Senator McCain spoke with bloggers this morning regarding his speech today to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the current state of his campaign, the war in Iraq, and a host of other issues. Here are some of the highlights.
He said that when the Iraq debate returns to the Senate floor in the middle of September, he "believe[s] that the Democrats are going to push again for a date for withdrawal," despite the fact that, in his view, "this strategy can and will succeed," and that "we are seeing a slight shift in public opinion as a result of the successes on the ground." Of course, it's the apparent lack of any accompanying political progress that has most serious observers worried, but McCain referred numerous times, albeit rather obliquely, to the possibility of a political break through in the next few weeks. What shape such a break through might take was left unclear, but McCain said "I believe there are prospects of political progress in the next couple of weeks, and I hope I'll be right." Adding later that "every pressure is being brought to bear" to get some forward movement.
And what if there is no progress on the political front? McCain acknowledged that "the Maliki government is weak," but he added that there are no apparent alternatives--"No one springs to mind who seems like a Kemal Attaturk."
McCain also said that regardless of the politics being played with the war in Iraq, "president's don't lose wars, political parties don't lose wars, nations lose wars, and when they do they suffer."
And he mocked Harry Reid, who "declared the war lost on the floor of the Senate." McCain's response, "Who won? Al Qaeda?"
When the questions turned to other hostile regimes--i.e. Syria and Iran--McCain returned to his proposal for a League of Democracies. "We need to get together with other like-minded countries. Every time we try and get together and doing something at the United Nations, it's blocked by China and Russia....there's a chance that we could impose meaningful economic diplomatic and trade sanctions" if we work with new, friendly European governments. He singled out Sarkozy and Merkel in particular.
With regards to Syria (the WWS asked whether he agreed with Senator Lieberman's Op-Ed in today's Wall Street Journal), McCain said that
There's a United Nations Security Council resolution that calls for the disarmament of Hezbollah....one of my great and enduring heroes is George Schultz, who said 'Never point a gun at anybody unless you intend to shoot it.' We've got to stop pointing our guns but be prepared to shoot. I'm not sure I would bomb the [Damascus] airport but I would certainly make it clear to the Syrians...I would probably go back to the Security Council...but we have to make clear that there are consequences...I don't have a real good answer in the short term, except starting to enforce the existing sanctions, the existing investigations...including concluding the investigation into the assasination of the Prime Minister of Lebanon.
With regards to Iranian activity inside Iraq, McCain said that he'd "be going after anybody who is in that country illegally from any other country." Though he quickly added that "We have found out on our own southern border," just how difficult such action is.
And on the domestic political front, McCain said that the first priority for those supporting the new strategy isn't to change the minds of Democrats, but "to shore up shaky Republicans...we cannot afford to have 60 votes in the Senate" in favor of withdrawal, and without Republican help, the Democrats won't reach that number.
McCain said that Petraeus would likely deliver his report on September 11. Asked if this was an appropriate date, McCain explained that the report would be publicly released on the 15th and that Petraeus ought to be able to deliver his report to the Congress prior to that date. Given that Congress is closed on the 13th and 14th for the Jewish new year, and that Petraeus would have to appear in the House on the 12th, McCain said the 11th was the only date available.
And in closing he mentioned the Sunday Op-Ed in the New York Times in which seven U.S. soldiers collaborated to make the case that the Iraqis should be left to their own devices and fight it out amongst themselves...that peace would only come when "reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere." (Read more on this at Hot Air). McCain said that he hears "from soldiers sailors, Marines and airmen every day and that is not the opinion I hear...I hear three words, 'Let us win.'"