Transcript: John McCain

STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you answer the argument, though, of others who say that adding more troops now to Afghanistan is a fool's errand in nation-building? That we can achieve the goal of denying a safe haven to al Qaeda by letting the Afghan government take the lead and taking them out with drones when necessary?

MCCAIN: Well, I say with respect, and I understand that argument, but that was the same argument under Rumsfeld and Casey that didn't work. I think the fundamental to success of a counterinsurgency is to clear and hold and secure an environment for people so that the political and economic progress can be made.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's a 40-year effort, isn't it?

MCCAIN: I think within a year to 18 months you could start to see progress. It's very hard. It's very tough. We're facing a very determined enemy that will stand and fight in some instances that are very adaptable, and obviously with safe havens in Pakistan.

But as the president described it in the campaign, this is a good war and one that we have to win. And I think he'll hold to that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We're seeing now that the American public is turning against the war.

MCCAIN: Yes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The majority now say that it's not worth fighting. Two to one, they don't want more troops. The clock is ticking both with the public and Congress. You say 12 to 18 months. What do we need to see in 12 to 18 months to make sure the public and the Congress stay behind this war?

MCCAIN: I think you need to see a reversal of these very alarming and disturbing trends on attacks, casualties, areas of the country that the Taliban has increased control of. In other words, you need to see all of those things reversed and on a significant downward slope. And I think we can do that in the year to 18 months.

STEPHANOPOULOS: If not, should we leave?

MCCAIN: Pardon me?

STEPHANOPOULOS: If not, should we leave?

MCCAIN: I think we have to make decisions as the situation calls for, but we always have to remember that we cannot allow Afghanistan to return to a base for terrorist attacks on the United States and our allies. That's why we went in in the first place.

STEPHANOPOULOS: There's a concern that there may be a turning back in Iraq as well, a huge flare-up of violence this week. Did we leave the cities too soon?

MCCAIN: I think you could argue that we may have left a bit too soon, but I think it was important in General Odierno's eyes to give them what they wanted. I think there's probably going to be a need for greater American cooperation particularly as far as some of our technology is concerned.

STEPHANOPOULOS: To go back in?

MCCAIN: Not to go back in, but to assist. For example, after these bombings, Americans have gone in to help, you know, with the damage, et cetera. But overall, this is an uptick but one which I think can return to steady progress. We've made an agreement. We're going to have to stick to it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Leaving by 2011.

MCCAIN: And, you know, again, it's like, it's definitional because I think we're going to have to train the Iraqi air force for example and do some of that. But as far as active combat involvement is concerned, I think we're going to be out of there. I think that's the commitment that we've made.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Would we be fighting these two wars any differently if you were president now?

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