Senator McCain claims victory in policy fight with Carney: I was right! Say you’re sorry
WASHINGTON (CNN) — An elephant never forgets, they say, especially a veteran political one like Republican Sen. John McCain.
The Arizona conservative known for his hawkish views claimed a policy victory Thursday over the man who beat him in the 2008 presidential election.
He took to the Senate floor to declare himself right for opposing President Barack Obama’s decision to pull U.S. forces out of Iraq in 2011.
“Now we know what happens when we left Iraq. Now we know the consequences,” McCain said. “I hope that all those people that called me all of the names that I am not going to repeat here would render an apology because I was right! Because I said if we leave Iraq completely then, we risk the great danger of it deteriorating.”
The night before, McCain tore into former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in a live interview after Obama announced escalated military steps in Iraq and Syria to take on ISIS extremists.
Their argument involved Obama’s policies in Iraq and Syria during his first term, with McCain blaming the President for the current crisis and berating Carney for “bragging” about withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011.
The exchange, with McCain repeatedly cutting Carney off and calling him a liar, came on Carney’s first night as a CNN analyst.
Here’s a look at what they said:
1) McCain said Obama rejected calls by his entire national security team to arm Syrian rebels
This is partly true. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others in the administration wanted to send weapons and other aid to Syrian opposition groups considered moderate to bolster their fight against government forces of President Bashar al-Assad.
However, some voices inside and out of the administration opposed such a move, arguing that extremist elements in the opposition, including al Qaeda affiliates, could wind up with the U.S. hardware.
At the time, McCain and fellow war hawks pushed loudly for arming the Syrian rebels and criticized Obama for deciding against it.
On Wednesday night, McCain took umbrage with Carney’s assertion that the Syrian opposition was too informal and splintered to pick partners for aid back in 2012.
Asked by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper about Obama’s speech, McCain quickly veered off to attack Carney.
“By the way, I’m astounded that Mr. Carney should say that the Free Syrian Army is now stronger. In fact, they have been badly damaged,” McCain said.
When Carney replied that he had merely noted the United States now had more information on the rebels, McCain shot back: “Come on, Jay, we knew all about them then. You just didn’t choose to know.”
“Your boss, when the entire national security team wanted to arm and train them, he turned them down, Mr. Carney,” McCain continued.
Carney interjected that the two should “agree to disagree on this,” but McCain kept going, asserting Obama made “the unilateral decision” to turn down “the entire national security team.”
2) McCain said Obama’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq led to the current crisis
The withdrawal contributed to conditions that resulted in ISIS fighters rampaging through northern Iraq from Syria, but other factors also played a role.
For example, critics accused former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of consolidating power and persecuting political rivals, blaming him for fueling Iraq’s problems with sectarian policies that alienated Sunni Muslims.
McCain’s main point was that Obama brought home all the U.S. troops instead of leaving a residual force of at least several thousand to help maintain stability.
“The fact he didn’t leave a residual force in Iraq, overruling all of his military advisers, is the reason we’re facing ISIS today,” said the senator.
While military leaders called for keeping a limited U.S. contingent in Iraq, the Obama administration needed a security agreement with the Iraqi government to do so.
No such agreement emerged, and Carney said the result was fulfillment of withdrawal plans dating back to the previous administration of Republican President George W. Bush.
“You are again saying facts that are patently false,” McCain responded, arguing the Iraqis wanted a residual U.S. deployment but Obama never supported such a result.
“And you in your role as a spokesperson bragged about the fact that the last American combat troop had left Iraq,” he continued. “If we had left a residual force, the situation would not be what it is today.”
Carney responded that McCain presented “facts that you believe are true based on the argument that you have made for a long time, sir, that we should leave troops in Iraq in perpetuity.”
“That is just not what this President believes,” Carney said. “Obviously he was elected President to fulfill what he believed was right for our country and right for our national security.”
McCain repeatedly cut him off and accused him of distortion. When Carney said he understood that McCain disagreed, the senator shot back: “It is not a matter of disagreement. It is a matter of facts. And you have yours wrong and you have distorted.”