JIM LEHRER: Now to our Newsmaker interview with Sen. John McCain, Republican of Arizona. He gave a speech in Washington this morning on how the United States can and should win the war in Iraq. He also has been in the forefront of Senate efforts to bar cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners by U.S. military and intelligence forces.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Thank you, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: First on the bombings in Jordan, do you see a connection between those bombings and similar attacks elsewhere and our invasion and our occupation of Iraq?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I think there's probably some connection, and may -- perhaps some of those people came out of Iraq or in the case of Zarqawi, they were native Jordanians, but I would remind you that there were other attempts and other attacks in Jordan long before we invaded Iraq. So there's many who are saying it is because of our invasion of Iraq. Bin Laden and al-Qaida and others had been bent on harming Jordan or destroying it long before we invaded Iraq.
JIM LEHRER: But, you know, a lot of people are saying, Senator, that the invasion and occupation has created more terrorists it's destroyed. You don't buy that?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: No, I don't, I don't buy that. I think that the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan destroyed a lot of terrorists. Are we doing as well as we want to be and should be in Iraq? No. And is there a certain magnet provided by the conflict there for foreign fighters? Sure there is. But I can't say that it's because of Iraq that things have gotten worse.
JIM LEHRER: In your speech today you said "We must get Iraq right." What exactly do you mean?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I think we need to take several steps in order to do a better job of winning the conflict. And we also need to inform the American people in a more effective fashion as to what's at stake and what the benefits of success are and what the consequences of failure.
JIM LEHRER: Let's go to what's happening on the ground. You are suggesting what we are doing now is not right, correct?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Well, I am saying it could certainly be improved. We have a strategy now where we basically go into an area and kill insurgents and leave, and then the insurgents come back in. There are some places that we have been to three and four times and all we've done, basically, is kill some insurgents.
We need to adopt a theory which has been espoused by others as well as me and that's the oil spot, where you go into a place; you secure it, and then you build up the security forces -- a combination in the beginning of U.S. and Iraqi -- and establishing normal environments so people can live in safety and relatively secure from insurgent attacks and then that you gradually expand that area to the point where they can now proceed with reconstruction and public works projects without having to spend all your money on security and having them blown up all the time.
And that is something that may require in the short term more of certain kinds of troops. But we can't just keep going in to Al Anbar and other places and killing people and leaving them and having them coming back in.
Finally, there was a Marine general quoted in the Wall Street Journal not too long ago who was up on the Syrian border, he said I felt like a little Dutch boy putting my finger in the dike. We just didn't have enough troops.
JIM LEHRER: Now, so you think more should be sent, more U.S. troops should be sent there now?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Yes. But it's not so much the numbers of troops as it is quality of troops, people with the kind of specialties in special operations, in civil affairs and other, interpreters, people that have the language that we need more of.
And we also need to expand the size of the army and I have said it for many years, in order to relieve this enormous strain that's now being placed on the guard and reserves.
JIM LEHRER: Senator, you're a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee; you have access to all kinds of information, directly from the leaders, leadership of the Defense Department, among others. What is it that you feel they don't get about this whole thing?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Well, I don't think that they, that the secretary of defense got the fact that we couldn't allow looting from the beginning, that we didn't have enough troops to secure the many areas of Iraq right after the initial successes of gross underestimation of the size and magnitude of the challenge that we faced in Iraq with the insurgents both local and foreign. And I think that we have not had sufficient troops to carry out the mission. So there's a lot of things that they didn't get.
But I would like to quickly add, Jim, mistakes are made in conflicts. Mistakes are made in war. The key to it is to fix them.
JIM LEHRER: You said several weeks ago you no longer had confidence in Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Has anything happened to change that?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: No. But I am not in any way attempting to confront or conflict with Secretary Rumsfeld because as long as he enjoys the confidence of the president, he will be there, and I need to work with him and the other people in the Pentagon to try to help when this conflict that is so important. I think it's more important than the Vietnam conflict.
JIM LEHRER: More important than Vietnam. In what way?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Well, when we left Vietnam and came home and Ho Chi Minh or his followers didn't come after us.
I think if we lose here, you're going to see a factionalization of Iraq and the kind of training and place where Muslim extremism flourishes. And I think if you look at bin Laden's statements and Zarqawi's and others that they will be coming after us.
JIM LEHRER: You know as well as anyone what the opinion polls show about the American people's feelings about the whole Iraq enterprise at this point. They are down on it, and they are losing support for it. What's the cause of that? Why don't they get it, what you just said?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I think there are several reasons. One, of course, is heightened expectations and continued predictions of good news, thing were going to get better after they voted the first time, things were going to get better after they captured Saddam, things were going to get better, instead of giving a more hardened and realistic viewpoint and outlook say, look, it's going to be long, tough, very difficult, but explaining why we can win.
So I think dashed expectations are one, and two are American casualties which are almost one in the same. When they see the crawl across the bottom line of their television screen of people dying, and I'm sure that there's someone watching say, well, we lost 58,000 in the Vietnam War, it is just not the same. It's just not the same. So that's eroded it.
And also in the minds of many Americans there's no clear cut design for a victory/withdrawal. And I said emphatically today, if you withdraw before you have a secure environment, that's a recipe for disaster.
JIM LEHRER: But I also hear you saying that you understand why a majority of the American people do not support the war right now?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I can say that, yes. And I would quickly add that we've got to do a better job of communicating why we're there and what's at stake, and we've got to show some progress.
And what I mean by that is trained, equipped and capable Iraqi military and police who can take over responsibilities from our troops first as a supplement and then later on as a replacement for U.S. forces.
JIM LEHRER: Just speaking for yourself, Senator, sitting tonight, do you believe that the costs thus so far in lives and in money and in prestige and love and devotion around the world, in other words our image around the world has been worth this going into Iraq?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: If we can repair our image as far as abuse of prisoners is concerned, which I think has been a huge setback, yes. And I think we can by a clear cut declaration that we will not practice cruelty or inhumane treatment.
But I also think that Saddam Hussein had used and acquired weapons of mass destruction, the sanctions were not going to hold. We had tremendous corruption, as we know in this oil-for-food program, and that if he were still in power, he would be attempting to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction.
So I do believe, and if we can succeed, we are going to have democracy in the neighborhood, and it's going to have a hugely beneficial effect on the rest of the nations in the region.
JIM LEHRER: So you have no second thoughts at all about the wisdom of going to war?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I have second thoughts every time I hear of a brave young soldier of ours from Arizona who gives his or her life -- every single time.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of prisoner -- handling prisoners, where do things stand? This amendment that you are trying to get enacted into law -- bring us up to date. Where are things right now?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Well, I have been in conversations with the White House. And we're trying to strike some agreement here. I cannot agree to any exemption.
The Israeli Supreme Court in 1999 declared that Israeli troops couldn't practice that cruel and inhumane treatment or torture, and they don't. And if there's any country in the world that needs to react quickly to terrorist attacks, it is Israel. They, they are successful by using psychological methods.
If we say that there's an exemption and we can allow the CIA to do something that our military can't in treatment of prisoners, the next war we are in, the next time they capture a pilot, he is going to be turned over to the secret police.
JIM LEHRER: As a simple fact, do you know whether or not the CIA even wants this exemption?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I have been told by many sources that -- within the CIA that they do not. But I have not yet seen the director come out publicly and given the way this town works, I can understand that.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Sen. Bond was on this program earlier this week and he was one of the nine who voted against your amendment and he said one of the reasons is that what he is talking about or what the CIA sometime uses as interrogation techniques are no worse than what a U.S. Army or U.S. Marine recruit goes through, through boot camp. What do you say to him?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I have the highest respect and friendship for Sen. Bond, who, by the way, has a brave young son who's fighting in Iraq.
JIM LEHRER: He's a Marine officer?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Yes, he is. He is a wonderful young man who would wish that I hadn't mentioned him, by the way.
Some of these techniques that are used are just beyond that comparison. Its published reports have been about water boarding where someone believes that they are drowning.
If you ask someone who has been in this situation whether they take a beating or believe that they are being executed, they will take a beating every time.
That's a very, very, very severe kind of treatment that is not approved anywhere in the world.
JIM LEHRER: Your conversations with the White House, Senator, have you made a deal? Have you got something here?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: No. But we are working on it. I have known Dick Cheney for 25 years; I believe he loves his country as much as I do. We have a very strong difference of opinion here, and we need to get it revolved.
But I would also say the underlining reason we need to get it resolved -- American image in the world concerning treatment of prisoners is very bad. And we need to fix that.
JIM LEHRER: Have you talked to him one-on-one about this, or is this through --
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: -- oh, you have talked to him one-on-one.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: Is he as adamant on his side as you are on yours?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: You know, I don't like to discuss conversations that I have with the vice president. But his position on this issue is very well-known and according to published reports.
JIM LEHRER: What about the president? Do you have the impression that the president will veto this if you somehow get this attached to a piece of legislation?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Well, it's been a threat not directly from the president but from the White House. I really believe that we can and should work this out.
But I want to hasten to add, I would not allow an exemption. If you allow an exemption, then it would be better not to have any legislation at all.
JIM LEHRER: But you're going to see this thing through? I mean, this is a big thing to you, is it not?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I promise you we will see it through, and I am confident we will prevail. It has overwhelming bicameral, bipartisan support.
JIM LEHRER: Senator, can I ask you one political --
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Anything.
JIM LEHRER: One political question before we go.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Anything.
JIM LEHRER: Not if, but when will you decide whether or not you will run for president in 2008?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: On this show.
JIM LEHRER: Oh, on this show. So, in other words, will you call me or do I need to call you?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I'll call you. I'm going to make that decision after the -- sometime after the 2006 elections -- and I really haven't made up my mind because I really haven't examined it yet.
But I certainly will let you be one of the first to know, Jim, because of your advanced age, I don't know if you're going to be with us through the entire campaign.
JIM LEHRER: I promise will you be here for the announcement one way or another.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Thank you, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you, Senator.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Good to talk to you.
JIM LEHRER: Good to talk to you.