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OTR Interviews

McCain skewers Obama's handling of Afghanistan and Syria: 'Harry Truman must be spinning in his grave'

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," October 20, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, 'ON THE RECORD' HOST: Tonight, did President Obama's decision to cut troops in Afghanistan go against his military advisors? Chairman of the Senate Arms Services Committee, Senator John McCain goes "On the Record." Good evening, sir. And we just heard in that sound bite that you heard the number went as high as 20,000.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Yes. That's, indeed, correct. And the thing that makes one really nervous about this whole process is what happened with train and equip the free Syrian army but in the DOD program where his spokesman said that the president felt vindicated when it failed because he had not supported it all along. That's the arm and train equipment of the free Syrian Army and it totally collapsed. So does the president believe in this one? Is he going to feel vindicated if this one fails?

VAN SUSTEREN: In my wildest dreams, I don't mean -- I wanted to talk about Afghanistan, but you talked about that $500 million deal with the Syrian to train the rebels that you just spoke about. Why in the world would he have gone along with that if he thought that -- I think the term he used with "60 minutes" is he was skeptical of it from the very beginning? Why would you do that?

MCCAIN: I cannot imagine -- I cannot imagine any president of the United States authorizing a program that put people's lives in danger. I don't know how many were killed, cost of $500 million, at least $43 million, and then have his spokesman say and him say, "Well, I was skeptical about this all along." Harry Truman must be spinning in his grave. As the president when he signs off, he is the Commander-in-Chief. He is responsible. And what you would expect of a Commander-in-Chief is to say, "It failed. I'm responsible." His spokesman said he was vindicated. He was vindicated by the expenditure of $500 million of the taxpayer's money? I have never seen anything like this, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, I assume every conflict is different. But in looking at Iraq, the drawdown in Iraq, which was so rapid -- and we saw what happened in Iraq and Syria. We have got ISIS there now have found a very comfortable home in those two nations. If we have a drawdown in Afghanistan that goes down to the numbers President Obama wants, can we expect something similar or are these conflicts so unique that maybe his numbers are correct?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, in Iraq, we warned -- Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman and I predicted this and we predict the same thing in Afghanistan if he goes down to the 5,000 that he is talking about in the second year. The 9,800 is on a ragged edge. It's barely enough and when you do -- it's barely enough, then you put the men and women who are serving in combat in greater danger because he wants these lower numbers. I know that he asked for five options from our military leaders. There should have been only one option and that's the option they felt would be the way that they could keep Afghanistan stabilized and not lose everything that we have spent so much American blood and treasure on.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me turn to the National Defense Authorization Act. The president has said that will veto it and will -- I got to tell you I have a lot of problems with a lot of these defense bills. And so I don't know how anybody comes up with the numbers. But nonetheless, it's a bipartisan bill. The president says he intends to veto it. Will he?

MCCAIN: He says that he will. And very disappointing to me, his secretary of defense said that he agrees with him. Look, this is the same amount of money the president requested. This is a budgetary situation. This isn't -- which has everything to do with appropriations. Now, where is the money? This is an authorization bill. For the men and women who are serving in the military, they're equipped and better. We're changing the retirement system, acquisition reform. I mean, there is a long list of importance to the men and women who are serving this nation in combat and the president is going to veto because he doesn't like the way it's funded even though it's the same level that he had requested it be funded.

Greta, you can only draw one conclusion. The president cares more about the budgetary ways of reaching these numbers that we need to defend the nation than he is about protecting and helping the men and women who are serving in the military, and it is disgraceful. Four times presidents have vetoed the defense authorization bills in the last 53 years. Each time they were over a specific provision that was fixed. Now, the president is going it veto over nothing we can fix.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, nice to have you join us. And I just want to take the last word on it. Maybe if we hadn't wasted that a $500 million, maybe we could take better care of some of our people but that's just me. But anyway, Senator .

MCCAIN: You are right.

VAN SUSTEREN: Nice to -- thank you for joining us, sir.

MCCAIN: Thank you.