Sen. John McCain Weighs in on the War

This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, April 20, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.

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GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: The number of American soldiers killed in Iraq this month climbs to 100. Earlier I asked Senator John McCain if we are likely to send more troops to Iraq.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, as you know, the secretary has announced the extension of some 20,000 who were due to come home -- which, by the way, is very tough on them and their families. But they will perform, and they will perform well, because they're great Americans. Last August, I was there in Iraq. I talked to sergeant majors, colonels, all kinds of people, and every one of them told me one thing: We don't have enough boots on the ground here, and if we don't get these boots in the ground, about six or seven months from now, we're going to pay a very heavy price. Well, they were right. So yes, we need more troops there, and we need them for quite an extended period of time. Otherwise, we're going to face a serious problem.

Now, things go wrong in wars. Mistakes are made. There's never been one that mistakes weren't made. Let's just fix this mistake and move forward and do what -- have the forces necessary on the ground.

VAN SUSTEREN: Where are we going to get them? Because we can't keep demanding that those there extend their service. I mean, you can do -- just do so much (UNINTELLIGIBLE) wear and tear on the troops we have.

MCCAIN: Well, there are some forces available, but we need to increase the size of the Army and the Marine Corps. General McCaffrey's number is 80,000, retired general McCaffrey. I think he's a pretty good expert at that. I would go along with that kind of number for expansion of the armed services. Now -- the Army and the Marine Corps. Now, how many would exactly be required in Iraq is difficult to say, but 20,000 is probably a good number. But it's as much -- it's as important to know the specialty as it is the numbers. You've got to have Marines, Army, special forces, intelligence, civil affairs people, the kind of guys with -- and women with the kind of specialties to face and confront this insurgency we're facing.

VAN SUSTEREN: But you know, when you talk about that, though, you talk about training. It's not like we can just go pluck 20,000 Americans and send them over there. I mean, there's a lag time to train these people for the specialty, you know...


VAN SUSTEREN: ... do -- you know, can we do it, or how do we do it?

MCCAIN: We have them in the inventory now. We have them. But on a permanent basis, we're going to have to expand the size of the military.

VAN SUSTEREN: The -- it was announced today that -- in Iraq, that the Iraqis are going to try Saddam Hussein themselves. Good idea?

MCCAIN: Good idea.

VAN SUSTEREN: We don't want to do it, right?

MCCAIN: I wouldn't mind seeing an additional international tribunal really to show the world what this guy has done. But I think it's very appropriate to start out in Iraq, and the Iraqi people can be exposed to the extent of his horrific, horrible, brutal regime.

VAN SUSTEREN: He was so brutal. And we've discovered graves of 300,000, et cetera. So why didn't we get the parades? I mean, why -- I mean, you know, why didn't we get all the accolades from the Iraqis? We thought we were liberating them and, you know -- you know, in some ways, they seem a little -- like we're not quite getting the acknowledgment from them.

MCCAIN: Ingratitude is a pretty common trait around the world. The majority of Iraqis still are very happy that we relieved them of Saddam Hussein. The Sunnis, where we have the Sunni triangle that was now -- we all know about, were better off under Saddam Hussein because he was -- they were the favored few. The Shi'ites still, the Shias and the Kurds are still overjoyed that we got rid of Saddam Hussein. But we risk becoming an occupying force. And also, when you got 70 percent unemployment, which is the case, for example, in Baghdad today, there's going to be a lot of dissatisfaction and unrest.

We could go down a list of mistakes that were made, or allegedly made, and probably, there would be some validity to them. But the key to success in any one of these situations is constant adjustment to changing circumstances. And I have great confidence in Abizaid, in Sanchez and all of our military commanders. We just need to recognize how serious this problem is and tell the American people how serious it is.

VAN SUSTEREN: But it's one thing to have great generals and great military people. At some point, though, it moves into sort of a policy governing type problem, and it may very well be that these people don't want a democracy. Then what?

MCCAIN: I think every human being yearns to live in a free and open society. Clearly, there's going to be difficulties with how secular that government is. Turkey was a totally Muslim country ruled by an oligarchy for many years. And Mustafah Kamal jerked them right into the 20th -- into the 19th and 20th century. He made them shave off their beards. He said, We're going to install Western traditions and customs. Now, we can't do that to these people because -- Kamal Ataturk did that. And we can't probably be that abrupt. But I believe that Turkey is far better off for having Ataturk yank them into the 20th century than they were before. The Iraqis would be far better off with a secular government.

MCCAIN: Well, it's hard to think that they wouldn't be far better off because, I mean, that's what we all know and love. But I'm assuming June 30 will come off in a plan that will turn the sovereignty over to the Iraqis and have an election in January. How confident are you that when this all happens, that this will turn out like we all hope for? What are the odds that it could backfire?

MCCAIN: I think we'll have a very flawed, very embryonic democracy, but it'll be on its way. I think that the Shias, who have the majority of the votes, will probably dominate whatever body is elected. And it's our job to make sure that their constitution is enforced, which protects the rights of minorities.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think that the Americans will look -- after January has gone by and there's an election, we've pretty much turned it over, do you think that the -- the opinion of the United States will improve in the Arab world?

MCCAIN: I believe so, over time, yes. But I also want to hasten to add that we will be there militarily to provide security for a long, long time.

MCCAIN: What about Israel and the latest, the president supporting Sharon's plan?

MCCAIN: I think the status quo was unacceptable. The status quo has prevailed ever since the failed attempt at Camp David, when President Clinton had Barak and Arafat there. And I think this -- hopefully, this will jump-start the process. I understand Prince Abdullah's -- King Abdullah's action today. I think that that's to satisfy some domestic problems he may have. And I believe that this is something which should get us off the dime. Is it perfect? No. Are there more negotiations that have to take place? Yes.

But one additional point. A number of Arab leaders use the Israeli Palestinian situation as a diversion from the economic, social and democratic problems they have in their own countries. And it's a very useful tool for them.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did King Abdullah -- did he snub us or -- I mean, should we be offended by him not coming to the United States, or do we have to sort of think -- we have to understand his domestic problems?

MCCAIN: I think you have to look at his population, a very large portion of which are Palestinian. He's been a good friend of ours. He's clearly Westernized. He's starting to make some reforms in his own country. I'd say it's understandable.


VAN SUSTEREN: More with Senator McCain when we come back. And also ahead: a terrifying threat from Hamas. Will you pay a deadly price for the Israeli assassination of a top Hamas leader? Plus: Are there Hamas terrorists living among us? Is Hamas (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in your back yard. And later: Why is the producer of "Girls Gone Wild" suing a college woman for millions? Is this about a wild might and a couple of burgers, or was a vicious crime committed?


VAN SUSTEREN: Back with part two of my interview with Senator John McCain, whose new book is called "Why Courage Matters."


How did you come up with the idea to write this book?

MCCAIN: We were urged to by our publishers and many other people who were frightened as of 9/11. If it hadn't been for 9/11, we wouldn't have written the book. People were afraid to fly, afraid to shop. Some were using duct tape on their houses. And we thought it might about good idea to talk about courage, people who have displayed it, and how we can all have a braver life.

VAN SUSTEREN: Your book actually chronicles extraordinary examples of courage. How did you pick these examples?

MCCAIN: Well, Mark Salter (ph), who -- he and I have been together for 15 years -- sat down and we rummaged through our memories and also talked to other people. Marshall Whitman (ph), my press guy, knew the story of Hannis Anesh (ph), who -- the Israeli young woman who was executed by the Nazis at the end of World War II, trying to save Jews from extermination. I'd heard the story of Roy Benevidez. John Lewis I've had the privilege of knowing, a true American hero. And so we kind of compiled them all together.

And the most noble person I know on earth today -- and I don't know them all, but -- is Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the freedom and independence movement in Burma, now Myanmar, under house arrest for many years. She's been elected already. And a gang of thugs run her country. She's been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. One of the great experiences of my life was I met her one time.

VAN SUSTEREN: How do you define courage?

MCCAIN: You define it as overcoming a fear. You define it as a belief in values and a love of values and standards which then leads you to have the courage to fight for those things which you know are right. Literally, everybody we talk about in the book and in our lives is, we are committed to causes more important than we ourselves are.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, you missed a very important example of courage in your book. You could have gone home about a month or two after you were picked up in Vietnam. Your father was now the commander of the U.S. forces in the Pacific, and the North Vietnamese wanted to do a big propaganda thing. You could have gone home. You stayed.

MCCAIN: I couldn't have ever looked at myself in the mirror again. One, our code of conduct says that you go home by order of capture. And second of all, I knew it was a propaganda ploy because my father, as you mentioned, was a very important admiral. And there was a guy named Everett Alvarez (ph) who'd been there three years before I ever got there.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, knowing you, I know why you don't put it in because of your modesty. But boy, I tell you, talk about courage. You could have gone home, and instead you stayed. How many more years did you have to stay? How many...


MCCAIN: I'm glad I didn't know at the time. About three-and-a-half more years.

MCCAIN: Three-and-a-half more years? Yikes!


VAN SUSTEREN: Anyway, today we've got some Americans who are captive. We have Thomas Hamill, who's a civilian. We have Maupin, the soldier from Ohio. I mean, what -- if you could talk to them, what do you say to them? They're captured over there. They've got to face tough moments.

MCCAIN: I'd say to them, Do the best you can. We know you're under very terribly difficult conditions, and the one thing we want to assure you, we will make every effort possible. We will move heaven and earth to secure your release. And our message to their captors is that if you harm these individuals, we will track you down wherever you are and we will seek revenge. So don't do it. And that's the best we can do right now.

VAN SUSTEREN: So there's nothing else? I mean -- I mean, we're all sort of waiting, you know, for this soldier. We're waiting for Thomas Hamill, no information except for the video we've seen of the soldier. There's really nothing else we can do?

MCCAIN: Work on our intelligence as hard as we can. And obviously, that's not as good as we would want it to be.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why do you think so many people don't -- they may have courage, but we don't see it?

MCCAIN: I think a lot of times, we aren't called upon. But we try to point out in the book that courage you can develop and nurture, just like a muscle. The first time you stand up against a bully, it's hard. The second time, it's a little easier. You want to teach your children certain values and standards, but you better live up to them, as well. Don't tell your children not to tell a lie and then call in sick one day when you're not. And most importantly, we're all born capable of love. And if we love the virtues and the standards and the ideals that are common to all of us, Judeo-Christian Islamic principles, then it's very obvious that we'll the courage, we'll develop the courage to defend those values.

VAN SUSTEREN: 9/11 sure tested us, didn't it.

MCCAIN: It tested every American. And it made us aware of our vulnerabilities and sparked very intense fears in many of us. I'm happy to say that, overall, it sparked outrage and anger and a commitment to winning the war on terrorism.

VAN SUSTEREN: In terms of the book, anything -- as people -- sometimes when people write books, they learn something. Did you learn anything when you wrote it?

MCCAIN: As I went over these stories of various people, like Hannis Anesh, the young Israeli woman, that I hadn't heard of before that we wrote about -- I write about a couple of Navajos who fought very hard for the freedom of their people. I'd forgotten some of that. So it's -- when you go over their stories, it refreshes your memory and increases your admiration.

VAN SUSTEREN: People who show courage oftentimes are heroes, but it seems like the people in your book -- at least, I don't get that they see themselves as heroes. It more is doing their job or meeting their convictions.

MCCAIN: I don't think any of these people would consider themselves heroes. This Roy Benevidez, who had this incredible story that you just referred to -- I mean, when Ronald Reagan gave him the Congressional Medal of Honor, he said if they made a movie, nobody would believe it. He was shot, stabbed. They believed he was dead. They tried to zip him up in a body bag, and he spit in their face to show them he was alive. When he died, Roy Benevidez said -- his last words -- "I'm proud to be an American."


MCCAIN: More with Senator McCain when we return. And also head: Are bin Laden's relatives bankrolling a popular suburban community in President Bush's back yard? Are they seeking to kill us? And later, the mysterious disappearance of a hairdresser in Georgia. Police just revealed new details about her kidnapper. Do you know him?


VAN SUSTEREN: ... my interview with Senator John McCain, whose new book is called "Why courage Matters."


Senator, I want to talk about pork-barrel spending. What are we going to do about that? It seems to be a problem that we can't get away from.

MCCAIN: It's an epidemic that's grown to mammoth proportions, and it's unbelievable. I've never seen anything like the proportions which it's reached. And it's not only money, but it's also policies that are implemented that have profound effect, that are slipped into an appropriations bill. A woman today pled guilty to conspiracy for trying to rig a contract for Boeing, $23 billion contract. And she pled guilty of conspiracy...

VAN SUSTEREN: It's the same one "The Wall Street Journal" hammered you about, isn't it?

MCCAIN: Yes, that...


VAN SUSTEREN: I know that apology will be tomorrow, I'm sure.

MCCAIN: I hope so. The "McCain's Flying Circus" was the title of the editorial.

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes. Right. Tomorrow, it'll be, Oops, sorry, Senator McCain. I'm sure you can count on it.

MCCAIN: I'm sure I'll see that. But that all started with the insertion in an appropriations bill, one line. Never a hearing, never anything, consideration before the Senate Armed Services Committee, nothing. It was inserted in a line. I'm sure you saw the front page of "The New York Times" a couple of weeks ago, a couple of billion dollars in bridges to nowhere in Alaska.

VAN SUSTEREN: So why -- I mean, if this is so outrageous, and you hear these stories and it is outrageous -- I mean, what are we going to do about it? I mean, how are we going to sort of bang the heads of our members of, you know...

MCCAIN: People have got to demand -- people have to demand an end to this. We're now running multi-trillion-dollar deficits. We're mortgaging our children's futures. We know Medicare and Social Security is going broke. And the spending is just -- I mean, it's not believable. It makes you laugh and it makes you cry. I'm proud to tell the people of Arizona that I don't get any pork-barrel projects. My state is doing very well. And in all due respect, some of these other states have been placed in a welfare state, and people in welfare don't do well and states on welfare don't do well.

VAN SUSTEREN: So what's the blueprint to sort of, you know, get members of Congress and even the president on the straight and narrow on -- and every president on the straight and narrow on this?

MCCAIN: The president has to veto some bills. And he's threatened to veto the highway bill. In 1987, Ronald Reagan vetoed a highway bill that had 157 pork-barrel projects in it. This present bill that passed through the House has over 3,000 -- 3,000 -- pork-barrel projects in it. Veto. Second, change the rules of the House and the Senate so that you can challenge these on an individual basis, you can force votes on each one of these projects. You can't do that now. If you do it, it brings down the entire bill.

And third of all, constituents need to let their elected representatives know that even if they got a project in their state or their district, that's not the proper use of their tax dollars.

VAN SUSTEREN: Not very courageous to be sort of selfishly interested in your project, maybe, if it has no value.

MCCAIN: Exactly. Exactly. How can -- how can you justify depriving much-needed areas of funds in favor of yours? And by the way, a pork- barrel project is only when it is earmarked and non-competitive with others.

VAN SUSTEREN: But don't -- why doesn't the U.S. -- why don't all of the U.S. Senators sort of police each other? Is it because everyone's up to his eyeballs in individual pork-barrel programs for individual states? I mean, why don't you...

MCCAIN: It's like any other evil, Greta. If it's unchecked, then it increases. I mean, it has grown so huge. I have voted against defense appropriations bills because of the enormous amount of pork-barrel projects that are in it. And guess what? Most of them are in -- for example, there's a couple hundred million dollars in breast cancer research in the defense appropriations bill. I'm all for cancer research, but it should be in the Health and Human Services bill. It's just -- it's really -- it's -- you know, and I -- people ask, Why do you put all the pork in the defense bill? It's the Willie Sutton syndrome. They asked Willie Sutton, Why do you rob banks? He says, Because that's where the money is. So they put the pork-barrel projects in the defense appropriations bills. Meanwhile, we're short of men and women in the military and a lot of other much-needed equipment.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I know you've been screaming about this for a long time, and I wish you more screaming and more luck with it as you do it. Nice to see you, Senator.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Good luck with your book "Why Courage Matters." Thank you, sir.

MCCAIN: Thanks for having me on.

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