McCain: 'Things are going to hell in a hand basket here'

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," September 13, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight: Is our superpower status slipping, and is Russia on the rise?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I cannot support an operation that is so poorly conceived, so foolishly telegraphed and virtually guaranteed to fail.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Russia is our enemy! Russia is attempting the wrest control of the Middle East and ally with Iran!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've completely lost control of the situation. Russia is completely dominating the agenda. Seems to me running away from a policy and he's advocating it at the same time. You just can't have that type -- that type schizophrenic kind of leadership.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're in this position because the president over the last, frankly, five years has been terrible in leadership in the Middle East.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: We've both agreed to do that homework and meet again in New York.

LIMBAUGH: Vladimir Putin is the guy who's going to stop the killing, not Barack Obama. Vladimir Putin is the guy who's going to get rid of these evil chemical weapons, except he's not!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's not going to be a missile strike by the United States. And I think pretty much everybody understands that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you examine that solution, it's no solution at all.

KERRY: Should diplomacy fail, force might be necessary.


VAN SUSTEREN: And Senator John McCain taking to Twitter, calling out Secretary of State John Kerry by tweeting, "Secretary Kerry says if diplomacy fails, force might be necessary versus Assad. Is this another change in policy?"

Senator McCain joins us. Nice to see you, sir.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: You know, a couple of the most stunning remarks have been made. That one, we "might," after the President of the United States said that we were going to? But of course, then he said only with the agreement of Congress.

But the other one that has to go down in history is "unbelievably small." You tell the enemy that an attack on them is going to be unbelievably small? And you wait days and days after you have announced that you're going to do that while they disperse their forces, while they move civilians into military targets and vice versa.

And by the way, just as an example, while they were worried about the strike, they grounded their air force because they dispersed the -- as soon as the pause was announced, the air strikes recommenced and heavier than they had been before, and the intensity on the ground before.

So here we are, Greta, we're negotiating with the Russians to remove chemical weapons from Syria, and at the same time, planeloads of weapons are coming into Syria from Russia that have already killed 100,000 people, as horrible as the gas attacks were, but (INAUDIBLE) killed 100,000 people.

And so far, I see nothing in the comments made by Kerry or the president that Syria will be punished for this slaughter of 400 children and 1,400 people, much less another 100,000! I was just talking to a friend of mine. A hundred years from now, historians may be looking back at this episode, even so far, as one of the most bizarre in history!

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, I -- when you talk about the chemical weapons -- I want to go back to right before August 21st. August 21st was sort of the day of the gassing, although there have been other incidents, apparently. But that's sort of the -- that was sort of when the so-called red line was passed.

But I was also reading about the unit that moves the chemicals...

MCCAIN: Oh, yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... in Syria. It's unit 450. But what it says is that whenever unit 50 moves chemicals into position to mix and deploy, that they first have to move heavy equipment. They have heavy equipment to move to the areas to -- in order to mix it and that Israel and the United States is watching.

If we are capable of watching unit 50 move this heavy equipment by satellite or whatever, weren't we watching it prior to August 21st? And I mean, Shouldn't we have known?

MCCAIN: Well, it was well known that he'd used chemical weapons in smaller amounts, so it must have...

VAN SUSTEREN: But even that incident. But I mean -- I mean, like, aren't we carefully watching what's going on there?

MCCAIN: But it's not quite that easy because you can see heavy equipment and you can see -- you're not sure exactly what some of it's containing.

But the lesson here is that if he had any idea that he was going to account for and help get rid of the chemical weapons, why in the world would he be using his special unit to disperse them to 50 places, and places, hopefully, that we wouldn't know it? It's a total contradiction on the ground of what is being said or assumed by the president and John Kerry.

Look, I believe that, as you know -- by the way, two years ago, if we'd have acted, as I said we should on this show and many others, Bashar Assad would be gone now. There was no foreign fighters there. There was no use of chemical weapons. He was on the run. And then al Qaeda came in, but most importantly, Hezbollah, 5,000 of them, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the Russians all in because the Iranians did not want to lose their client, Syria.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, in light of where we are today, though, if we did something more -- if we did a -- you know, a sizable missile strike -- we're not going to have regime change. The president says no regime change. What do we get on day two? What do we have then? Because that's really the question. Americans say, Why are we doing this?

MCCAIN: Well, that's a legitimate question, and I'm not sure what they would do on day two. But the really key to it is get the right weapons to the Free Syrian Army. We know who they are. The Saudis have been getting the weapons to the right people. If we did it in sizable amounts, they can still prevail. And by the way, their morale is shattered right now.

VAN SUSTEREN: So what's the point of doing it? Because we're also giving them sort of light weapons. We're not giving them weapons, at least that I read, that they want.

MCCAIN: They need (INAUDIBLE) tanks, you're right.


MCCAIN: They need anti-armor and they need anti-air. And we have been prevailing on the Saudis not to give them that. It's got to be a fair fight. Look, every day, a plane lands from Iran, overflying Iraq, by the way, and another plane lands from Russia filled with weapons.

VAN SUSTEREN: But there seems...

MCCAIN: And into the seaport that the Russians have, also boat loads full of weapons have come in.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, there seems to be two issues. One is the world's response of the U.S. response to chemical weapons. That's in one category. The other category is that they do have a civil war going on, and as you say, it's not a fair fight now. How deeply do we get involved in that? Do we just do the one and sort of turn our backS or do you want to get us to get involved in the civil war by supplying, you know, bigger weapons, by the tanks and all that?

MCCAIN: I've always advocated no American boots on the ground. So what the Israelis have done several times against specific weapons that were headed for Hezbollah, stand off, take out their airfields, take out their air capabilities, their maintenance fuel, et cetera, and neutralize their air assets and provide them with a safe zone.

That would then lead to a reversal of momentum on the battlefield and negotiations which would lead to the departure of Bashar Assad. And then we have to help the Free Syrian Army against these jihadists and al Nusra and al Qaeda that have come into the country.

Look, it would be complicated. But we also could negotiate along with Bashar Assad's departure a way to get under control these chemical weapons caches that they have. But it's got to be -- Bashar Assad, as long as he believes he's winning, he is going nowhere.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. President Putin of Russia -- is -- are we slipping as a superpower? Is this sort of the rise of President Putin or not?

MCCAIN: He's now assumed a role in the Middle East that they've been aspiring to and haven't had since 1970. He is now the, quote, "peacemaker." He is now the one who is the great negotiator.

One thing old Lavrov is, is a smart old fox. As soon as John Kerry said that, he pounced. He said, Oh! This is it. Now -- and -- of course -- and by the way, I think I'll start coming on this show with my shirt off to show how macho I am, too, by the way.

VAN SUSTEREN: Obviously a reference to President Putin.

MCCAIN: Yes. Why does he go around without his shirt on all the time, by the way? But anyway, so that's -- it would -- he has now attained a status that is -- they've been trying to get for a long, long period of time.

VAN SUSTEREN: Has he now -- has President Putin outfoxed the United States, outfoxed President Obama?

MCCAIN: Of course. Of course. The president of the United States said he was going to strike if -- it was a red line. Red line was crossed, he said he was going to strike. Then for the first time in history, after saying he was going to act militarily, said, but I'm going to get the approval of Congress.

Now, without seeking the approval of Congress, which he wouldn't have had, now he goes on national television and argues for two courses of action. One, the strike. And two, the pause. That confuses the American people. And there is still not an overall strategy and goal and a way to get there.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, if -- with President Putin, do you see his motive as one as that he's trying to secure peace...


VAN SUSTEREN: ... in there, or do you see it as a way to sort of rise up and for the -- Russia to have a more dominant role in the region?

MCCAIN: He's an old KGB apparatchik, and never forget that. And what he's done inside Russia to consolidate his position, his invasion of Georgia, he's intimidating all his neighbors -- look, he dreams of a restoration of the old Russian empire. And that's what he's all about.

I mean, nobody but someone with a mammoth ego could have written what was in The New York Times. I mean, you know, to say, Of course it was the rebels that did the chemical weapons, and lecturing to us, lecturing to us about -- about freedom and about democracy?

I mean, look, you've got to hand it to him for chutzpah. But the fact is, you've got to understand he is what he is. And remember all those years Medvedev was our guy? Medvedev, he'll -- Medvedev, as I always said, was the puppet.

And I'm sure you remember President George W. Bush's famous words about looking into his eyes and seeing his soul. I always said, I looked into his eyes and I saw three letters, a K, a G and a B.

So let's have no illusions as to what he's about. And yes, he has gotten himself in a place of immense influence and status in the Middle East, which they have not had, as I said, since 1970.

VAN SUSTEREN: How does President Obama dig us out of this?

MCCAIN: I think he's got to be firm. I think he's got to be decisive. I think -- you know, I would have delayed talking to the American people, once he pursued this opening of the pause. But he's got to explain to the American people what our goals are and why, why this matters in North Korea, why this matters in Israel, why this matters in Tehran.


MCCAIN: Yes, or Jordan. Well, of course, you know, they're -- they're teetering. And in Lebanon, and of course, Iraq, which has deteriorated. More killing is going on right now in Iraq than has taken place since 2008. And it's now become a center of al Qaeda moving back and forth.

Look, things are going to hell in a handbasket here! Look at Egypt. Look at what the generals are doing in Egypt? And what are we doing? So one general, General al Sisi. But we got to reassert American leadership, and that is American values, and American values are America's interests.

And I think that the first thing we ought to do is start getting significant weapons in to the Free Syrian Army so that they can be effective. Look, they've fought very well under enormous odds, and I'm confident they can succeed. But we got to help them.

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

MCCAIN: Thank you.