Hours after President Obama announced his administration’s plan for battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former White House press secretary Jay Carney engaged in a tense argument on CNN about the strategy.
Carney, now a CNN analyst, sparred with McCain, who called the president’s speech a “weak argument.” The senator stated several times throughout the segment with moderator Anderson Cooper that Carney did not know the “facts” about the military situation in Iraq and Syria.
“I’m astounded,” McCain said. “That Mr. Carney should say that the Free Syrian Army is now stronger.” Of the Syrian military environment, McCain blamed the president for not helping to arm the Syrian opposition. “The entire national security team, including the Secretary of State, said we want to arm and train and equip these people and he made the unilateral decision to turn them down and the fact that they didn’t lead a residual force in Iraq, overruling all of his military advisers, is the reason why we’re facing ISIS today.”
Carney attempted to interject, suggesting that the two men were going to disagree and that there was another key element: the Iraqi army. But McCain called it “more than a disagreement.” Pointing to the time he spent in Baghdad, McCain blamed the U.S. troop withdrawal.
MCAIN: The number cascaded down to 3,500. That was not sufficient to do anything but to defend themselves and you, in your role as a spokesperson, bragged about the fact that the last American combat troop had left Iraq. If we had left a residual force, the situation would not be what it is today and there would be a lot more —
CARNEY: Senator, I can pause it with great respect for you that we can disagree on this.
MCCAIN: You can’t. You can’t. No, you can’t —
CARNEY: Sir, if I may —
MCCAIN: You don’t have all the facts, Mr. Carney. That is the problem.
Carney did have a chance to fire back at the prospect of continuing U.S. presence in Iraq. He called it a “whitewash of history” to ignore the violence and fighting when tens of thousands of US troops were on the ground in Iraq, specifically in 2007 when the troop number had reached its peak number.
CARNEY: We cannot — the United States of America ask our military to be a permanent occupying force in a country like Iraq,” said Carney. “We have to get to a situation where we can help build up and assist an Iraqi security force, where we can put pressure on Iraqi political leaders to form an inclusive government, which they have taken steps to do as was noted earlier and then we can provide the kind of military support that we’re providing, an action that we’re taking against a threat like ISIS as appropriate, but the alternative of leaving a permanent, massive U.S. force on the ground in Iraq, not for ten years, not for 20 years, but in perpetuity, is simply not sustainable financially and not consistent with what the American people think we should do.
McCain responded that he didn’t expect the numbers or strategies from previous years in Iraq, but believed that a larger number of U.S. troops was necessary as support and help for the Iraqi army.
McCain also went on to say that although the U.S. borders were “porous,” he did not believe there was a direct threat to the United States but had no question that it was a goal of the Islamic State.