McCain: Obama's Afghanistan Troop Drawdown Is 'Unneccessary Risk'

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," June 22, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST: And tonight, President Barack Obama announced that the American troop surge in Afghanistan is coming to an end. And here's what he said just a few moments ago.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Thanks to our extraordinary men and women in uniform, our civilian personnel and many our coalition partners, we are meeting our goals. As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year. And we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer -- fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point. After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete.


HANNITY: Now, of course the commander-in-chief's timetable to bring home the 33,000 troops that he deployed last year concludes a mere month prior to the presidential election. And not surprisingly, many of his potential opponents in that race are responding. Now, last night, you heard from the GOP's newest contender as former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman on the issue. In that interview, he called for a drawdown of America's -- quote -- "very heavy and extensive presence in Afghanistan." And Texas Congressman Ron Paul is going one step further. He had some harsh words for the president's plan today and he's calling for the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces.

And joining me now with reaction to tonight's presidential address is Arizona Senator John McCain. Senator, welcome back.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Thank you, Sean.

HANNITY: You know, if we go back at the timetable here, remember the words of General McChrystal. He wanted 40,000-plus troops or we risk failure. The president dithered for months and then, he only gave them, you know, a percentage of what he was asking for.

MCCAIN: Thirty -- yes, 30.

HANNITY: And now he's pulling them out.

MCCAIN: My reaction to that was we were basically 10,000 short. I guess it was 33, we were short. And that did not allow us to go to the eastern part of Afghanistan, where the Haqqani Network and other Taliban elements and Al Qaeda elements remain. But that decision that was made by the president in 2009 was really a victory by General Petraeus. This time, this is a victory by the Vice President Joe Biden over objections of General Petraeus and other military leaders that I have talked to.

We made great gains, Sean. They are fragile. And if we pull out too soon, then I think the consequences will be unfortunately, the unnecessary sacrifice of American blood in treasure.

HANNITY: The Wall Street Journal pointed out in an editorial today, that General Petraeus and his commanders may be able to succeed with fewer troops. But it makes no sense after the sacrifice. And the one thing, I don't know if you noticed this, I didn't hear General Petraeus' name. I heard the president mention himself -- I, I, me, I, I -- I think about a dozen times. I didn't hear him mention General Petraeus in his speech. That was an omission? How is that possible?

MCCAIN: Because it is obvious, even though the General Petraeus has not said it himself. But it has been widely known that General Petraeus objected to this proposal. And let me remind you, back in 2007, it was then-Senator Obama that said the surge wouldn't work. It was then-Senator Clinton that said for the surge to work, there would have to be a willing suspension of disbelief. If you recall, the vice president of the United States wanted to carve Iraq up into three different countries. And all of them said the surge would fail. So, now, they are the ones who are reversing the surge and, in my view, putting the hard gotten gains in fragile condition.

I hope I'm wrong, Sean. I hope the president is right. I hope he can do this. But, I think we have risked a great deal here.


HANNITY: All right. He gave the artificial timeline. So, if you are the Taliban and you want women to go back to that way of living where they can't go to work and they can't go to school. You put an artificial timeline in place. The president doesn't mention victory in all of this. The fight is ongoing. But he's saying the war is over, even though the fighting continues. Why would we expect anything other than the predictable, which is things would go back to the way they were, because we didn't finish the job?

MCCAIN: Well, and you know, that happened once before after the then-Soviet Union was driven out of Afghanistan. We washed our hands, left and we had obviously the assumption of power over time by the Taliban. And as you just mentioned, are we going to subject the Afghan people to that? Much less their, you know, coordination and work with Al Qaeda, which we know would take place.

Americans are war weary, I understand that. But the fact is that we have lost over 1,500 brave, young Americans, as you know in Afghanistan. We cannot risk that. We need to succeed. We can leave appropriately by 2014 and there can be significant victories. But we have to have two fighting seasons, this one and the next one.

HANNITY: All right. Why do I see politics all over this especially by the end date of this, is just before the 2012 election? Look, we are going to get into the polls later today. And the polls that have come out in the last two days are devastating for the president. But the polls show that he has lost the middle of the country. He has lost independents in the country. In overwhelming numbers, now appear that they are going to be voting against him. At the Netroots Convention for the left wingers -- the Netkooks, I call them -- you know, he came under heavy fire there. Is it a stretch to say that he's now reaching out to some base his left wing base in preparation of this reelection campaign of his, sir?

MCCAIN: Well, he may be trying to solidify it. But frankly, my experience is the left always comes home.


HANNITY: Yes, that's true.

MCCAIN: To their candidates, so I wouldn't bank on that. Of course, it is the great independent voter. And I think that the president is taking an unnecessary risk tonight with what he's doing. And whether it is for political purposes or not, the fact is that it wasn't just General Petraeus. I know for a fact, but other military commanders who have been - - had this long experience, beginning back in 2001 and before.

So, I'm very, very disappointed. And I hope that I'm wrong. I hope it works out all right. But the risk now that is being taken --


HANNITY: How does --

MCCAIN: I don't think we should subject our men and women, too.

HANNITY: Senator, how could it possibly work out all right? How does this work out all right if we don't leave the troops in there and we don't ensure victory? How is it possible? The job is not done.

MCCAIN: The only way that I think that happens is at great risk we are able to succeed in spite of the very significant reduction in our capabilities by this early withdrawal. And I hope and pray that that gamble succeeds. I think it was an unnecessary risk.

HANNITY: All right. The president made this decision which I think you should have made it sooner, I think he should have given the generals what they wanted. But he dithered, he delayed. But he did agree to send the 33,000 troops in.

In Libya, he gets onboard with this military action and almost immediately pulls back from what America's role is going to be in this thing. And he is actually now making the absurd claim that we are not involved in hostilities, even though bombs are in fact being dropped and we are spending about $10 million a day in Libya.

What does it say about the president? Is he incapable of seeing these things through? Is it the conflict within him ideologically? Is he torn politically on how this is going to affect him? He's not doing well in the polls, et cetera? I mean, there seems to be some conflict within him going on.

MCCAIN: Well, as you know, it has been described by members of his administration as a leading from behind. And Libya is particularly frustrating because if we just declared a no-fly zone, it would have been over. If we used American assets, it would be over now. Qaddafi is crumbling. He went to the Arab League, NATO, everybody but the Congress of the United States. And my friends on the other side of the Capitol, Republicans are very angry about that. But I would caution my friends on the other side of the Capitol. You don't want Qaddafi to remain in power. And so to --

HANNITY: I may disagree with you. Can I tell you why Senator?


HANNITY: And I got to tell you. I never thought the War Powers Act was constitutional neither of any president.

MCCAIN: Nor did I. Nor did I.

HANNITY: All right. Congress has the means to cut funding that debate is now ongoing. But, and when the president in fact went lawyer-shopping; when the president tries to tell the American people, there are no hostilities there; when the president pulls this in Afghanistan, I don't have confidence that he has the willingness or the stomach to see it through. So, I don't know if he's the right person to lead the effort and if this is the right time if he's not going to see it through. So, I think in -- because of his lack of leadership, I don't have confidence in him to pull it off in Libya.

MCCAIN: But our allies can pull it off. And --


HANNITY: Italy is bailing out.

MCCAIN: Listen. It is long and it's tough. And he is crumbling. And I believe he will fail. But look, we can't allow Qaddafi to remain in power. He would become a center of terrorist activity. We would have Al Qaeda. We would have -- I mean, look also, be the end of NATO, my friend. It would be the end of NATO if we can't defeat a third-rate military power. Now there's a huge amount at stake here in Libya. And I wish the president would use more of our assets. We could take him down.

HANNITY: All right. Italy pulled out -- very precarious there as well. Senator, I appreciate you being with us. Thank you.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

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