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CBS "Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer" Transcript: Foreign Policy

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SCHIEFFER: And, good morning, again. And we're going to begin with the senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee, Senator John McCain. Senator, thanks for being with us this morning. Well, the president made it pretty clear on Friday, we're leaving Afghanistan, and perhaps sooner than some expected. And every report you hear from behind the scenes is, we're going to keep very, very few people there. What do you make of this? What's your take on all of this?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Well, it's a one of a series of decisions the president has made basically overruling his military advisers. So whether it be in Iraq, which is now unraveling very significantly, or whether it be the decisions about a surge and how many and how soon they leave. There's a series of decisions, all of which the president and the vice president have overruled our military leaders and their advice and counsel, which is the president's right to do. But each time I believe that it has ensured the risk of failure. I think there's a very, very great risk now that with the president's announcement that they are basically going to be out, that the Afghans will not be able to effectively counter what still remains a significant Taliban and significantly discordant situation in both Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan. So I think you are probably going to see an unraveling gradually. I think you're going to be -- there's only one Iraq -- Afghan brigade that is capable of acting independently. These forces need air support, intelligence, all of the kinds of logistics and other support that is necessary to be effective. Fighting forces, they're not going to have that, and so I am much less than optimistic about this eventual outcome. But when you look at the Middle East, look at what has happened at Iraq, look at what has happened in Syria, the United States no longer leading from behind, waiting from behind. And then you look at the decisions concerning Afghanistan, you can understand why people throughout the region believe the United States is withdrawing, and that is not good for the region.

SCHIEFFER: Well, let me ask you this, Senator. I mean, we went to Afghanistan in the beginning because we wanted them to deny al Qaeda a safe haven, the terrorists who caused 9/11. But it's -- and I think to some extent we probably have done that. But as long as they have a safe haven in Pakistan, does it really matter? And I'm not saying to the Afghan people, but does it really matter to the security of the United States whether or not we're in Afghanistan?

MCCAIN: Well, again, the Pakistanis and others will act in accordance with what they think what will transpire in the region. Prior to 9/11 the United States contained terrorism in that part of the world. After 9/11 we actively went after and our strategy was to eliminate. And now with President Obama it's to disengage. They see us disengaging. Now, I would remind -- you're right, exactly why we went in there. Now the reason why al Qaeda was able to locate was because of the Taliban control. I don't think there's any doubt that the Taliban are a significant force remaining. And al Qaeda has proven to be remarkably capable of regenerating itself with new leadership quite often. So you see a region and with enormous difficulties, not to mention the threat of Iran being -- continuing on the path towards the acquisition of nuclear weapons.

SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you about the president's choices for his cabinet. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I can't remember a time when the opposing party has opposed every single person that the president nominates for his cabinet. It has usually been the rule, if the president's going to be in charge of the government, we have to give him the people he wants to run it. But Republicans seem to be against every single person that he has nominated this time around, at least so far.

MCCAIN: To varying degrees.

SCHIEFFER: Except for John Kerry, who, if the sources are right, was his second choice for that post because he did want Susan Rice, and you and Lindsey Graham, some, led the opposition to her. Can you be for Senator Hagel? I mean, in some ways -- I mean, he was the chairman of your -- co-chair of your campaign in 2000. He would seem to be your kind of guy: a veteran, a guy who has been shot at...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAIN: He's a veteran, he's a friend. By the way, on this process, usually with the previous presidents, both Republican and Democrat, when they're considering nominations, they call in the other side and say -- you know, the key members on the other party and say, hey, I'm thinking about nominating Mr. X, what do you think about it? There has been none of that with this administration. But more importantly than that, I honor Chuck Hagel's service. He's a friend. My questions about him, and they will be raised in the nominations, are what is his view of America's role in the world? Whether he really believes that the surge was the worst blunder since the Vietnam War. That clearly is not -- that's not correct. That's -- in fact, it's bizarre. Why would he oppose calling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization? Same outfit that's on the ground now in Syria killing Syrians, same outfit that was exporting the most lethal IEDs into Iraq killing Americans. So these are legitimate questions that need to be asked. I honor his service. We are friends. But I have an obligation to the men and women who are now serving in uniform.

SCHIEFFER: At this point, would you vote against him?

MCCAIN: No. Nor would I vote for him. I think we've got -- this is why we have hearings. And, Bob, again, I almost -- I have a clear record of almost always giving the administration the benefit of the doubt, Republican or Democrat. But in this particular case, "advise and consent" is still a role that we play as senators.

SCHIEFFER: What about John Brennan, the nominee for the CIA? Your friend Lindsey Graham says he should not be confirmed until we know more about the attack in Libya. Are you going to...

MCCAIN: I think Lindsey's right that we need to know. It has been months now and we still haven't gotten basic information. Like, what was the -- how were the talking points that were given Ambassador Rice to tell the American people? And on this program, why weren't there DoD assets for seven hours capable of -- I mean, there are so many questions that have not been answered, and Lindsey is right. In the case of Mr. Brennan, Mr. Brennan says he opposed torture, but he had also -- there are statements where he basically supported it. And finally, as you know, there was an investigation -- there is an investigation ongoing about the leaks after the take-out of Osama bin Laden. And Mr. Brennan was there in the White House and some of those leaks came out. We need to know the results of that investigation as well. So a lot of questions that need to be asked. I look forward to the hearings. I have always believed that a president deserves the right to choose his own team, but there are significant questions.

SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you a couple questions about gun control that's obviously coming to a head here. Did you think an assault weapons ban can pass the Congress?

MCCAIN: No.

SCHIEFFER: Do you think it should.

MCCAIN: No.

SCHIEFFER: What do you see as the answer to this problem with guns?

MCCAIN: Well, my friend across -- here, Joe Manchin, has taken a lead on this issue. He comes from a state where people cherish their Second Amendment rights. And I respect a lot of his views on this. Let me just say that we obviously have a situation where crazy people, deranged individuals are having access to guns. Now exactly how do you do that? In Norway, a country with the most stringent gun laws, a guy was able to slaughter a huge number of people there in Norway. So I think we need to look at it in its entirety. I think all of us should have this conversation. I applaud the conversation. We need to have it stopped, but to somehow believe that guns away from people is the answer. I don't think history shows that that's the right way to do it.

SCHIEFFER: All right, John McCain...

MCCAIN: Thanks for having me.


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