MR. RUSSERT: We've been talking to voters across the country, our NBC/Wall Street Journal poll: Is victory in Iraq still possible? Thirty-six percent say victory's possible; 55 percent say victory not possible. And look at this, senator. Was the war--was the war--was it a mistake to send troops? Fifty- eight percent say yes, a mistake; 40 percent say no. Are you surprised at those numbers?We interrupt our program for a message from our alternate sponsor, the sane world: "there would be chaos in the region?" What does this squirrel-cheeked clown think abounds in the region now -- peace and order?
SEN. McCAIN: Not too. Particularly on the issue of the second question, when we have experienced the enormous difficulties and sacrifice that have been part of this conflict that, certainly, you can understand that. Americans are frustrated, and they're saddened our failures in this conflict. My point is, and I'm sure we'll get into it, and that is we have a chance of success, and I don't think that a lot of Americans are as fully aware as they should be of the consequences of failure in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: When you were speaking in 2005, the American Enterprise Institute, you said this...
SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: "If we can't retain the support of the American people, we will have lost this war as soundly as if our forces were defeated on the battlefield." Haven't they lost the support of the American people?
SEN. McCAIN: I think if we can show the American people some successes in Iraq and continue and expand on some of the successes we've already experienced in Anbar province and some neighborhoods in Baghdad, that I think Americans would--and if we do a better job, and that's people like me, of explaining the consequences of failure.
The consequences of failure, Tim, are that there would be chaos in the region.
There's three--two million Sunni in Baghdad. The Iranians would continue to increase their influence, the Saudis would have to help the Sunni, the Kurds would want independence, the Turks will never stand for it. Some people say partition. You'd have to partition bedrooms in Baghdad because Sunni and Shia are, are married. This, this is a very, very difficult situation, but the consequences of failure, in my view, are unlike the Vietnam war where we could leave and come home and it was over, that these people will try to follow us home and the region will erupt to a point where we may have to come back or we will be compating-- combating what is now, to a large degree, al-Qaeda, although certainly other--many other factors of sectarian violence, in the region.Again, the Bushian cliche: "they'll follow us home." Is there really someone who thinks that the Wily Tur'r'st doesn't know how to find the United States without the rear guard of the legions to use as a guide? What withdrawing army of occupation did the 9/11 perpetrators follow to U.S. shores?
MR. RUSSERT: In hindsight, was it a good idea to go into Iraq?If, if, if, given what we "knew" at the time ... guy sounds like the classic apologist for Marxism, being presented with the history of the USSR. Yes, but they didn't do it right ... Yeah, sure. You know, Senator, being the modest, reluctant-to-boast fellow that I am, it pains me to say that even I -- a lowly midwestern taxpaying mushroom -- had rather easily figured out, well in advance of both Gulf Wars, that they were not in any reasonable version of the "national interest" of America and should not be done. But no, we have a leading Republican contender for the presidential nomination telling us that, sure, those guys screwed up the war, but what we really need is more war, lots more war, with Mr. Leading Contender in charge this time. Think I'm being unfair to McCain about what he has in mind? Let's see what he thinks:
SEN. McCAIN: You know, in hindsight, if we had exploited the initial success, which was shock and awe, and we succeeded, and we had done the right things after that, all of us would be applauding what we did. We didn't. It was terribly mismanaged. It was--I went over there very shortly after the initial victory and came back convinced that we didn't have enough troops on the ground, we were making the wrong decisions, and that Secretary Rumsfeld was badly mismanaging the conflict. And I spoke about it and complained for years. So, if we had succeeded and done the right thing after the initial military success, then all of us would be very happy that one of the most terrible, cruel dictators in history was removed from power. Now, because of our failures, obviously we have paid a very heavy price in American blood and treasure and a great sacrifice.
MR. RUSSERT: So it was a good idea to go in?
SEN. McCAIN: I think at the time, given the information we had. Every intelligence agency in the world, not just U.S., believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He had acquired and used them before. There was no doubt that he was going to acquire and use them if he could. The sanctions were breaking down. The Oil for Food scandal was in the billions of dollars. And, of course, at the time, given the information we had--hindsight is 20/20. If we'd have known we were going to experience the failures we experienced, obviously it would give us all pause. Yet the information and the knowledge and the situation at the time, I think that it was certainly justified.
MR. RUSSERT: But under your plan, you're strongly suggesting we're going to be there for the next 10 years at least in order to secure and stabilize that country.I'm sorry to say that McCain has said something true here: apparently, we Americans must be "satisfied" that our armies have occupied Korea for two-thirds of a century, since we haven't stopped it. And, as a result, we have Certified National Leaders such as aspiring war-criminal-in-chief McCain who contemplate small experiments: hang out in Mesopotamia for a few more years, or decades, and see whether our "casualties" are relatively light or heavy before deciding if the investment strategy is sound. (I'm sure anything short of Vietnam levels will be characterized as "light.") Well, if you'd like just a few of your children or grandchildren to be slaughtered as a part of McCain's "light" trial investment, then you have your candidate.
SEN. McCAIN: I am suggesting that we will have--hopefully reach a situation where American troops will not be on the front lines, where--and, by the way, that will not be immediately--where American troops are able to withdraw. We've had troops in South Korea for 60 years, and Americans are, are very satisfied with that situation. The key to it is, is the Iraqi military and police taking over these responsibilities. And that is, I believe, the ultimate way we're going to know whether we can reduce American casualties and they take over the responsibilities for, for governing their own country and militarily attacking and resisting al-Qaeda and other sectarian violence which will be there for a long, long time.
MR. RUSSERT: And we're going to be there for a long time.
SEN. McCAIN: But if it is--if it is--if it is only in a role that is of support and American casualties are minimal, then I think it's probably worth the investment. If the level of casualties stays where it is and we do not have success, then we know that that will be a, a condition that we cannot stand for.