Senator John McCain (R-AZ) got into a testy exchange with “Morning Joe” host Mika Brzezinski on Friday about the Obama administration’s handling of Iraq.
McCain argued that the Obama administration’s decision not to leave a residual force behind after the war in Iraq ended in 2011 was to blame for Iraqi militants’ power grabs this week.
“We had it won. Thanks to the surge and thanks to Gen. David Petraeus, we had it won,” McCain said. “And then the decision was made by the Obama administration to not have a residual force in Iraq.”
Brzezinski contested that claim and suggested the George W. Bush administration was partly responsible for the current situation in Iraq.
“What about going in in the first place? And what about churning the hate?” she asked. “What about taking the Sunnis out of leadership positions in 2003? What about the fact that there might have been some parts of this that are on the previous administration that could be relitigated as well?”
“What about the fact that we had it won?” McCain responded. “What about the fact that people like me said we’ve got to fire [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld, we’ve got to get the surge going?”
“Did we?” Brzezinski interjected.
“Yes, we did finally,” McCain said.
“Now I expected you and others to blame it on all these different events,” he added. “The fact is we had the conflict won, and we had a stable government, and a residual force such as we have left behind … but the president wanted out and now we are paying a very heavy price.”
Later in the conversation, Brzezinski again pressed McCain as to whether he’d commit troops to Iraq, as well as Afghanistan and Syria, in order to keep insurgents at bay.
“So we’re going to be in Iraq and Afghanistan, and then we’re also going into Syria, in your estimate?” Brzezinski asked. “I mean, I’m just wondering how long can we do this? How long can we do this? How long can you ask this of American troops and think it’s okay?”
“We’ve made great sacrifice in order to stabilize the situation, and now by pulling out we are leaving a vacuum and all of those sacrifices will have been made in vain,” McCain said.
Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at email@example.com.