Transcript: John McCain

"This Week" transcript with Sen. John McCain.

ByABC News
July 12, 2009, 6:04 AM


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Thanks very much for having us here.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Thanks for having me, and thanks for coming to Arizona and one of the most beautiful spots on earth.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it certainly is, you know. I see all your favorite places: your ranch and now the Grand Canyon. And I'm thinking of the words of Wallace Stegner, the western historian, who said that creating these national parks is probably the best thing you've ever done.

MCCAIN: I agree. One of the great conservationists and environmentalists in our history, oddly enough, was a Republican, Teddy Roosevelt. He was the first person at this lodge to write in to the guest book when the Seltzer-Wial (ph) Lodge was built, back I think, around 1912, something like that. And it's a beautiful, beautiful statement he made. He said, "Preserve this. Don't mar it for future generations."

And he built -- he had a lot to do with our park system and our national monuments.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to talk a lot more about that in a little bit, but let's begin with you just got back from Afghanistan. Earlier this spring, President Obama announced 17,000 more troops and a mission to really take the fight to the Taliban. From what you saw, is it working?

MCCAIN: They're taking the fight to the Taliban. It's a very tough fight. They're going into areas that the Taliban have controlled for long periods of time, in the south. Casualties are up, as we had unfortunately predicted. But they are taking the fight to them. Our military is incredibly good.

But the conditions are -- we went there, it's 110 degrees, flowing sand and these young people are out there, men and women, and doing an incredible job.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And do we have enough troops now, from what you saw?

MCCAIN: We don't. General McChrystal is going to make some recommendations. I'm not happy with what he's going to do, because it's been published. It will be high-risk, medium risk, low risk. Whenever you do that, they always pick the medium risk. I think that he ought to do what General Petraeus did, and that's decide on exactly the number he needs and then we debate it, and the president makes the ultimate decision.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm going to stop you there, though, because I know you were concerned a few weeks ago. Bob Woodward went to Afghanistan with General Jones and wrote a story where it seemed as if General Jones was sending a message to the commanders not to send back a request for more troops.

Are you convinced that General McChrystal is completely free to make the best recommendation?

MCCAIN: I think there are great pressures on General McChrystal to reduce those estimates. But I have great confidence.

STEPHANOPOULOS: From the president?

MCCAIN: No. I don't think it's necessarily from the president. I think it's from the people around him and others and that I think don't want to see a significant increase in our troops presence there.

But I have confidence that he will make his most honest and best recommendations. I just wish it wasn't this three choices, because they always choose the middle one. We need to know exactly what resources he needs.

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.


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.