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McCain plays Hardball on Iraq

Senator says immediate troop withdrawal would lead to 'anarchy'
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Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has earned the right to be an outspoken national
leader.  As naval aviator, tortured prisoner of war, war hero, Congressman
and Senator from Arizona since 1987, McCain has been making sacrifices and
serving out country most of his life.

He's also a respected author.  His latest book, Character is Destiny, has just been published.  With everything going on in Washington these days, a discussion of good character and values seems in order. 

MSNBC-TV's Chris Matthews sat down with McCain to ask him about his new book and pre-war intelligence, the hot topic in Washington these days.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HARDBALL HOST: Welcome, Senator.  Good timing.  You're like Bob Woodward in getting these books ready.

I love some of the stuff in this book, especially about some of my heroes like Teddy Roosevelt and Sir Thomas More.  And if you're a Catholic, we call him St. Thomas More. 

But let's talk about this.  Is the administration right to go out there and really whack the Democrats the way Vice President Cheney was for questioning the WMD case for war at this point? 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think the polls indicate that a lot of Americans, a majority of Americans, believe that they weren't told the truth. 

That requires a vigorous response.  That absolutely requires a vigorous response. 

I think it's a lie to say that the president was lying.  Colossal intelligence failure?  Yes.  Were we responsible, all of us, for a colossal intelligence failure?  Absolutely.  We have to fix it, yes.  Has it been fixed?  In my opinion, no. 

But I do not believe that there was a massive conspiracy between the Russian intelligence agency and Israeli, French.  Every intelligence agency in the world said that Saddam Hussein drew the same conclusion, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. 

MATTHEWS: Do you believe that the vice president selected the worst case scenario, in terms of evidence.  And perhaps ignored some of the exculpatory facts he was getting from the intelligence community, which we know is much more skeptical than he was about the cause for war.

MCCAIN: I have no information.  I know that when I served on the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, every analyst that I asked, I said did you ever feel political pressure to change or distort any of your conclusions?  Every one of them said no.

MATTHEWS: And you don't believe the vice president's half-dozen trips over to Langley, the CIA headquarters, had anything to do with influencing their reports?  All those trips.

MCCAIN: You know, in an issue this serious, Chris, maybe it's a good idea for administration officials to go over and examine the information that's provided.  I can't say...

MATTHEWS: ... the No. 2 guy over there said he hadn't seen such a hammering in 35 years from outside. 

MCCAIN: I don't know anything about that.  I just know that the analysts who came before the commission that I sat on said, they hadn't felt...

MATTHEWS: ... OK after all is considered, when you were voting to authorize the use of force if necessary by the president in 2002, in October.  Did you believe, after listening to the vice president that there was a chance that Saddam Hussein could deliver a nuclear weapon to this country?  Drop a bomb on us? 

MCCAIN: I believed not just from the vice president, but I believed in all the intelligence analyses.  Maybe not that he could drop a bomb on the United States.

MATTHEWS: Well, that's what he was saying.

MCCAIN: But certainly that he was acquiring.

MATTHEWS: OK, he was getting toward one.  But the idea of a mushroom cloud was a very vivid image, as you know.

MCCAIN: Yes, it was.

MATTHEWS: It's V.J. day, it's right from World War II.  And it wakes people up, and say, wait a minute, we better not have that happen. 

MCCAIN: But I could in a little different context.  He had acquired and used  — he was the only dictator in the world who had used weapons of mass destruction twice. 

And, that we had the sanctions were eroding.  We know the oil-for-food program was filled with corruption.  The sanctions were not going to hold.  And in my view, his entire record showed that he would acquire and use weapons of mass destruction if he ever had the chance to do so. 

Were we wrong?  Yes.  That's what I think has the American people confused.  But, there is a difference between being wrong and intentionally deceiving some people. 

MATTHEWS: Do you think the president should come out and explain how he made these mistakes?  I mean, how did they get it all wrong?  There's no weapons of mass destruction evident when we got into Iraq.  Shouldn't he explain how that could have happened? 

MCCAIN: I think he probably should, but I think the most important thing now is to rebut the charges that are being made that he intentionally deceived the American people. 

MATTHEWS: You've got a tough headline here in a piece you wrote for The New York Post today.  And I know you don't write headlines, but here it is.  Aiding and abetting, you talked about how the people in the United States Senate, most of them Republicans in your party, by the way, this past week, pushed a resolution through.

A non-binding resolution that basically said, let's have a big transition next year. 

The message was, as you noted, Senate presses for concrete steps toward withdrawal of troops out of Iraq.  The message was, we're getting out.  Is that aiding and abetting, even though the Republican party supported that? 

MCCAIN: Absolutely not.  Nor do I ever questions anyone's motives who disagrees with policies on the war. 

One of our most cherished rights is to disagree with the policies of our government.  I respect, enormously, the views of other people, or at least their ability to voice their objections ...

MATTHEWS: ... so you don't like this headline, aiding and abetting?

MCCAIN: I think it's outrageous. 

MATTHEWS: But they put it on your piece.  Have you complained to the The New York Post yet about it?

MCCAIN: No, I hadn't.  I hadn't seen it.

MATTHEWS: Why don't you complain if you don't like it?

MCCAIN: I will, but I hadn't seen it.

MATTHEWS: Well, it says aiding and abetting by John McCain.  And then its got your piece, which says these words, the Senate Republican Majority's, will be read closely by both our friends and enemies over there.  Doesn't that sound like the enemies will use it against us and
they'll say we're on the run? 

MCCAIN: But that may be a risk we take.  I believe that one of the cherished rights we have is to disagree with our government. 

MATTHEWS: OK, here we go, John Murtha, a man we all love in this town.  A veteran of Congress, a very strong combat veteran, like yourself, from Vietnam.  He stunned many today with his comment, this is not a dove talking here.  This is a life-long hawk.  Why troops should be re-deployed outside of Iraq immediately.  Let's listen to a portion of this man's emotional remarks.

--Begin video clip--REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: The threat by terrorism is real.  But we have other threats that cannot be ignored.  We must prepare to face all these threats.  The future of our military is at risk.  Our military and our families are stretched thin.  Many say the army's broken.  Some of our troops are on the third deployment.  Recruitment is down, even as the military's lowered its standards.  Defense budgets are being cut.  Our military has been fighting this war in Iraq for over two and a half years.  Our military has accomplished its mission and done its duty.  Our military captured Saddam Hussein, captured a few of his closest associates.  --End video clip--

MATTHEWS: Let's take a look now at his plan, the Congressman is very particular here, Senator.

Let's take a look at what John Murtha says we should do over there with regard to our troops and their deployment in Iraq. 

--Begin video clip--MURTHA:  My plan calls for immediate re-deployment of U.S. troops, consistent with the safety of the U.S. forces.  To create a quick reaction force in the region.  To create an over-the-horizon presence of Marines and to diplomatically pursue security and stability in Iraq.--End video clip--

MATTHEWS: Strong stuff, Senator.

MCCAIN: Strong stuff.  There's no man in Congress I respect more than John Murtha, he's a great, truly great American.  And I not only have respect, but affection for him.  We just simply disagree. 

MATTHEWS: What would happen if we withdrew our troops right now, the way he says, from the country of Iraq?

MCCAIN: Anarchy.  You'd see ethnic clashes between Shia, Kurd and Sunni.  And you would see an insurgency that I think would probably prevail over time and eventually become a breeding ground for Muslim extremism. 

I respect John Murtha.  We need to have this debate across this country.  And I think we have to win.  I think the consequences of failure are incredible, and the benefits of success are marvelous. 

Watch each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC.