TRANSCRIPT: McCain: Obama's Plan Could 'Reverse' Iraq Progress

Sen. Jon McCain said Obama was wrong about Iraq troop surge strategy.

July 23, 2008 — -- The following is a transcript of a taped interview between Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and ABC News' David Wright.

Watch part of ABC's interview with McCain tonight on ABC's World News with Charles Gibson at 6:30 pm ET.

WRIGHT: Senator, I want to start by asking you about an extraordinary statement you just made in that town hall meeting, something you also said in New Hampshire yesterday, talking about how you would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war, but then you go on to say, "It seems to me that Senator Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign."

That's pretty strong language. Do you really think he's that craven?

MCCAIN: I think that it's very clear that Senator Obama has refused to recognize that the strategy in Iraq called the surge has succeeded and that America has succeeded in Iraq and will come home with victory and with honor. If he would've had his way, they'd have been out last March. And the fact is...

WRIGHT: So you what you're essentially saying there is that it's all about personal ambition for him, and not about what he honestly thinks is right for the country?

MCCAIN: I do not believe that any objective observer can conclude that the surge did not work and is not succeeding. It's not possible. The facts on the ground are very clear.

And the future of young Americans are at stake here, because if we do what he wants to do -- and that's withdraw, which the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on a certain date, has said is very dangerous -- and even, in Senator Obama's own admission, we could have to go back, then that's dangerous for the future of America. And he should know better if he wants to be commander in chief and certainly behave differently, as far as this -- our presence and our strategy in Iraq.

It has succeeded. And it is -- and we are winning this war. And we will come home with victory and with honor.

WRIGHT: But it sometimes seems, as an outside observer, that both of you guys sometimes get stuck in the past, Senator Obama kind of stuck in 2003 and whether the war was a good idea in the first place, and you kind of seem stuck sometimes in 2007, whether the surge was the right strategy. Shouldn't this debate really be about the future and where we go from here?

MCCAIN: Oh, you're exactly right. And Senator Obama still wants to set a date for withdrawal. And he still -- regardless of conditions on the ground, which the chairman of the Joint Chiefs has [inaudible] very dangerous.

General Petraeus, who has been in charge of this incredible, incredible reversal of fortunes in Iraq, has said that it would be a dangerous course. So it is about the future. It's about...

MCCAIN: It is very much about the fact whether we come home with victory and honor and not have to go back or whether we pursue the dangerous course as described by the observers, and fail, and have to go back again. So it's all about the future. And the future, in my view, we have succeeded, but it's still fragile. Senator Obama's policy...

MCCAIN: ... could easily reverse -- could easily reverse all the hard-fought gains we made.

WRIGHT: Prime Minister Maliki seems to be asking for a timetable and other members, senior members of his government saying that there should be no permanent or indefinite U.S. bases, both ideas pillars of your strategy. Is it time for you to recalibrate?

MCCAIN: Well, actually, Prime Minister Maliki and the others have always said it's condition-based. Senator Obama has said no conditions, just set a timetable for coming home. And the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest-ranking military officer, and General Petraeus have all said it has to be condition-based.

We'll reach an agreement with the Iraqis. They're interested in their national security. But it will be based on conditions on the ground.

MCCAIN: But the point is that we are responsible for our records. I was right; Senator Obama was wrong. So, therefore, I think that I have more credibility on what the future should be, as opposed to Senator Obama, who, if he would've had his way, we would be very likely be involved in a wider war today if we'd have done what he wanted to do.

WRIGHT: You yourself have said that we should leave when the Iraqis ask us to.


WRIGHT: Are we not nearing that point?

MCCAIN: No. No, we're not. They said we are going to negotiate. We are having good-faith negotiations with them. They have said it is also based on conditions on the ground.

Look, we have succeeded, but it's very fragile. Everybody understands that. Everybody understands that. And if we continue with withdrawals, which we will, because we have succeeded, but not according to a set time that Senator Obama wants, then we'll never have to go back.

If we do what Senator Obama wants to do, we will risk having to come back and risk a wider war and defeat in the first major war since 9/11. And that -- that could be -- have -- is fraught with consequences for the future of the United States of America's security.

WRIGHT: Before we leave the subject, because we have other things that we need to talk about...


WRIGHT: ... I want to give you an opportunity to correct something that you said yesterday.


WRIGHT: You suggested, in terms of the timeline of what happened in Iraq, the Anbar Awakening, when the Sunni tribal leaders turned on Al Qaeda...

MCCAIN: Sure. Sure.

WRIGHT: ... that that happened as a result of the surge, when really it happened about a year before.

MCCAIN: Actually, the surge is a strategy. And Colonel McFarland, who I briefed with in December of 2006, had already started employing that strategy, going into Ramadi, clearing, and holding. And some of the sheiks were asking for our protection. General Petraeus has said, without the additional brigades, then the Anbar Awakening wouldn't have succeeded.

It's very clear. It's more than having [ph] number of troops. It's a strategy. Colonel McFarland was employing that strategy. And that strategy was having some limited success, but it needed additional troops, which were then made available as a result of the increase in troops, which was part of the surge. Anybody that knows anything about Iraq and the situation knows that.

WRIGHT: Charlie Gibson sat down today with Senator Obama in Jerusalem and, as you can imagine, they talked a lot about the Middle East peace process. How would that initiative look different in a McCain administration than it would in an Obama administration?

MCCAIN: Well, I don't know -- again, as with many other cases, Senator Obama one day said he would have an undivided Jerusalem, and then said something else. So it's not clear to me what his policy is.

My policy in support for the state of Israel has been very consistent. I have visited there many, many times. I know the leaders; I know the situation very well. I would be personally engaged in the efforts to bring about a peaceful settlement between the state of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

This is a highest priority. I've been involved in these issues for many, many years. I know how to move forward with a peaceful resolution of a terrible situation, which is now exacerbated by the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons.

WRIGHT: Just on a simple but symbolic issue, should the U.S. move its embassy to Jerusalem?

MCCAIN: Sure. I've always advocated that.

WRIGHT: All right. You've been touring here in the states, had the domestic stage all to yourself, and yet we're talking an awful lot about foreign policy, it seems, every day. You've almost picked a fight on Iraq policy or Afghanistan policy with Senator Obama. Do you kind of feel like you're going to be stuck playing defense from now until November?

MCCAIN: Oh, I haven't picked any fights to start with. Second of all, I have a concrete plan for energy independence. Senator Obama says no to off-shore drilling, no to reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, no to storage.

I have a positive proposal. People want a little break at the gas pump, a little gas tax holiday. And I'm very happy with where we are, David.

WRIGHT: But I guess what I'm just...

MCCAIN: We are basically tied in the polls today in every national poll or somewhat behind. I'm very happy with where we are. I'm playing offense throughout this thing.

WRIGHT: But I suppose what I meant by the question is that, you know, it seems like the narrative of this campaign is being driven by whatever Senator Obama does and that you're left to kind of react to that.

MCCAIN: It may seem like that to you. It doesn't seem like that to me. We have put forth a positive agenda for the future of the country. We're getting very good crowds. We're doing well in the polls. We -- our campaign contributions are going well enough for us to run a good campaign. So I'm very happy with where we are.

WRIGHT: On gas prices, you've got a new ad out. It seems to suggest that high prices at the pump are Senator Obama's fault. How is that fair?

MCCAIN: If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. He has said no to every proposal that would help this nation emerge from this terrible problem of gas prices. He's against nuclear power. He's against off-shore drilling. He's against the gas-tax holiday. So if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

WRIGHT: Gas prices dropped this week. Why?

MCCAIN: Because -- one reason is that because the president of the United States announced that we're going to stop the moratorium for off-shore drilling and urging the states to do the same. That sends a message. That's one of the reasons. There's other reasons.

WRIGHT: We're told that Thursday is going to be a big show-stealing surprise. Are you going to name your vice president?

MCCAIN: We're not talking about it.

WRIGHT: Probably not?

MCCAIN: We're not talking about it.

WRIGHT: So that's not a denial?

MCCAIN: We're not talking about it. That's been my consistent statement throughout, David.

WRIGHT: We'll know when you tell us.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

WRIGHT: All right, thanks so much, Senator. Appreciate it.

For more read ABC News' story HERE.