OTR Interviews

McCain: Obama wants to be liked; he should want respect

Sen. John McCain on world leaders' perception that there is 'no American leadership' and Putin's refusal to hand over NSA leaker-turned-fugitive Edward Snowden to the US


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," June 25, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: The staff of President Obama isn't happy tonight. President Putin is poking a stick in his eye, telling him no Russia will not turn over Edward Snowden. Some senators telling President Obama to stand up to Putin. We spoke to Senator John McCain.


VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, nice to see you, sir.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: thank you.

VAN SUSTEREN: President Putin says no to the United States. He's not going to send Snowden back. He says that he's there in the international zone essentially at the airport and he's not going to send him back.

MCCAIN: Did you notice the report first was that he wasn't in Russia? That's the classic old Soviet Union doublespeak. No, technically, because he was in the lounge at the airport he was not technically in Russia.

This is the kind of cold war, old Soviet speak that has characterized Colonel Putin, colonel in the KGB, for a long time. We just refuse to recognize it. And we keep pushing that reset button. And now maybe we'll wake up and have a realistic approach to our relations with Russia.

That does not mean a return to a cold war. But it does mean, let's build up our missile defenses. Let's go ahead and conclude alliances. Let's go ahead and make sure that we help countries become energy independent. Let's understand that Vladimir Putin has dreams of the old Russian empire, and he sees himself as that leader. And as long as we understand that, then our relations with him will be realistic.

And finally, the continued flow of arms from Russia into Syria, while Bashar al Assad butchers his people? That alone should tell us that these people are not going to act in anybody's interest but their own.

VAN SUSTEREN: What about President Obama? Has he lost any sort of influence if there ever was any, with the U.S. versus Russia? Is he any different than any other president? Do we look feckless in our effort to try to get Snowden back?

MCCAIN: I talk to leaders particularly in the Middle East where I travel a lot, as you know. They say there's no American leadership, and that's correct. Would --

VAN SUSTEREN: Do they say anything more personal about the president himself? Do they say, is it President Obama or just our country?

MCCAIN: I think it's very clear that they believe that President Obama is not a player in the international scene, that President Obama, which has characterized his behavior, does not want to get involved or engaged in international security issues.

The Chinese obviously orchestrated this individual's visit from Hong Kong to Moscow. It wouldn't happen unless the Chinese told them to. Just a short time ago they had the short sleeve summit and things were going to be better. They do not respect us.

President Obama wants these people to like him. What he should be wanting is for them to be respecting. That's what they felt about Ronald Reagan, and, frankly, also Bill Clinton.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is President Obama not interested so much in this, is it his ideology, or he just can't do it? Or what is the problem that you see in terms of his relationship versus Putin and Russia, and even China?

MCCAIN: It's hard for me to psychoanalyze the president, but there's no doubt of a few facts. One is that he was going to be a non-Bush, i.e., not get involved in things like Afghanistan and Iraq, that he would establish a new relationship with Iran. Remember, he didn't speak up at all on behalf of those demonstrators after the election in 2009 when they were begging for his moral support in the streets of Tehran.

And he believed with his kind of approach to international relations, we could be liked and our adversaries, whether they be Iran or Russia or China, that this would be a new brand and a new day.

And the fact is that these people respect power. And I'm not saying we threaten them, but I do say that we have to lead. And if we don't lead, then they will. And that's one of the lessons here of what's been happening recently, whether it be in Syria or this Snowden thing is the other aspect of it.

The president goes again to Germany, and he gives a speech the major cornerstone is reduction in nuclear weapons. The Russians immediately scoffed at it. Compare that to speeches that Ronald Reagan made in Germany and President Kennedy made in Germany. I think he does not understand the realities of politics and strategy and the meaning of leadership in the world.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are you saying, quite bluntly, he's in over his head?

MCCAIN: I don't know if in over his head is the right word, but certainly oblivious to certain realities as far as our national security are concerned.

VAN SUSTEREN: So where does this go now? We have Snowden sitting in the Moscow airport in an international region. He wants to fly to Havana and on to Ecuador, we're told. They will probably avoid American airspace. Tell me how this plays out.

MCCAIN: The worst case scenario is, that Snowden somehow, they get him to Cuba and then to Ecuador where he will -- like the WikiLeaks guy have some kind of immunity like the WikiLeaks guy has in the embassy in England.

VAN SUSTEREN: As this point now, whatever damage he has done he has done, and so now it just continues to be sort of an embarrassment that the guy got away, is that where we are?

MCCAIN: I think one of the places where we are is that I am confident that Russian and Chinese interrogators got a lot of information from Mr. Snowden. I cannot imagine them letting him go without rather extensive interviews. Whatever Mr. Snowden had or knew, I'm sure the Chinese or Russians know today.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you.