'This Week' Transcript: McCain
July 4, 2010 — -- TAPPER: Good morning, and happy Fourth of July. This morning at a ceremony in Kabul, General David Petraeus formally took command of international forces in Afghanistan, including 93,000 American troops. Petraeus acknowledged gains made by the Taliban, but assured his audience that the U.S. was in the nearly 9-year-old war to win.
Joining me this morning from Kabul, Senator John McCain. He's leading a congressional delegation to Afghanistan.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
MCCAIN: Thank you. Good to be with you.
TAPPER: Senator, General Petraeus assumed command in Afghanistan earlier today, and here's how he defined what he called a critical moment in this fight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETRAEUS: We're engaged in a contest of wills. Our enemies are doing all that they can to undermine the confidence of the Afghan people. In so doing, they are killing and maiming innocent civilians on a daily basis. No tactic is beneath the insurgents.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Senator, I think a lot of Americans are wondering why, after nine years of war, the Taliban has the momentum in this fight.
MCCAIN: Well, I'm not sure that the Taliban have the momentum right now, Jake. The Taliban obviously are entrenched in places in parts of, actually, the outskirts of Kandahar. There's areas where they are still in control. There has been some progress. It's been hard-fought and with great sacrifice.
But there's no doubt that we spent a lot of time, effort, American blood and treasure on Iraq. And now is the time for us to continue this mission and complete it successfully in Afghanistan.
TAPPER: There are currently 93,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, plus 43,000 NATO troops. You've said we need more troops because it's unlikely that NATO will be able to fill its obligation, its pledge of 10,000 additional troops. Should President Obama tell the Pentagon to send even more U.S. troops than he has already ordered?
MCCAIN: There will be an evaluation, an assessment made in December. I think at that time, we will have a much better idea as to how the mission is -- is progressing and whether we need more troops and whether our NATO allies have fulfilled their commitment.
But what I worry about more than anything else is the -- the July of 2011 firm date, which the president has not -- certainly has not been positive as far as our commitment is concerned. In other words, we need a conditions-based situation, not a date for withdrawal.
A statement like, "We're not going to turn out the lights in the middle of 2011," is indecipherable and certainly sounds an uncertain trumpet. So I'm more concerned about the perception of our friends and our enemies, as well as the people in Afghanistan, as to the depth of our commitment. Our commitment must be: We will succeed, and then we will withdraw.
TAPPER: Let's talk about that uncertain trumpet that -- that you mentioned. What did the Bush trumpet sound like? There was an unlimited commitment of U.S. troops for an unlimited amount of time there, and that didn't seem to be effective, and yet you're criticizing this July 2011 deadline, which would be the beginning of a transition period. What did the previous strategy trumpet sound like?
MCCAIN: Well, the previous strategy was failing, and I said that it was failing, and disagreed with our then-Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, as well as the president. Then we initiated a surge with General Petraeus in charge, and we succeeded.
I just came from Baghdad. I went downtown with my two colleagues to a bakery and to a store. The success there is remarkable. There are still problems, but the success in remarkable.
But we didn't say that we were leaving until we had succeeded. I'm all for dates for withdrawal, but that's after the strategy succeeds, not before. That's a dramatic difference.
And I can tell you for sure, our people in the region are not sure about whether we are going to be here after the middle of 2011, whether we have succeeded or not. And it's clear that this strategy has not gone as well as we had hoped, so that right away brings into question the middle of 2011.