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Public Statements

CNN "Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees" - Transcript

Interview

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COOPER: Senator McCain, the president and the secretary of defense have both said that to take unilateral military action at this point would be a mistake. Why do you think they're wrong?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, first of all, I don't want to take unilateral action and it's unfortunate they portray it that way. I think we need a coalition of nations that would join together and stop the massacre that's taking place in Syria as we speak. You have reported extensively. There are 7,500 people who have been massacred and more to come. Testimony by the director of National Intelligence is that momentum is on the side of Bashar Assad. Other testimony saying that Assad may go but it can take a very long period of time. And also I would add that the head of our Central Command testified yesterday that if Assad were taken down, it would be the greatest blow to Iran in 25 years.

We intervened in Bosnia, we intervened in Kosovo because people were being massacred. That is part of the president's stated national security policy. We need to act and we need to act with other nations who will join us in this cause.

COOPER: You talked about not going unilaterally. The secretary of defense, though, argues that it's not like Libya that right now there's not a coalition of states including Arab states calling for intervention. And the chairman of the Joint Chiefs said that the Syrian air defenses are a lot more sophisticated than the Libyan's air defenses, who are more difficult to hit.

MCCAIN: We spend almost $1 trillion a year on the military, Anderson. And we can't take out air defenses of Syria? That is an horrific waste of the taxpayers' dollars. Every time that one of these crises happens, and I remember well, under President Clinton, Bosnia and Kosovo, we can't do it. They can always think of reasons not to do it. We led from behind in Libya. We were the last ones on board.

By the way, the -- the Saudi foreign minister called for arming the rebels. There is other nations, Qatar, UAE and others are working to help the Syrians. But those people who watch CNN every night are treated or have the opportunity unfortunately to watch the sad spectacle of Syrians being massacred by Bashar Assad.

If we can do something about it, and we can, we should, unilaterally, and it's going to -- excuse me, not unilaterally. No boots on --

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Hey, welcome back to the program. We clearly had a major technical problem. We had to go to a commercial break. We're going to reset that interview with John McCain. We taped it just shortly before we went to air. So here's the interview with John McCain in its entirety.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Senator McCain, the president and the secretary of defense have both said that to take unilateral military action at this point would be a mistake. Why do you think they're wrong?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, first of all, I don't want to take unilateral action and it's unfortunate they portray it that way. I think we need a coalition of nations that would join together and stop the massacre that's taking place in Syria as we speak.

You have reported extensively. There are 7,500 people who have been massacred and more to come. Testimony by the director of National Intelligence is that momentum is on the side of Bashar Assad. Other testimony saying that Assad may go but it can take a very long period of time. And also I would add that the head of our Central Command testified yesterday that if Assad were taken down, it would be the greatest blow to Iran in 25 years.

We intervened in Bosnia, we intervened in Kosovo because people were being massacred. That is part of the president's stated national security policy. We need to act and we need to act with other nations who will join us in this cause.

COOPER: You talked about not going unilaterally. The secretary of defense, though, argues that it's not like Libya that right now there's not a coalition of states including Arab states calling for intervention. And the chairman of the Joint Chiefs said that the Syrian air defenses are a lot more sophisticated than the Libyan's air defenses, who are more difficult to hit.

MCCAIN: We spend almost $1 trillion a year on the military, Anderson. And we can't take out air defenses of Syria? That is an horrific waste of the taxpayers' dollars. Every time that one of these crises happens, and I remember well, under President Clinton, Bosnia and Kosovo, we can't do it. They can always think of reasons not to do it. We led from behind in Libya. We were the last ones on board.

By the way, the -- the Saudi foreign minister called for arming the rebels. There is other nations, Qatar, UAE and others are working to help the Syrians. But those people who watch CNN every night are treated or have the opportunity unfortunately to watch the sad spectacle of Syrians being massacred by Bashar Assad.

If we can do something about it, and we can, we should, unilaterally, and it's going to -- excuse me, not unilaterally, no boots on the ground, with other nations who will join us if we lead and we can bring this to a halt.

COOPER: So you're not -- you're not calling -- because it's been portrayed that you were calling for basically U.S. planes just flying bombing runs. You're not calling for that. You're calling for other nations in the air as well?

MCCAIN: Absolutely. And again, it's unfortunate because I have -- I said foreign airpower. In Libya they were able to do it with British and French and others and UAE aircraft and others. We have the capacity, in my view, to stop Assad and the slaughter but it's also going to require sanctuary, arms training and some other things as well. But now it's reached the point where you have artillery and tanks against AK-47s. It's going to require foreign airpower. And again the United States, not going alone but the United States leading.

COOPER: As you pointed out, we've been reporting on this pretty much every night now for a year. I've been disappointed, though, a lot of other networks haven't been -- haven't been reporting on this because of the -- we've had the videos that are available, even if we're not allowed into the country ourselves.

What do you say to those Americans who look at this, who look at those pictures, and say, you know what, this is horrific but the U.S. is already involved in two wars and we just can't afford and shouldn't be involved in another one?

MCCAIN: First of all, again, I'd like to say I watch it regularly and it's been extensive coverage. And my answer to that is, what does the United States stand for? What do we believe in? We believe in freedom. We went to Bosnia. We went to Kosovo. We regret enormously that we didn't do something to try and stop the genocide in Rwanda. We look back if we failed to intervene years from now and thousands and thousands of Syrians have been massacred while we stood by because we, quote, "can't address the issue"?

We can. We're the best military in the world. I understand the strain on American military. I understand the sacrifices made by American families. But I also understand the proudest part of America's history is when we have tried to help other people achieve the same goals that we so passionately articulated when we declared our independence.

COOPER: Two quick political questions. I'd be remiss if I didn't ask about last night's Super Tuesday results. Your candidate, Governor Romney, had a specially good night winning the big prize, obviously, Ohio. Do you believe the time has come for other candidates to now get out of the race?

MCCAIN: I would -- I would hope so, but I can't tell the other candidates what they should do. They have to make their own decisions. I am aware how tough an environment this is and -- so they have to make up their own minds. But it is a fact that the longer this drags out, the higher the negatives of our -- of Mitt Romney and the harder it will be to win the election in November. That's just fundamental facts.

COOPER: Your former running mate, Governor Palin, was on CNN last night saying she would leave the door open to her name being placed into nomination at -- if there was a contested convention. What was your reaction to that?

MCCAIN: Right. Glad to see that Sarah is still willing to get in the arena. I greatly admire and respect her. And so, Sarah, you know, I view it with great interest your comment last night. But I also think that, you know, that this thing is going to be resolved hopefully sooner for Mitt Romney than later.

COOPER: Senator McCain, I always appreciate your time. Thank you.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Anderson.

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