Wednesday, April 25, 2007

John McCain returns to The Daily Show

Senator John McCain (R–AZ) returned to Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Tuesday, and received the toughest grilling I have yet seen Jon Stewart give a guest. Stewart directly assailed McCain's refusal to criticize President Bush directly and the contradictions inherent in his support of the "surge" strategy currently being pursued in Iraq. McCain retreated into neocon Republican talking points, impugning the patriotism of anyone who suggests that staying in Iraq might not be the best plan for assuring our security.

Update: Here is the video, courtesy of Comedy Central's MotherLoad:

or go directly to the Comedy Central site, or download it in WMV or QT format from Crooks and Liars, or watch it in The Newsroom. The full transcript follows, below the fold.

Here's the transcript of the interview, originally aired 2007-04-24.

Jon Stewart: My guest tonight, he is the senior Republican senator from the great state of Arizona. He's also running for President. Please welcome back to the program Senator John McCain — Senator!

You're our most frequent guest, you realize that? (No.) You've been on the program more than anyone else, I think, nine or ten times — you're our most frequent contributor, but tonight, this is me and you tonight.

Senator John McCain: This is the last time.

Stewart: Tonight you and I go mano y somewhat-less-of-a-mano.

McCain: All right, I'm ready.

Stewart: We're gonna learn, now — are you running for President?

McCain: Yes.

Stewart: You are.

McCain: Yes.

Stewart: All right. There we are. Do you know that right now is not the pre-season: these games count.

McCain: These games count.

Stewart: What do you want to start with, the "Bomb Iran" song or the walk through the market in Baghdad? What do you want to start with?

McCain: Let's see: which one have I seen most on your show? I think maybe shopping in Baghdad. I had something really picked out for you. (Did you really?) Yes, it's a little I.E.D. to put on your desk.

Stewart: That's very lovely of you, thank you. That's why we have the dogs here. Listen —

McCain: By the way, the dog wasn't there, Chloe; I wanted to kick it on my way in.

Stewart: Oh, Chloe, no! Chloe is the sweetest dog in the world! Did you see Parker? Also a beautiful dog. (Yes, indeed.) I don't want to give Parker any complex. (Any ideas.) You go to Baghdad, to see if the surge is working, and you're walking through a market.

McCain: First time anybody's been in that market since the explosion that killed a couple hundred [in fact, seventy-one] people.

Stewart: You made some comments about the safety of it. The gentleman you were with, Mike Pence of Indiana, said this is great, it's like a summertime market in Indiana.

McCain: No! What Mike was saying, what the rest of us were saying, they take all plastic, and so that's good — and that things are safer than they were. Now, are they safe? No. Are they safer? Yes. Are they better? Yes. Have we got a long way to go? Yes. Is it long, is it hard and tough? Yes. Am I saying "last throes"? No. Am I saying "mission accomplished"? No. Am I saying "a few dead-enders"? No.

Stewart: These are fine distinctions. Isn't part of the insurgency, and isn't this the difficulty, that we have to win over the Iraqi people, and can we win them over when we seem to almost consistently diminish their suffering? Rumsfeld has said, "When you fly over Baghdad, the whole place isn't on fire." Condi Rice has said, you know, "This is birthing pains." Think of how we're grieving — and rightfully so —

McCain: Jon, nobody complained more than me, over the last several years, about the way the war was mismanaged. It was terribly mismanaged, I was frustrated, and the sacrifice we made was so sad. Now, you showed a thing on the program where the Majority Leader of the Senate said we lost; now, tell me who won. Who won? Al Qaeda? Sunni militia? Shia militia? Who won, if we lost?
Yes, Senator McCain did criticize the management of the Iraq War, but he also told the American people in 2004 that it was essential to re-elect George W. Bush in order to assure our victory in Iraq. Can there be any doubt that Kerry could only have done a more competent job of managing the war?
Stewart: In fairness to Senator Reid — and god bless me, I don't believe in fairness — (I found that out recently.) he was saying that militarily, even [General David] Petraeus has said you can't win it militarily. I think he said it clumsily, but what he said was, it's a political solution, not a military solution. But I agree with you —

McCain: You know, that's clever, but the fact is, you have to have a military situation where there's security before you have a political and economic solution, (Don't you think we already won militarily?) the same way it was in Bosnia, the same way it was in Kosovo, other places where we've faced this kind of economic —

Stewart: Can we describe this as won or lost? Even the President has said this isn't the kind of war you win and people surrender on a battleship. Shouldn't we get away from the language of "win or lose" in Iraq and get more to (Success.) a descriptive kind of success, with metrics — deadlines, if you will, timetables?

McCain: If you'd prefer to set a date certain for surrender, sure. Yeah, absolutely, if that is what you want —

Stewart: That is absolutely the most unfair —

McCain: The fact is, the fact is that the most rudimentary student of warfare will tell you that —

Stewart: Hey — I play Stratego and Battleship like the next guy! You are not sinking my battleship!

McCain: I know exactly what you mean, but the fact is —

Stewart: Didn't [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates say that the idea that we would set deadlines, didn't he even say that has helped them put pressure on Maliki's government?

McCain: No, what he has said is that we need to put pressure on the government, and the government is not functioning as we want it to, and we need it to make the decisions such as oil revenues and others —
McCain is simply flat-out wrong here. Gates did in fact say that the Democratic push for timetables was helping to put pressure on the Maliki government.
Stewart: But now who's being cute? Isn't the President saying, "I don't want to set timetables, but our patience is not unlimited." So, what he's saying is, "We're not going to pull our troops out between now and the end of time." Isn't that, you know — how do you say we have to set a deadline, but I don't want to pin it down, because that's "surrender"?

McCain: What he's saying is — because it is. I mean, you tell any enemy when you're leaving, they'll say, "Why, fine, we'll just wait until you leave, and then we'll take over."

Stewart: But that assumes we're fighting one enemy; they're fighting each other. It's not. We're there keeping them from killing each other. Surrender is not — we're not "surrendering" to an enemy that has "defeated" us, we're saying, "How do you quell a civil war when it's not your country?"
It also assumes that it is possible for the U.S. military to wait out the insurgents, which is a preposterous claim. The insurgents will not relent even if we keep our army in Iraq for a thousand years.
[audience cheers]

McCain: We're paying a very heavy price.

Stewart: They come in, and the thing is, the tickets are free.

McCain: I think I know whose side they're on.

Stewart: No, they're on America's side, because they're patriots. We'll be right back with more from Senator John McCain.

Hey, welcome back. We're here with Senator John McCain. Here's what we're going to do: you and me, mano a mano; I'm just going to walk through the talking points, and you tell me why they're right. "If we don't fight and defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq, they will follow us home." Now, my poisition is —

McCain: Why don't you read what Zarqawi says and what Bin Laden says? Go online, go on the Internet — they'll tell you that. I'm not saying it, they say it. Then I can refer you to their statements.

Stewart: They've also said, "Our strategy is to trap America in a war that will bleed them of treasure and lives." That's also their statement, so you can go both ways on that. But my point is, the idea that Al Qaeda —

McCain: I know one way to go, and that is Al Qaeda has declared their dedication to the destruction of everything that we stand for and believe in. I know that for a fact.

Stewart: Whether we're in Iraq or not.

McCain: You know that for a fact?

Stewart: I know it for a fact.

McCain: Good. That's the first time we've agreed on this whole program. [audience applause] (That's not true!) Thank you!
Yes, Al Qaeda has declared its intent to destroy America and everything America stands for and everything America holds dear. That's not the question. The question is, does staying in Iraq make it easier or harder for Al Qaeda to achieve that objective? As Jon Stewart pointed out, Al Qaeda wants the United States to be stuck in Iraq, so staying in Iraq to spite Al Qaeda is nothing short of insane.
Stewart: But here's the thing I'm trying to say (Yeah.) : when they attack people who disagree with their policy, they attack them in that "they don't understand there's a real threat out there." I'm saying to you, the American people — or at least the ones I get on the subway with — they know there's a real threat out there; they felt like Iraq lessened our ability to fight that threat, so when they say the talking point of, "They'll follow us home" — they're trying to follow us home anyway, whether we're in Iraq or not.

McCain: I know that, and look, Bill Russell, the famous philosopher of the Boston Celtics, once said, "When things go bad, things go bad." The war was terribly mismanaged. It was terribly mismanaged.
And it continues to be terribly mismanaged, even with a highly capable general in the field. The problem is at the very top, specifically at the Commander in Chief.
Stewart: But let them be honest with us — why attack people that question that?

McCain: We are where we are now. We are where we are now. And the question is, Can we give this strategy a chance — and I'm emphasizing a chance to succeed with a great general? And I think we —

Stewart: Why should we? Why?

McCain: Because! Because the [inaudible] of failure are enormous.
We have already failed, because of the incomprehensibly, criminally, treasonously irresponsible mismanagement of the war by the Bush Administration from even before Day One. The question now is, how do we minimize the blowback, to the Iraqi people as well as to the United States, from the fact that we have already failed in Iraq? A few thousand extra troops for a few months will not magically produce results that a hundred thousand troops have not been able to achieve in four years. It's been said many times in many ways by many people, but why on earth should the American people give the Bushies their seven hundred forty-fifth chance when they've blown the first seven hundred forty-four? Why should we expect their prosecution of the war in 2007 to be any better than it was in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006? "Trust us, we're making good progress" just doesn't cut it.
Stewart: If the architects who built a house without any doors or windows don't admit that that's the house they've built, and continue to say, "No, it's your fault for not being able to see into it!" then I don't understand how we're supposed to move forward.

McCain: I was the most severe critic of that architect for the nearly four years that we employed a failed and flawed strategy that's caused us to sacrifice so much, and so I think now, if we can give this a chance....

Stewart: Here's my next bugaboo: supporting the troops. They say that asking for a timetable or criticizing the President is not supporting the troops. Explain to me why that is supporting the troops less than extending their tours of duty from 12 months to 15 months, putting them in stop loss, and not having Walter Reed be up to snuff. How can the President justify that? How can he have the balls to justify that?

McCain: All I can say is that, if you talk to these young men — and women — who are fighting, they'll tell you they think it's a worthwhile cause, and that they're fighting for freedom and —

[audience boos]

Well, all I'm saying, the overwhelming majority of them do; I hear from them all the time.

Stewart: The majority of the guys that I talk to say, "The political scene is not my thing; I'm a soldier."

McCain: The ones I talk to, and I talk to them all the time, my friend, and I hear from them all the time — they know, I know what war is like; I know what evil is like. (You're saying to me that they're madder —) And I'm telling you that they believe they are fighting for somebody else's freedom, and the majority of them believe that. (I don't doubt that.) Now, you're entitled to your views, (No, that's a different point.) but the view of the majority of them is that they think they are doing the right thing, (The soldiers' view is a different point.) and their parents, who have also had to sacrifice, generally speaking, are proud of the service of their sons and daughters, as well as their husbands and wives, and I'm proud of them, too, because they're the best.

Stewart: No one's saying that they shouldn't be proud of their service — this is a very unfair way to deal with this issue (It certainly is! It certainly is. It's very unfair to — ) because — Let me explain it this way: what I'm saying is, it's less supportive of them — (when these people are being told they're fighting a war — ) — Settle down for a second!

McCain: No, you settle down. That they're fighting in a war that they lost. That's not fair to them.
Which is more unfair, telling the troops that they're fighting in a war that their commanders have already lost, or leaving them to fight in a war that's already been lost? The words cannot hurt more than the painful reality behind them, and pretending the reality is not there doesn't help at all.
Stewart: What I believe is less supportive to the good people who believe they're fighting a great cause, is to not give them a strategy that makes their success possible, and to not —

McCain: We now have a strategy. Yes, we do.
Stay the Course, plus a few extra troops, rotating in for longer. I'm underwhelmed.
Stewart: Adding 10,000 people to Baghdad (We now have a strategy.) — add 350,000, and you might have a shot.

McCain: I don't know that that strategy will succeed, but we do have a new strategy. It's a fact.
No, it's not a fact, it's an outright lie. We do not have a new strategy, we have a little hand-waving over the same old failed strategy we've been pushing for four years. Tell the truth, McCain.
Stewart: All I'm saying is, you cannot look a soldier in the eye and say, "Questioning the President is less supportive to you than extending your tour 3 months, when you should be coming home to your family." And that's not fair to put on people that criticize. (Jon —) And you know I love you, and I respect your service, and would never question any of that, and this is not about questioning the troops and their ability to fight and their ability to be supported, and that is what the administration does, and that is almost criminal.

[audience cheers]

McCain: Can I say again, Jon, and I apologize for being repetitious, Americans are saddened and frustrated, and I understand that. The terrible mishandling has been chronicled in books like Fiasco, Cobra II, many others, but again, we are where we are, and I believe these young people have a new strategy and a new general; I hope you have a chance to see 'em. I believe the consequences of failure are catastrophic, and I'm aware of how unpopular this war is —

Stewart: It's not about popularity. It's not about popularity.

McCain: I'm aware of the disapproval of the war, and I understand —

Stewart: — and the way it's been prosecuted. Please also be aware that just about everybody I've ever met understands we have a problem, they just think they took the problem in the wrong direction.

McCain: Well, I understand that point of view, and in many ways there's legitimacy to that point of view, but I want to go back to say, we are where we are.
And where we are is stuck in Iraq with a policy that has failed and that continues to fail. The only sensible way forward is to honestly admit that we have failed and look to ways to contain and minimize the effects of that failure. Pretending that we will somehow sprinkle magic pixie dust on Iraq and sprout a victory out of the desert sands, only distracts us from the real work at hand. We need to look at what we can do to leave the best possible security situation in Iraq when we pull out most of our combat troops over the next few months. We cannot sustain this large a military presence in Iraq over the objections of large majorities of both the Iraqi people and the American people, so we must look at what we can do now to keep the blood and mayhem that will inevitably follow in our wake to a minimum.
Stewart: Bless you.

McCain: Bless you. I thank you. I thank you.

Stewart: Will you come on again? Next time you come on, pure shits and giggles. Senator John McCain!
On the whole, not nearly as delusional as Dubya himself, but far from "straight talk" by any measure.

I also have transcripts of John McCain's visits to The Daily Show on 2006-04-05 and 2006-07-24, as well as Michael Ware on Real Time with Bill Maher (2006-03-24), Ali Allawi (former Iraqi government minister, 2007-04-18), and a recent appearance by Jon Kyl, the other senator from Arizona, on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos 2007-04-08. I've also commented on statements by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R–CA) attacking the patriotism of anyone who questions the wisdom of our Iraq war policies (2007-02-13), and panel discussions of the Iraq situation on Al Jazeera English's Inside Iraq program (2007-01-26). I hope you'll take the opportunity to browse some of the other stuff I've written on this blog.

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