that it’s been three months since they’ve had an election—more than three months. They need to form this government. The Iraqi people deserve it and it—I think we’re making progress in a lot of areas which I think I—we could discuss. But the fact that they haven’t formed a government is a great impediment to real progress in Iraq, there’s no doubt about it.
MR. RUSSERT: Are we in danger of losing?
SEN. McCAIN: I think that if—I—first of all I believe that they’ll form this government. I think they saw the abyss when the Golden Mosque was blown up and sectarian violence began. I think they will form it up, but obviously, if they don’t, if there’s not a government in Iraq, we’re, we’re, we’re in serious difficulty, but I think they’ve been impressed, including by Condi’s visit, that we need a government and we need it soon.
MR. RUSSERT: Are the Shiite and Sunni militias...
SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: ... more organized, stronger, than the Iraqi National Army?
SEN. McCAIN: I don’t believe so. I think one of the major areas where we’ve got problems with them is more in the police than in the army, and there is more control over the police in some areas by Sunni and Shia, and it’s complex. But I believe that the Iraqi army is showing significant progress. They are able to take over responsibilities in parts of Iraq that are now relatively calm. Have we got a long way to go? Yes. Is it hard? Yes. Tough? Difficult? Yes. But we are seeing results in that there is a reduction of American casualties. That’s good news. The bad news is the Iraqi casualties are going up. But we—in order to maintain American support, we’re going to have to see continued decline in American casualties.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, there’s been so much discussion about misjudgments made.
SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: I want to go back to September of 2002 when you voted to authorize the president to go to war.
SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: A comment you made: “I am certain that this military engagement [in Iraq] will not be very difficult.”
SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: You were wrong.
SEN. McCAIN: Well, it wasn’t initially, as we all know. And I went over there shortly after the main part of the, the initial victory was over and talked to many people and came back and said vociferously and often that we needed more troops there, and that was the view of literally everyone I talked to. And serious mistakes were made right after the initial military victory, including raising the expectations of the American people. Those mistakes were made. I complained about them vociferously, others have joined me in that assessment. But we’re there now, Tim, and I’ll be glad to admit any mistake you want to. I’ll be glad to talk about WMD. I’ll be glad to talk about intelligence failure. We are there, we cannot fail. If we fail, the consequences in the Middle East and to us, eventually, are profound. The benefits of success are significant.
MR. RUSSERT: Would it be helpful if the president said to the American people, “I was wrong about weapons of mass destruction, and yes, we have not been greeted as liberators as we thought”?
SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: And, “Yes, the insurgency was more organized and more robust”?
SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: And, “Yes, we were wrong about the secular violence between the Shiites and Shunnis—Sunnis, but we’re all in this together”? Would that be helpful?
SEN. McCAIN: I think the president has been doing that. He’s acknowledged many of the mistakes in the last several months, a series of speeches that he’s given, he has knowledged—acknowledged several mistakes that have been made. Maybe he could do a little more. But I think he has been laying out fairly eloquently the challenge that we face in Iraq and the consequences of it. But again, every...
MR. RUSSERT: Secretary Rice said...
SEN. McCAIN: Yeah. Sure.
MR. RUSSERT: Secretary Rice said there were strategic mistakes. There were, there were some fundamental misjudgments.
SEN. McCAIN: Yes. In not the initial phase, but certainly as to what would be required to make sure that we kept any insurgency under control and allowed them to make a transition to a democratic form of government, which they have never known before. But could I just—I’m not excusing any of those mistakes. Mistakes are made in every war. General MacArthur assured President Truman that the Chinese would not invade across the Yalu, the beginning of World War II. The key is to fix those mistakes. We are beginning to fix a number of those mistakes that were made then, and it’s long and it’s hard and it’s tough.
MR. RUSSERT: Tom Friedman said it was criminally negligent by the secretary of Defense not to have more troops. Do you agree?
SEN. McCAIN: I wouldn’t use that language, but I do believe that it was a very, very serious strategic mistake when we didn’t have enough troops over there to maintain control of a large country. I would remind you that the first couple of three, four months after the initial military victory things were relatively quiet. We didn’t, we didn’t protect the oil pipeline refineries and lines enough. But Iraqis now view themselves as Iraqis first, Shia, Sunni and Kurd second. There is a desire on the part of the Iraqi people to have a democratic government. That’s why they had such a good voter turnout. There are signs of progress, there’s economic improvement. But I do want to repeat, the American people should realize what’s at stake here. And I think, overall, the American people and my friends on the other side of the aisle recognize that we have to succeed.
MR. RUSSERT: It could tip into total chaos?
SEN. McCAIN: Well, I think it could, but I don’t think it will. I don’t think it will. I think we are, we are muddling through, as, as Mr. Churchill used to say.
MR. RUSSERT: But the fact is, if the United States Senate knew today...
SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: ...what the facts are—no WMD...
SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: ...the costs of the war, the burdens of the war...
SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: ...the Senate wouldn’t vote for the war.
SEN. McCAIN: I don’t know if they would or not. But I know that Saddam Hussein had acquired and used weapons of mass destruction, that every indication of his desires, his ambitions and his efforts were to acquire weapons of mass destruction and use them again. We had an Oil-for-Food scandal in the billions of dollars, the sanctions were not working; they were breaking down, so...
MR. RUSSERT: But he was not an imminent threat.
SEN. McCAIN: I wouldn’t say that he was—because we know now, or we’re pretty sure that he had no weapons of mass destruction, but did he pose a threat? Absolutely, in my view.
MR. RUSSERT: In what way?
SEN. McCAIN: He had attempted to and used weapons of mass destruction in the past. He had invaded Kuwait and occupied Kuwait. He had killed thousands of people with weapons of mass destruction, and there’s no doubt in anybody’s mind that he was trying to acquire and would eventually use them again.
MR. RUSSERT: But not nearly as far along in his programs as had been suggested?
SEN. McCAIN: That’s right. There was a colossal intelligence failure. But I want to point out, that intelligence failure was shared by the British, the French, the German, the Israelis. Every intelligence agency in the world believed that he had weapons of mass destruction.
MR. RUSSERT: In November of ‘05, you talked about support for the war from the American people, and you said, “If we can’t retain the support of the American people, we will have lost this war as soundly as if our forces were defeated on the battlefield.” Here’s our latest NBC...
SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: ...Wall Street Journal poll: Is the war in Iraq worth it?
Thirty-nine percent say yes, 51 percent, a majority, say not worth it.
SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: Have the American people now turned against the war?
SEN. McCAIN: I think the American people are very nervous, they’re disappointed in our lack of progress, and that’s why we’ve got to show progress. I think that when you ask the American people whether we should pull out immediately, most of them say no, most of them say no, because they realize the consequences of failure. So it’s the job of people like me and others who may be respected in this area to point out the benefits of success and the consequences of failure. So, when you hear of 2,300-and-some young Americans who’ve given their lives, of course, Americans say that, quote, “It wasn’t worth it.” You talk to those young men and women who are doing the fighting over there, and they’ll tell you they think they’re fighting in a noble cause, and I believe they are.
MR. RUSSERT: The Christian Science Monitor reporter Jin—Jill Carroll’s been released.
SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: Here’s pictures of her arriving in Germany carrying the orange and blue bag. She made some tapes, which have now been released, where she’s critical of the United States, critical of the war. She’s saying that she was in captivity and did those under duress. You were someone who was imprisoned in Vietnam.
SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: What should the American people be thinking when they’re watching those tapes?
SEN. McCAIN: I think they should be thinking that this was a young woman who found herself in a terrible, terrible position, and we are glad she’s home. We understand when you’re held captive in that kind of situation that you do things under duress. And God bless her, and we’re glad she’s home.
MR. RUSSERT: And not listen or take those seriously?
SEN. McCAIN: I would not take them seriously. I would not. Any more than we took seriously other tapes and things that were done in other prison situations, including the Vietnam War.
MR. RUSSERT: We now have information that the Russians took our battle plans for Iraq and gave them to Saddam Hussein. In light of that, should the president of the United States go to the G8 Economic Summit in Russia in July?
SEN. McCAIN: I, I have felt that we should not include Russia in the G8, but present—it’s a—I, I shouldn’t dictate that to the president or the...
MR. RUSSERT: But you would boycott.
SEN. McCAIN: I would probably do that, yes, because—not just because of the plans to Iraq: the repression of his own people; the recent elections in Belarus that he has been supporting the most Stalinistic dictator in Europe; interference in Ukraine; that—the repression of, of a free press and the autocracy; the restoration of the Russian empire; and, very seriously, the failure so far to really cooperate with us in addressing the threat of Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons, development of nuclear weapons. So I have been very disappointed in President Putin. I think that we’ve got to respond in some way. And the glimmerings of democracy are very faint in Russia today, and so I would be very harsh.
MR. RUSSERT: The president said he looked into his soul and found him to very honest and very straightforward.
SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: Is the president wrong?
SEN. McCAIN: I think that the president is realizing more and more that Putin is...
MR. RUSSERT: Not honest and not straightforward.
SEN. McCAIN: If, if not, if not honest, certainly an autocrat who is seeking the consolidation of power with his old buddies from the KGB. I think the president’s very concerned and has expressed those concerns about behavior on the part of the Russian government. Look, we all say things that are stupid. I’m going to probably say several more this morning, so I—the president probably...
MR. RUSSERT: So that was, in your words, stupid of the president to say?
SEN. McCAIN: No, I don’t mean it’s stupid. I mean, we say things...
MR. RUSSERT: Well, he called pre—he called Putin honest and straightforward.
SEN. McCAIN: Look, the president wanted to develop a good working
relationship with Russia and with Putin, and I’m sure that the president has
re-evaluated his position in light of Putin’s recent actions. At the time I
think he was—remember, it was early in his presidency, the president was trying to develop a good relationship with Putin. And, again, I don’t mean stupid. I’ll say it was stupid as far as I’m concerned, but all of us make statements that sometimes are not correct in light—in hindsight.
MR. RUSSERT: How about just, how about a misjudgment?
SEN. McCAIN: At the time it probably was not a good predictor of what Putin would do.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Iran. You said this to the Financial Times.
“‘Everyone knows we’re not going to have two wars (at once),’ [McCain] said...
“‘I do not think [using force against suspected Iranian nuclear facilities] would be successful. There is no guarantee we would get all those facilities. If you have a strike and leave them with nuclear capability, you have got a hell of a challenge on your hands.’”
SEN. McCAIN: I also said that there’s only one thing worse than using the option of military action, and that is the Iranians acquiring nuclear weapons. And we must, as the president has very correctly stated, not removed the military option from the table. We cannot remove that option.
Now, we are going and using every possible avenue short of that. Going to—the president is handling this exactly right. We’re going to the United Nations Security Council with our European allies. We are seeking sanctions. The, the action of China and Russia in relation to this issue I believe is a critical aspect of our relations with both countries. We must have sanctions against Iran. Would it be a difficult military option? Sure, it would be a difficult military option. But you cannot remove it from the table.
MR. RUSSERT: But The Washington Post said it would unleash Iranian agents already here in the United States and bring on terrorist attacks here and worldwide.
SEN. McCAIN: The president of Iran went to the United Nations and announced his dedication to the extinction of the state of Israel. The—they are in clear violation of the NPT, which they were signatories to. This is one of the most dangerous challenges we’ve faced since the end of the Cold War. And put yourself in, in the position of the government of the state of Israel: a near neighbor who has announced his—their desire to put you out, into extinction, and they have the capability to do so. This is one—a very serious challenge. And for us to say under no circumstances will we use the military option would be the height of foolishness in my view. And again, I want to applaud the president’s handling of this issue, keeping our European allies with us.
MR. RUSSERT: So we could have two wars at once?
SEN. McCAIN: I think we could have Armageddon. But I think that, that if we handle this right, and our European allies stand with us, and the Russians and the Chinese stand with us, sanctions might do the job. And I am confident that this administration will exhaust every effort before contemplating seriously a military option.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn homeward: immigration, a subject that you’re deeply involved in. You’ve co-sponsored a bill with Senator Kennedy that would toughen the borders, also allow the 11 million illegal immigrants who are here to be on a path to citizenship by paying back taxes, learning English, paying a fine. Senator George Allen, someone who may run for president as well, said this: “The [immigration] bill that’s coming out of the Judiciary Committee rewards illegal behavior. And I think if you reward illegal behavior, you’ll get more illegal behavior.”
SEN. McCAIN: Well, the proposal that we have is clearly a very, very tough road to earn citizenship. And most Americans, when you explain to them it requires learn English, back taxes, pay a $2,000 dollar fine, six years working before eligibility, before obtaining a green card, and then as much as five years before obtaining citizenship, they favor that. Particularly when you ask—when, when you say what do you do? How can you send 11 million people back to the country they came from? You’ve got three options: the status quo, which everybody agrees is unacceptable; let them earn citizenship, and I mean earn it; or third of all round them up and send them back. What—so those are your—really the three options. And I think that it’s very important that we handle this issue with sensitivity and humanity. Those thousands of young people, half a million young people you saw demonstrating in Los Angeles were as passionate as they are because they don’t want their parents sent back. Some people have been here 15, 16 and 17 years, Tim, and 97 percent of them are working. But our first priority is to fix our borders. Is to fix our borders...
MR. RUSSERT: There’s going to be Senate...
SEN. McCAIN: ...but it has to be comprehensive. Go ahead.
MR. RUSSERT: There’s going to be a big vote in the Senate. You need at least 18 Republican senators to join with you. Straight talk: Has the president shown the necessary leadership on this issue for you to win your battle?
SEN. McCAIN: First of all, I don’t know if we have the votes. Second of all, I’ve been very pleased with the president’s comments in Mexico and about this issue. He has said earned citizenship, he has come out in favor of a guest worker program. He has highlighted the, the urgency of this issue to America. Eleven million people living in the shadows in this nation. Would I like to see him lead more? Sure, I—but I, I applaud his leadership and I applaud the work that he’s done, and nobody knows more about this issue in Washington than President Bush, having been governor of the state of Texas.
MR. RUSSERT: It’s been interesting for political observers to watch the relationship between you and George W. Bush. In 2000 you said the campaign that he ran against you was not honorable. In 2004 this was the scene stop after stop on the campaign trail, hugs and yes, kisses all around. McCain and Bush, buddy-buddy.
“Blunt truth never lasts long. John McCain, for example, has become a born-again Bushophile, and that was the end of him has an honest, independent voice.” And that has been a whole series of commentary this last couple of weeks. E.J. Dionne and The Washington Post has this: “A maverick no more.” The Washington Times, conservative paper, “Senator John McCain, who has consistently opposed President Bush’s tax cuts, recently voted to extend some of them, a move conservatives say is a political flip-flop intended to further his White House ambitions. ... When Mr. Bush’s $1.35 trillion dollar tax-cut bill ... came up for a final vote in May 2001, Mr. McCain was one of two Senate Republicans to vote, ‘No.’ ‘I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us at the expense of middle-class Americans who need tax relief,’ he said at the time.” Now, record deficits, and John McCain says, “I’m for the Bush tax cut.”
SEN. McCAIN: Well, first of all, I’ve got to—I’ll go back to your initial statement. I didn’t say that President Bush ran a dishonorable campaign. I said that things were done that were wrong. I don’t believe they were done by President Bush. I met with Pres—then-Governor Bush three months after I dropped out of the race, and we met, and I supported and campaigned for him in the year 2000. Not 2004, 2000. And I supported him in his foreign and other policy matters as president of the United States, and I’m proud to do so. I disagreed with him on several issues. I still do. But in 2004, I believed that the transcending issue of that campaign was who was best equipped to fight the war on terror...
MR. RUSSERT: And you said—In March of 2000--March of 2000...
SEN. McCAIN: ...and that’s why I was glad. So I did not change my position in support of President Bush. Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: ...March 2004, I asked you if you believed that George Bush ran an honorable campaign and you said, “I cannot say that.”
SEN. McCAIN: Quote, “Ran an honorable campaign.” I put those things behind me. I don’t look back in anger. I don’t think the American people expect me to look back in anger. Things are said and done in political campaigns which are pretty, which are pretty tough. And they are—and campaigns are tough in America, and they should be. But my support for him was announced three months after the primary was over in the year 2000.
MR. RUSSERT: But you’re now voting for the tax cut which you had not voted for. You came out and said we should teach intelligent design in classes as well as evolution. Jerry Falwell, Jerry Falwell, you’re now giving the commencement address at Liberty University in May. This is what you said about Jerry Falwell in February of 2000. Let’s watch.
(Videotape, February 28, 2000):
SEN. McCAIN: Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.
MR. RUSSERT: “Agents of intolerance.” And you were asked about that speech and you said this: “I must not and will not retract anything that I said in that speech at Virginia Beach. It was carefully crafted. It was carefully thought out.” Based on that, do you believe that Jerry Falwell is still an agent of intolerance?
SEN. McCAIN: I would like to first respond to several comments that you made as a predicate. First of all, on the tax cuts. I do not believe in tax increases. Now, it was a gimmick that was—that the tax cuts were temporary and then had to be made permanent. The tax cuts are now there and voting to revoke them would have been to—not to extend them would have meant a tax increase. I’ve never voted for a tax increase in my life.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, that’s important. But it would, it would, it would mean that...
SEN. McCAIN: But it’s be very important that I finish saying what I think.
MR. RUSSERT: But, let me just, for the record, it would have gone back to tax rates.
SEN. McCAIN: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: That you had supported.
SEN. McCAIN: Yes. But the economy had adjusted, the tax cuts were there, and if it would have been—and that’s the way it was designed. It would’ve been tantamount to a tax increase. And that’s, and that’s a fact. And I’ve never voted for a tax increase in my life with the exception of...
MR. RUSSERT: So there’s no politics?
SEN. McCAIN: ...supporting a tax. No. I do things because I think they’re right. I mean, and obviously you—if people are free to judge however they want to. As regards to Reverend Falwell, which is the major thrust of your comments, I met with Reverend Falwell, he came to see me in Washington. We, we agreed to disagree on certain issues and we agreed to move forward. I believe that speaking at Liberty University is no different from speaking at the New College or Ohio State University, all of which I’m speaking—I speak at a lot of colleges and universities. I’m pleased to have the opportunity to do so, to talk to young Americans and talk to them about the obligations and the privileges of freedom.
MR. RUSSERT: But Senator, when you were on here in 2000, I asked you about Jerry Falwell, and this is what you said.
(Videotape, March 5, 2000):
SEN. McCAIN: Governor Bush swung far to the right and sought out the base support of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. That’s—those aren’t the ideas that I think are good for the Republican Party.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think that Jerry Falwell’s ideas are now good for the Republican Party?
SEN. McCAIN: I believe that the Christ—quote, “Christian right,” has a major role to play in the Republican Party. One reason is, is because they’re so active, and their, and their followers are. And I believe they have a right to be a part of our party. I don’t have to agree with everything they stand for, nor do I have to agree with everything that’s on the liberal side of the Republican Party. If we have to agree on every issue, we’re not a Republican Party. I believe in open and honest debate. Was I unhappy in, in, in the year 2000 that I lost the primary and there were some attacks on me that I thought was unfair? Of course. Do I—should I get over it? Should I serve—can I serve the people of Arizona best by looking back in anger or moving forward?
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that Jerry Falwell is still an agent of intolerance?
SEN. McCAIN: No, I don’t. I think that Jerry Falwell can explain to you his views on this program when you have him on.
MR. RUSSERT: After September 11th, let me show you what...
SEN. McCAIN: Go ahead. Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...Reverend Falwell had to say. “What we saw on [September 11th], as terrible as it is, could be miniscule if, in fact, God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve. ... I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists and the feminists, and the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle ... I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’”
SEN. McCAIN: You’ll have to...
MR. RUSSERT: Are you embracing that?
SEN. McCAIN: I am speaking at the, at the graduation of his, his university. I’m not embracing all of the tenets that are expressed at the new college in New York City, nor other liberal universities and institutions that I have spoke at. For example, I don’t agree with the Ivy League colleges barring recruiters—military recruiters from their campuses, but I still speak there.
MR. RUSSERT: Are you concerned that people are going to say, “I see. John McCain tried ‘straight talk express,’ ‘maverick,’ it didn’t work in 2000, so now in 2008 he’s going to become a conventional, typical politician, reaching out to people that he called agents of intolerance, voting for tax cuts he opposed, to make himself more appealing to the hard-core Republican base.”
SEN. McCAIN: I think most people will judge my record exactly for what it is, where I take positions that I stand, that I stand for and I believe in. Whether it be climate change, whether it be torture, or whether it be a number of other issues with which I am—immigration. I, I don’t think that my position on immigration is exactly pleasing to the far right base. I will continue to take positions that I believe in and I stand for. And I recognize that a lot of my credibility is based on that, and I think most Americans will judge me by my entire record.
MR. RUSSERT: When do you make the decision whether to run for president?
SEN. McCAIN: Next year.
MR. RUSSERT: ‘07.
SEN. McCAIN: ‘07.
MR. RUSSERT: Early?
SEN. McCAIN: I, I haven’t exactly ascertained that. My focus and efforts are the 2006 elections, which are going to be very tough for Republicans, and we all know that. And I spent yesterday, and I’m spending a lot of time going around and campaigning for Republicans, and that’s the focus of my efforts between now and next—and this November.
MR. RUSSERT: Reverend Falwell said that you had expressed a willingness to support a federal marriage amendment, which would define a union between a man and a woman. Is that true?
SEN. McCAIN: Reverend Falwell was asked again about that, and he clarified it; my position has always been that I will vote against a constitutional amendment, which will come before the Senate on, on this issue, because I think the states should decide. That’s the essence of federalism. In my state of Arizona, we have a ballot initiative on this issue, which I am supporting. And so—but if the courts, if the, if through the court process, they say that that’s not constitutional, then I would support a constitutional amendment.
MR. RUSSERT: During—before you go, last week, you talked about people raising your temper as an issue. I read an interview you gave Fortune magazine, “You lose battles in politics. I do get good and angry. Really angry! By God, I’m not going to let them beat me again. I don’t like to lose.”
SEN. McCAIN: I was laughing when I said that and I was joking. I spend every day saying to myself, “Stay calm. Stay cool. Be passionate. But neither get angry nor personal.” And that—those are two important lessons that I’ve learned over the years. I spent a lot of time burning bridges early in my political campaign, but—political life. Now I work to try to build bridges.
MR. RUSSERT: And we’ll be watching. Senator John McCain, thanks for joining us and sharing your views.
SEN. McCAIN: I haven’t had so much fun since my last interrogation.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, the former commander of U.S. Central Command who warned against going into Iraq. General Tony Zinni is here with his new book, “The Battle for Peace,” right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: Former CENTCOM commander retired General Tony Zinni and his new
book, “Battle For Peace,” after this station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
General Zinni, welcome to MEET THE PRESS.
GEN. ZINNI: Thank you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: And we’re going to talk about your book, “Battle For Peace.”
Let me bring you back to 1998, and this is what General Tony Zinni had to say:
“I think a weakened, fragmented, chaotic Iraq - which could happen if this isn’t done carefully - is more dangerous in the long run than a contained Saddam is now. ... I don’t think these questions have been thought through or answered.” Is that what we have now?
GEN. ZINNI: I think so. I think we are paying the price for the lack of credible planning, or the lack of a plan. We’re throwing away 10 years worth of planning, in effect, for underestimating the situation we were going to get into, for not adhering to the advice that was being given to us by others, and, I think, getting distracted from Afghanistan and the war on terrorism that we were committed to when we took on this adventure.
MR. RUSSERT: If you were the president of the United States right now, what would you do about Iraq?
GEN. ZINNI: Well, unfortunately, Iraq is—we can’t let it fall apart. It is part of a whole myriad of issues that we have regarding stability in the Middle East. We’re committed to it now. We have to see this through. I think we have to get this government to form some sort of unity representative government. We keep pressuring them to do this. They keep avoiding the pressure, which I don’t understand. We have to, obviously, make a decision on the militias. They seem to be part of the problem that we’re not addressing. We’re, we’re trying to develop a military and a police force that can handle this problem. I think one of the elements that’s missing in this is building up the intelligence capability.
You know, the, the number of insurgents, so-called insurgents, although it’s a mixed bag of problems that we face, could be dealt with if the people turned against them. If, like General Casey said a week or so ago, 99.9 percent of the people are opposed to the violence and the perpetrators of these violence. Well, all those people have to do is call up on the phone and tell you where the insurgents are, tell you in the two to four provinces that everybody said this is concentrated in where the issues are, where the problems are, where the people that are doing this are, and you wouldn’t need much more than you have right now. And the security forces and the Iraqis would be able to handle it. We’re not fighting the Waffen SS here. You know, we’re fighting a bunch of ragtag people with AK-47s and IEDs and RPGs. They can be policed up if the people turn against them. We haven’t won the hearts and minds yet.
MR. RUSSERT: So they’re being enabled by the population.
GEN. ZINNI: You know, they need amongst the population—this is classic insurgency—they need either fear, apathy or support, sympathy. If they get a combination of those three—and right now they have a combination. If there’s a viable government, there’s an opportunity for jobs, if there’s a program that shows hope for the future for their children, they’re going to turn against these people. We haven’t given them that in three years.
MR. RUSSERT: Is Iraq more dangerous now than it was with Saddam?
GEN. ZINNI: Well, it can be. I mean, this is like comparing heart disease with cancer. You know, you may cure one; neither one is good. The—probably the good news in all this is the potential for Iraq to come out of this better off is there, where there was no hope under Saddam. But the problem is that we’ve wasted three years here. They may go, in the worst case, through a period that looks something like Lebanon did in the ‘80s. And it may take them a while—five, 10 years of this kind of violence and destructive behavior, sectarian violence that they perpetrate on each other, for them to get out of this. And I think we lost ground when we had an opportunity in the beginning to freeze this situation and gain control, and we let all these snakes come out.
MR. RUSSERT: In your book, and I’ll quote from it, “The Battle For Peace,” it says, “Our current war in Iraq may be turning into a repetition of Vietnam. The military out there goes from operation to operation, our leaders in Washington assure us we are powering ahead from success to success; yet our young nineteen or twenty-year-old soldiers are now asking hard questions: ‘I can win any battle; but am I winning this war?’
“I’ve heard these questions before in Vietnam. The answer there was ‘No.’
“My answer for Iraq is, ‘I don’t know.’ Nobody can tell our soldiers if they’re winning or not. But the parallels are disturbing.” Explain.
GEN. ZINNI: Well, you know, you can see almost every day on TV a young lieutenant colonel, colonel, a young sergeant that’s out there trying to make a difference that tells you that, in this village, in this province, “My unit is connecting to the people. We’re trying hard.” The frustration is they leave and the next unit in may not repeat it. They’re successful, but there is no national program that takes hold. All their efforts out there at the local level, the successes that they’re trying to achieve on the scene aren’t solidified into some national movement forward.
The, the remarkable similarities to Vietnam is I saw in places in Vietnam where we were making a difference in the villages, where we had programs that innovative commanders were exercising, where there were troops that were dedicated to changing the lives of the Vietnamese. Meanwhile, back in Saigon, we had the revolving generals, coup after coup, while we sat there and watched, and this wasn’t the kind of government that the people felt they could risk their lives for.
What I’m saying is don’t mistake the efforts of the troops on the ground. We just saw Colonel McMasters, Tal Afar, we know General Petraeus, General Mattis, others that have made a difference on the ground. But that’s like putting your foot in a bucket of water. You pull it out, no one’s going to know you were there unless there is a national program, a belief in that government in Baghdad, a hope for the future, a belief that staying together as united Iraq is better for these people in the long run. That has to come from a strategic plan, from a, a set of policies emerging out of Washington and Baghdad. It isn’t going to be built from the bottom up, from the Anbar provinces, and the Ramadis and the Mosuls out there.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe the American media is distorting the news from Iraq, or presenting an accurate picture?
GEN. ZINNI: Well, I think the American media’s being made a scapegoat for what’s going on out there. At last count, I think something like 80 journalists have been killed in Iraq. It’s hard to get outside the green zone and not risk your life, or risk kidnapping, at a minimum, to get the story. And it’s hard to blame the media for no good stories when the security situation is such that they can’t even go out and get the good stories without risking their lives. And you have to remember that it’s hard to dwell on the good things when the bad things are so overwhelmingly traumatic and catastrophic, you know? So I think that’s an unfair blame that’s put on the media. I think that there probably are good things at the lower level, but are they balanced out by the bad things that are happening? All the good things happening out there will mean nothing if the unity government doesn’t come together.
MR. RUSSERT: I want to bring you back to a book you co-wrote with Tom Clancy called “Battle Ready.” And you wrote this: “In the lead-up to the Iraq war and its later conduct, I saw, at a minimum, true dereliction, negligence, and irresponsibility; at worst, lying, incompetence, and corruption.” That’s very serious.
GEN. ZINNI: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: Where did you see that? At what level?
GEN. ZINNI: Well, I—first of all, I saw it in the way the intelligence was being portrayed. I knew the intelligence; I saw it right up to the day of the war. I was asked at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing a month before the war if I thought the threat was imminent. I didn’t. Many of the people I know that were involved in the intelligence side of this, or, or in the military felt the same way. I saw the—what this town is known for: spin, cherry-picking facts, using metaphors to evoke certain emotional responses, or, or shading the, the context. We, we know the mushroom clouds and, and the other things that were all described that the media’s covered well. I saw on the ground, though, a sort of walking away from 10 years worth of planning.
You know, ever since the end of the first Gulf War, there have been—there’s been planning by serious officers and planners and others, and policies put in place. Ten years worth of planning, you know, were thrown away; troop levels dismissed out of hand; General Shinseki basically insulted for speaking the truth and giving a, an honest opinion; the lack of cohesive approach to how we deal with the aftermath; the political, economic, social reconstruction of a nation, which is no small task; a belief in these exiles that anyone in the region, anyone that had any knowledge would tell you were not credible on the ground; and on and on and on. Decisions to disband the army that were not in the initial plans. I mean there’s a series of disastrous mistakes. We just heard the secretary of state say these were tactical mistakes. These were not tactical mistakes. These were strategic mistakes, mistakes of policy made back here. Don’t blame the troops. They’re the ones that perform the tactics on the ground. They’ve been magnificent. If anything saves this, it will be them.
MR. RUSSERT: Should someone resign?
GEN. ZINNI: Absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: Who?
GEN. ZINNI: Secretary of defense, to begin with.
MR. RUSSERT: Anyone else?
GEN. ZINNI: Well, I think that, that we—that those that have been responsible for the planning, for overriding all the, the efforts that were made in planning before that, that those that stood by and allowed this to happen, that didn’t speak out. And there are appropriate ways within the system you can speak out, at congressional hearings and otherwise. I think they have to be held accountable.
The point is, those that are in power now that have been part of this are finding that their time is spent defending the past. And if they have to defend the past, they’re unable to make the kinds of changes, adjustments, admit the mistakes and move on. And that’s where we are now, trying to rewrite history, defend the past, ridiculous statements that, “Well, wait 20 years and history will tell you how this turns out.” Well, I don’t think anybody wants 20 years to continue like it is now.
MR. RUSSERT: Should the president say to the country, “I was wrong about weapons of mass destruction, wrong about troop levels, wrong about the cost of the war, wrong about the level of insurgency. But we need to put all that behind us and come together as a nation, because this is too important to lose”?
GEN. ZINNI: I, I think the president of the United States ought to certainly say that there were mistakes made at each of those levels. In some cases, these were presented to him. It may not be necessarily the case that he was wrong. He was given bad information. Every president in history has held people accountable and moved on. Look at President Lincoln in the conduct of the war. He went through every general till he found Grant. Senator McCain mentioned Douglas MacArthur. Well, when he screwed up, the president relieved him. You know, you have to make tough choices. You know, integrity and getting on with the mission and doing it right is more important than loyalty. Both are great traits, but integrity, honesty and performance and competence have to outweigh, in this business, loyalty.
MR. RUSSERT: I want to bring you back to August 26, 2002. The Veterans of Foreign War had a convention, a meeting. Vice President Cheney was the guest speaker. You were honored, as you can see the medal around your neck there. This is what the vice president said on that day.
(Videotape, August 26, 2002):
VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY: Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is not doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us.
MR. RUSSERT: After that event, The Washington Post captured your thinking in a conversation with you. “Cheney’s certitude bewildered [retired General Tony] Zinni. ... ‘In my time at CENTCOM, I watched the intelligence, and never - not once - did it say, “He has WMD.”’ Though retired for nearly two years, Zinni says, he remained current on the intelligence through his consulting with the CIA and the military. ‘I did consulting work for the agency, right up to the beginning of the war. I never saw anything. I’d say to analysts, “Where’s the threat?”’ Their response, he recalls, was, ‘Silence.’ Zinni’s concern deepened as Cheney pressed on. ... Zinni’s conclusion as he slowly walked off the stage was that the Bush administration was determined to go to war. A moment later, he had another, equally chilling thought: ‘These guys don’t understand what they’re getting into.’” Why did you think that on that day?
GEN. ZINNI: Well, first of all, prior to that, I heard the president say because this—these rumors of debates and people pushing for this entry into Iraq that the president said, “Well, look, I’m going to listen to the debate, and then I’ll look at the intelligence.” First of all, I thought that was a little backwards, but I said, “Well, the president hasn’t made up his mind to this point, and when he looks at the intelligence, takes an honest look at it, when he hears the debate, he’ll realize that this isn’t something that should be done now, and it should—and if you’re going to do it, you would do it in a way to try to restart the United Nations process, go back to what President Bush 41 had done.”
But what I heard on that stage today, or that day was not the case of restarting that process in any serious way. I heard the case being built to go to war right away. And what bothered me, I had been hearing about some of the assumptions on the planning, dismissal of the for—previous plans, and I was hearing a depiction of the intelligence that didn’t fit what I knew. There was no solid proof, that I ever saw, that Saddam had WMD.
Now, I’d be the first to say we had to assume he had WMD left over that wasn’t accounted for: artillery rounds, chemical rounds, a SCUD missile or two. But these things, over time, degrade. These things did not present operational or strategic level threats at best. Plus, we were watching Saddam with an army that had caved in. It was nothing like the Gulf War army. It was a shell of its former self. We knew we could go through it quickly. We’d stripped away his air defenses. He was at our mercy. We had air superiority before we even—or actually air supremacy before we would even start an operation. So to say that this threat was imminent or grave and gathering, seemed like a great exaggeration to me.
MR. RUSSERT: The president, the secretary of state, all said he was not contained, he was not in a box, that he was a madman.
GEN. ZINNI: Well, I think that’s—that is an insult to the troops who, for 10 years, ran the containment: those brave pilots who flew the no-fly zones, those sailors who enforced the maritime intercept operations, our soldiers and Marines that were on the ground out there that responded to every crisis, our support for the efforts of the inspectors that were in there. You know, we—we had less troops on a day-to-day basis out there than go to work at the Pentagon every day doing this. And these were not assigned troops to CENTCOM. These were troops that rotated in and out. We had allies out there that helped foot the bill for this, $300 million dollars to $500 million dollars a year supporting us with bases, supporting us with overflights, supporting us with assistance in kind, joining us in places like Somalia and the Balkans when we required coalition troops. I thought the containment worked remarkably well, and it was a tribute to our troops and how they handled it.
MR. RUSSERT: The overall thesis in your book, “Battle for Peace,” you write it this way, “I had also heard the secretary”—excuse me. Let me go back to the—put it on the screen there if we can. And if we can put—there it is. “The ‘Battle for Peace’ is not a battle in the classical sense - a battle that follows the sudden crisis blow that triggers a military conflict. The battle is the constant struggle to develop and build the measures, programs, systems, and institutions that will prevent crisis. The battle is the constant struggle to shape and manage the harmful elements in the environment that generate instabilities.
“The ‘Battle for Peace’ is the battle to achieve a stable world.”
The president’s dream is democracy, around the world and the Middle East. What happens to countries like Iraq, countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or in the Palestine area when Hamas is elected? Does democracy necessarily bring about a desired result from America’s security interests?
GEN. ZINNI: Well, first of all, you have to understand how you instill democracy. It isn’t an election. An election doesn’t equal democracy. Think about it. We need an educated electorate. We need political parties that are transparent, that people understand their platforms, that compete in a fair process. We have to have a governmental system that people are voting into, and they have to understand that, and then you can have elections. We’ve sort of reversed the process.
Look what’s happened in Iraq. We’ve had three elections now, and we don’t have a government yet that can stand up. There aren’t people that, I think, really understood what they voted for. I saw a scene in Basra, one of the elections, where a woman ran in so excited about voting, and then she asked the poll tender, “Who do I vote for?” And he told her she—he couldn’t tell her, but he had to read a list to her of 169 parties. She was confused. When he hit number seven that said the Islamic party of something or other, she said, “That’s the one.” I mean, is that democracy? Are they voting how they’re told at, at Friday prayers? Are they voting for sectarian leaders that dominate their lives? Do they truly understand what it’s all about?
It’s not just democracy. It’s economic development. It’s social reform. This takes time, takes an investment from the stable part of the world and the unstable part of the world to establish these.
MR. RUSSERT: General Tony Zinni, we thank you for joining us.
GEN. ZINNI: Thank you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Thank you for “Battle for Peace.” And we’ll be watching.
GEN. ZINNI: Thank you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: We’ll be right back.
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