NEW YORK — Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — the powerful incoming chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee — had harsh words for the Obama Administration on Monday over the president’s strategy to fight ISIS and conclude a deal with Iran on its nuclear program.
Speaking at the 92 St. Y in New York, McCain told his host, Bob Schieffer, that the president wasn’t taking the advice of his military commanders in the fight against ISIS and was doing a poor job — both strategically and in communicating his goals to the American people.
The former Republican presidential candidate blamed the current situation on the hasty withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. If the Obama Administration had left soldiers behind, he said, “then Maliki would not have done what he did. It gave rise to ISIS. And now we are facing, I believe, a direct threat to the United States of America.”
Late last week President Obama authorized sending another 1,500 American soldiers to Iraq. He also urged Congress to release $5.6 billion to help fund the fight against ISIS. The soldiers, the president announced, would train Iraqi and Kurdish forces in their effort to push back against ISIS. The $5.6 billion includes $1.6 billion to establish a fund that would support Iraqi and Kurdish security forces, and a Pentagon spokesman said CENTCOM will establish training centers for a dozen brigades.
McCain made clear that he thought President Obama’s strategy of targeted air strikes, training friendly forces and gradual escalation would not be able to eradicate ISIS. The solution, McCain said, is not “four or five airstrikes a day, my friend. It’s not putting 1,500 [troops on the ground] and then another 1,500.”
“These people are dedicated to our destruction and we’re going to have to destroy them,” McCain declared. On Sunday, the senator told Fox News, “we are going to have to have more boots on the ground because the only way you can really identify targets is to have boots on the ground.”
When asked what he would do, McCain said, “I would sit down with my military leaders and I would say, ‘What do we need to do to destroy ISIS?’…. I know for a fact that the president is not taking the military advice that he is getting. He is not exercising the military recommendations that he is getting from our military leadership.”
A WEAK DEAL WITH IRAN
Senator McCain was also deeply pessimistic about America’s negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. The potential agreement currently being discussed, he said, “will only delay the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran, some say six months, some say a year. That’s not acceptable.” To this remark, applause rang out around the auditorium.
Referring to recent tensions between the White House and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over a deal with Iran, McCain worried that if there is a breakdown in trust between Washington and Jerusalem, “it would motivate the Israelis to take action on their own.”
Further, he said, “I worry that if this agreement is believed — in the region, not just Israel, but throughout the region — that it does not prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability, the Saudis will buy nuclear weapons from Pakistan,” — he snapped his fingers – “like that. Then, all the other countries [in the region] would become nuclearized. I’m very worried about it.”
A bill co-authored by McCain and being pushed urgently forward by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) would seek to prevent the Obama Administration from going it alone on the negotiations without Congress, as he has hinted he might. Senator Graham told the Washington Post on Monday that he plans to get debate on the bill, which would require the Senate to approve an eventual agreement, started this week — even before Republican reinforcements arrive in Congress in January.