Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain angrily sparred with Huffington Post reporter Sam Stein Friday morning, after Stein asked the hawkish senator if the only way to secure “victory” in Iraq is through endless American occupation.
Stein spoke with McCain Friday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” discussing the sudden implosion of the Iraqi military in the face of a determined assault by ultra-violent Sunni Islamists flowing from the Syrian civil war.
McCain had been arguing that the Iraq War was “won” before President Obama failed to pursue a status-of-forces agreement with the Iraqi government, which would have allowed some U.S. troops to remain in-country after the 2011 withdrawal.
“Yeah, I just want to nail down what it means to have it won, I guess,” Stein asked. “Because when we were discussing the war, debating the war, I thought the idea was that we would put up an Iraqi government that would be self-sufficient, with an Iraqi military that could carry out operations.”
“So I’m curious, what is the definition of victory?” the reporter continued. “What is the definition of winning? Does it mean having a residual force basically without [an] end date? I’m just a little bit confused. I want to know what victory is to you, Sen. McCain.”
“I think you are confused,” McCain began, “because you didn’t know what happened with the surge, where we basically had the country pacified. We had a stable government in Baghdad. And we had the conflict basically, for all intents and purposes, won.”
“We still got troops in Bosnia,” McCain noted. “A residual force would have stabilized the country. Most military experts will tell you that. So I’m sorry about your confusion, but the facts on the ground were that Al-Qaida had been defeated almost completely, and with the residual American force and at that time, a strong Iraq — now, Maliki is very weak.”
“And Maliki got worse after we left,” the senator continued. “And again, I knew this was going to happen. Because we didn’t leave that force behind. And so I’m sorry about your confusion, but anybody who was there will tell you we had the conflict won.”
“I guess I shouldn’t call myself confused, because it will be used against me,” Stein responded wryly.
“Yeah,” a still-combative McCain shot back.