WASHINGTON – 'FOX NEWS SUNDAY' HOST CHRIS WALLACE: With U.S. strategy in Iraq facing new questions, and with plenty of issues closer to home, we want to check in with one of the most important members of Congress, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and member of the Armed Services committee.
And, Senator, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Thank you, Chris. Nice to be back.
WALLACE: The U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Mr. Khalilzad, who's going to be our next guest, is reportedly playing a leading role in helping the Iraqis draft a new constitution, even offering his own written proposals on some of the key issues.
Do you have any problem with the U.S. taking such an active part in what's supposed to be an Iraqi process?
No, I don't, because we have a lot invested. And second of all, our ambassador, Khalilzad, is -- he is a superb guy. He did a great job in Afghanistan. He has the trust and confidence of these people.
I think it's very important that it not be a perfect constitution but it certainly be one that protects the rights of all minorities and all ethnic groups in Iraq (search). And that's really his mission.
How important is it that the Iraqis meet their deadline of approving this constitution tomorrow? If they fail to do that, what message does that send to Iraqis and to Americans?
I think it's very important. The president has emphasized that August 15th, October 15th, and December 15th as the three key dates. You know what happens in these things. If you decide you can't meet a deadline, many times you never meet the deadline. So I think it's important.
Is it -- you know, will it destroy it if they don't meet it tomorrow? No. But I think it's very important that they get it done between now and tomorrow.
I want to talk to you about the military situation in Iraq. We've had a set of mixed messages, I think it's fair to say, in recent weeks.
First, military commanders, in fact, it was General Casey (search), the top military commander on the ground in Iraq, started talking about the real possibility of withdrawals by next spring. Then an unnamed military official, who apparently was General Casey, said: No, no, but we can get them out starting next summer.
Then the president at a news conference at the ranch in Texas this week said: You know what? I don't want to talk about drawdowns or deadlines at all. We've got to finish the job.
And then today there is a story in The Washington Post that talks about lowered expectations, that we can get out even if we don't have a lot of things accomplished.
Question: What's going on here?
I don't know, because the president, I think, very appropriately made it very clear in the strongest terms that we are there until Iraqis are capable of carrying out their own security responsibilities. He could not have been more forceful or more clear, in my view.
And I totally agree with him, and I think his statement was unequivocal. And now you're seeing these statements, both before and after, which are in contradiction to what he had to say.
Look, I've got an idea for our pentagon planners: The day that I can land at the airport in Baghdad and ride in an unarmed car down the highway to the green zone is the day that I'll start considering withdrawals from Iraq. We not only don't need to withdraw, we need more troops there. And if we aren't able to get more troops there, which I've been advocating for years, as you know, then the Iraqi military, as they're trained up, should be a supplement to the American forces that are already there, not a replacement for.
Chris, why do we always hear the names, Ramadi, Fallujah, Mosul, these names in the Sunni triangle over and over again? It's because we go there, we take care of the enemy, but because we don't have enough troops to control it, we leave. And they return, and then we have to fight and sacrifice all over again. So we've got to stay until the job is done.
We are making progress in the south and in the north. There are signs of progress. If you looked at the story this morning about -- in Ramadi, Zarqawi's people who said that the Sunnis have to -- the Shiites have to leave are being fought again. So there is progress. But when we've only got three battalions that are fully trained and equipped to do the job, we've got a ways to go, and if we do anything more premature than that, we risk this whole thing. And we cannot afford to fail, we cannot afford to fail.
WALLACE: But what I don't understand, you seem to be suggesting -- and I don't want to put words in your mouth. You seem to be suggesting that it's coming from the pentagon, and that they are pushing for withdrawals, when the political people at the White House, who you think would be the most sensitive on that issue, are saying: No, the president -- we're going to stand firm.
Why would the Pentagon be softer in this regard than the White House?
MCCAIN: I have no idea, unless there's also some political considerations of the '06 election amongst some. But it's very clear that the president of the United States is not worried about that.
The president of the United States has said it absolutely, unequivocally. And it should be disturbing to hear these leaks both before and after very strong statements on his part.
So I can't explain it, but I know that we have to stay the course. And to say that somehow we would accept a situation which would put in jeopardy that these young men and women have already sacrificed for, I think would be very damaging.
And second of all, what does it do to the morale of the Iraqis, and what does it do to the morale of the men and women who are there if we are talking about pulling out before we have gotten the job done?
WALLACE: You say -- and I know you've said this for some period of time -- it's not that we can get the troops out. If fact, we don't have enough troops there to do the job right now.
There's a story on the front page of The New York Times today saying that we still don't have enough armor to adequately to protect our wonderful, young fighting men and women.
Back on the show in December, you told me that you had no confidence in Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. How do you feel now?
MCCAIN: Well, I don't have confidence, but it's up the president. The important thing is that he has the president's confidence, and that's the important thing.
WALLACE: Well, why don't --
MCCAIN: Have I disagreed with the secretary of defense? Yes.
But my job is not to have an open confrontation with the secretary of defense. My job is to try to work with him as long as he enjoys the confidence of the president to try and get this job completed. It doesn't help if I get into some kind of fight with him.
WALLACE: Let me switch, if I can, to another subject: Cindy Sheehan (search). I suspect you know who she is?
WALLACE: The woman whose son was killed in Iraq last year who's now camped outside the president's ranch. It's clear that she has joined with some left-wing anti-war groups and has even taped a commercial, which we're going to show later, in which she accuses the president of lying.
Question though: If you were the president, would you meet with her?
MCCAIN: I don't know if I would or not, Chris, because he did already meet with her once, as you know. And that, I think, probably was sufficient. But this thing has blossomed.
Look, I've been with the president of the United States when he has met with the families of those brave young men and women who have sacrificed. I have seen his compassion, I have seen his love, I have seen his concern. So any charge of insensitivity or uncaring on the part of this president, is absolutely false. He care and he grieves.
WALLACE: Now, I know you were on that campaign trip in June of 2004. Were you in the meeting with him when he met with Cindy Sheehan?
MCCAIN: I don't -- you know, I don't remember her, because there was a number of families. We sort of met separately, but I did see him encounter and try to do his best to comfort these families, and I saw...
WALLACE: So when she talks about callous, jovial, acting like he was at a party?
MCCAIN: I have seen him, I have seen his care, and I have seen him grieve. And I'm sure he wouldn't like to hear me say this, but I saw him afterwards. He was very, very grieved. And that's the job of the president of the United States. He fully appreciates the tragedy of the loss of these brave young Americans.
WALLACE: I want to switch to another subject: Iran.
The president, in an interview on Israeli television, says that if Iran refuses to end its nuclear program, that all options, including the military option, is on the table. Given how stretched we are around the world, do we have a credible military option against Iran?
I'm sure that we have a credible military option, but I think it's important to recognize the president said we wouldn't take it off the table. He also emphasized that we will try every other avenue that we can, and I would say one of them is: Go to the United Nations, and if the Chinese or the Russians want to veto what is a clear and blatant violation on the part of the Iranians of treaties that they are signatories to, then let's see how that plays out. But I...
WALLACE: At this point, we don't have a problem just with them, we seem to have a problem once again with the French and the Germans.
MCCAIN: Yes, I noticed that the chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany came out with a very soft statement after our European friends have said, "Let us try our way, and then we'll join you in your way." It's - life isn't fair. But...
WALLACE: You say, "Life isn't fair." Are they double-crossing us?
MCCAIN: Oh, I think -- I don't know if the word is "double- cross," but it certainly shakes one and gives one very little confidence in the commitments that they clearly made if we went along with their approach.
So I guess my point is, for us to say that the Iranians can do whatever they want to do, and we won't under any circumstances exercise the military option would be the -- would be for them to have a license to do whatever they want to do.
So I think the president's comments that we wouldn't take the option off the table was entirely appropriate.
WALLACE: You've been out front on the issue of steroids in sports. Now that Rafael Palmeiro has, after wagging his finger at that committee, tested positive for steroids, how do you feel about him? And will you introduce legislation to impose tougher penalties on professional sports?
MCCAIN: I am a sports nut. I'm deeply disappointed, as most sports fans are, because of the obvious contradictions that are here in this case.
I'd like to let baseball and the fans decide in Mr. Palmeiro's case. I think that he has a stain on his record, and obviously a stain on his record for the rest of the time he's in baseball.
But it also argues for stiffer penalties. The commissioner made a proposal back in April. The players have not responded. If they don't look out, they are going to see legislative action.
And that -- again, that's like the Iranian thing. That's the last option, but I wouldn't take it off the table.
WALLACE: You'd be disappointed if I didn't ask you a little politics.
WALLACE: When we announced that you were going to be our guest today, I got, I think it's fair to say, a fair number of e-mails from conservatives saying, "Why are you putting that guy on the show?" And basically the drift of these were: He's too liberal, he undercuts his leadership in the Senate, he's not loyal to his party.
WALLACE: Why do you think some conservatives have a problem with John McCain?
MCCAIN: Oh, I think there are certain conservatives that will never forgive me for running against President Bush, and there are some people who just simply will not agree with me on certain issues. And that's fine. That's what the - that's what our Republican Party should be about.
I would also note that when you look at polls of all Republicans, as well as Independents and Democrats, that -- but particularly Republicans -- I stand very, very high in approval of the majority of Republicans. There are those out there, in my view, on the extreme that will never accept me, and as much as that might pain me, I understand it.
But I'm very pleased that candidates for office always seek for me to campaign for them. I was privileged to speak at the Republican Convention in New York in behalf of the president, and I'm pleased that the overall support that I have.
WALLACE: Well, speaking of the support you have, there have been some recent polling on the 2008 presidential race, and let's take a look at a couple of those polls.
A poll of Republicans in New Hampshire -- we're sick people that we talk about the 2008 race here -- but a poll of Republicans in New Hampshire shows you with 39 percent support in primary, almost triple your nearest rival. And in a national horse race against Hillary Clinton, you beat her by five points.
Question: Why wouldn't you run for president?
MCCAIN: Because I would have to make sure that that's the best thing in a broad variety of things, ranging from my family considerations to a number of others, and my effectiveness in the Senate, and do I want to do it all over again? There's many, many considerations, and I think the 2006 elections will affect that.
How does the country feel in that -- after the 2006 elections? And there's no hurry for me to do that. If I keep talking about running for president, it reduces my effectiveness in the United States Senate. And we have a very heavy agenda, including immigration reform and many other issues that I'd like to address.
WALLACE: Straight talk express, which way are you leaning?
MCCAIN: I'm not leaning either way, because I'm not considering it. I really am not. There's no reason to until after the 2006 elections.
WALLACE: Senator McCain, thank you so much for coming in today and sharing time with us. As always, we appreciate it.
MCCAIN: Thank you for having me.