TRANSCRIPT: Sen John McCain
July 27, 2008— -- Sen John McCain just back from a swing state tour sat down with ABC's George Stephanopoulos in Cottonwood, Arizona to discuss the economy, gay adoption and McCain's apparent embrace of a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Senator Obama was in London this morning, and he was responding to your comments from yesterday when you said that 16 months might be a pretty good timetable in Iraq.
He said, "We're pleased to see that there's been some convergence around proposals we've been making for a year-and-a-half."
SEN JOHN MCCAIN: That's really good. Look, it's not a timetable, as I said. I was asked, how does that sound? Anything sounds good to me, but...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you never used the word before.
MCCAIN: ... you know, the point is...
STEPHANOPOULOS: You made a point of never using...
MCCAIN: ... I never...
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... the word before.
MCCAIN: Look, I have always said, and I said then, it's the conditions on the ground. If Senator Obama had had his way, we'd have been out last March, and we'd been out in defeat and chaos, and probably had to come back again because of Iranian influence.
It's conditions on the ground -- the way that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, the way that General Petraeus has said -- conditions on the ground, so that the Iraqi government can have control, can have the sufficient security, so that we don't have to come back. Senator Obama said that if his date didn't work, we may have to come back.
We're not coming home in victory. We're coming home in victory.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But it does seem...
MCCAIN: But it is a -- it is not a date. I want to make it very clear to you, it is not a date. It's conditions on the ground.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, you shouldn't have used the word timetable.
MCCAIN: Pardon me?
STEPHANOPOULOS: You shouldn't have used the word timetable.
MCCAIN: I didn't use the word timetable. That I did -- if I did...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it's a pretty good timetable.
MCCAIN: Oh, well, look. Anything is a good timetable that is dictated by conditions on the ground. Anything is good.
But the timetable is dictated, not by a artificial date, but by the conditions on the ground, the conditions of security.
And by the way, our ambassador to Iraq basically said we have succeeded. We have succeeded in this strategy.
Now, look. Senator Obama doesn't understand. He doesn't understand what's at stake here. And he chose to take a political path that would have helped him get the nomination of his party.
I took a path that I knew was unpopular, because I knew we had to win in Iraq. And we are winning in Iraq.
And if we'd done what Senator Obama wanted done, it would have been chaos, genocide, increased Iranian influence, perhaps al Qaeda establishing a base again.
Now we have a stable ally in the region, and it is not based on any date.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But it does seem like...
MCCAIN: I like six months, three months, two months. I like yesterday. I like yesterday, OK? That seems really good to me. But the fact is, the conditions on the ground...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But what's the difference between...
MCCAIN: ... have not dictated it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... your positions now? He says, OK, here's the timetable I want. That's the mission.
STEPHANOPOULOS: If the commanders come and tell me the conditions have changed dramatically, if Iraq's going to be unstable, I'll take that into account.
You also say, timetable sounds great, but it's on the conditions on the ground.
MCCAIN: Senator Obama said that he would come out no matter what. He said that he would be out -- according to his original plan, it would have been last March. He says that the surge has not worked. He said it couldn't work.
There's a fundamental difference between myself and Senator Obama. And now that it's the general election coming up, I can see why he and his people are trying to blur that distinction.
When the decision had to be made whether to adopt the strategy of the surge, he said it wouldn't work, it would increase sectarian violence. He said all those things that made it acceptable to the left of his party.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But there was a fundamental difference about the original decision to go to war. He said it would inflame the Muslim world, it would become a recruitment tool for al Qaeda.
You said, and you wrote, that it would lessen antipathy in the Muslim world, and that we'd be greeted as liberators.
Wasn't Senator Obama right about that?
MCCAIN: I don't believe so. We were greeted as liberators. We mishandled the war for nearly four years. We mishandled it in a way that was so harmful that I stood up against it. I said it wouldn't work. I said we had to have a new strategy, and I was criticized for being disloyal -- disloyal to Republicans.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You also said many times that the strategy was the right strategy.
MCCAIN: I said that Saddam Hussein caused a -- imposed a threat to the United States of America and our security. And the Oil for Food scandal, the $12 billion he was skimming, the fact that he had said that he had in operation and he wanted to have weapons of mass destruction, the fact that this society that he ruled in such a brutal fashion was really awful. And he did pose a long-term threat to the security of the United States of America.
But that's a job for the historians.
When the crucial time came as to whether we were going to leave Iraq and lose, or stay and do the very unpopular thing of 30,000 additional troops -- asking young Americans to make the sacrifice -- he was wrong, I was right. That was the crucial point...
STEPHANOPOULOS: And you don't...
MCCAIN: ... in the strategy.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... accept that he was right and you were wrong...
MCCAIN: Of course not.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... on the original decision.
MCCAIN: Of course not. Of course not.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You've also taken some heat this week with your comments saying that Senator Obama would rather lose...