John McCain: Obama lets 'bad people' fill U.S. void, says Jimmy Carter was better

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Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Barack Obama,Russia,Iraq War,Syria,John McCain,Jimmy Carter,al Qaeda,Chemical Weapons,Crimea

In some of his harshest comments about the administration's lackluster foreign policy to date, Sen. John McCain said that former President Jimmy Carter was tougher with U.S. foes than President Obama has been, and that America's credibility as world power has crumbled under Obama.

McCain, the top foreign policy expert in Congress, said that U.S. credibility to lead the war against terrorist states cracked when Obama failed to make good on his threats against Syrian chemical attacks and when the al Qaeda retook Fallujah where the bloodiest battle in Iraq took place, killing 96 Americans and wounding 600.

Speaking to the moderate Republican Ripon Society, McCain, an Arizona Republican who challenged Obama for president in 2008, said, "The United States has to lead. And if the United States doesn't lead, there's a vacuum and bad people lead." He spoke to Ripon last week and the transcript was just released to Secrets.

In his most damning comments, McCain said that Carter, widely mocked because of the Iran hostage crisis, was a better and tougher world leader than Obama.

“I was not a great fan of my fellow Naval Academy graduate, Jimmy Carter. But after the invasion of Afghanistan by Russia, Jimmy Carter -- if I may use the words -- got religion and got tough,” said McCain in typically blunt fashion.

“We started supporting the Afghan freedom fighters, and we started doing a lot of other things. I had hoped that after this [recent] invasion [by Russia] of Crimea that the President of the United States would come to his senses. Unfortunately, that is not the case,” said McCain, a Vietnam War Navy pilot and one of the most famous POWs.

McCain also hit the president’s top military advisor, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey as “the weakest chairman of the joint chiefs of staff I have ever met, and I have known them for many, many year.”

His full comments about Obama transcribed by Ripon are below and can be seen in the video above at the 17:40 mark.

After a question about Russia’s move in Crimea, McCain said:

“A seminal moment in the 21st century was when the President of the United States drew a red line and said if that red line was crossed and Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons, then the United States would react. They crossed the red line, you’ve seen the bodies and he announced that he was going to strike. What a lot of Americans don’t know is that so were some of our allies. The Saudis, among others, were ready to strike, UAE, in a concerted fashion. So then he takes a 45-minute walk with his Chief of Staff and announces that he is going to go to Congress -- knowing full well that without a strong persuasive effort, that the Congress is not going to approve. That’s the day the Saudis decided to go their own way. That’s the day countries around the world realized the United States has lost its credibility. And yes it reverberates all the way to China. The Japanese right now are talking about a reinterpretation of their Constitution, which basically says that Japan only acts in areas of self-defense. They are now going to ‘reinterpret’ their Constitution. They are spending a lot more money. They’ve got a stable government for the first time in years. And they are going to spend a hell of a lot more money on their own defense. They will not rely on us now. That raises the risk of a major confrontation rather dramatically. And it isn’t just the Japanese … The Philippines are in a dispute with China; so are the South Koreans. The tension has been ratcheted up -- not just there, but every place in the world.

“The United States has to lead. And if the United States doesn’t lead, there’s a vacuum and bad people lead. This exactly has been the result. The bloodiest battle in Iraq was the second battle of Fallujah. Ninety-six soldiers and Marines were killed, and 600 were wounded. The black flags of al-Qaeda now fly over the city of Fallujah. This is the result of 12 years of conflict in Iraq? Because we e left without a residual force, and now Iran is more and more influential. Our Director of National Intelligence, General Clapper, testified the other day that this area of the Syria-Iraq border, which has been taken over by al-Qaeda, is now a base for planning attacks on the United States of America. All of these things have consequences. I hate to keep harking back to Ronald Reagan, but we didn’t have a major conflict during the eight years he was the President of the United States. You know one of the reasons why? Three words -- peace through strength, peace through strength. And now on the day that Chuck Hagel comes over to announce drastic cuts in defense spending, the Chinese announce a 12.2% increase in their defense spending, and they hide about half of the defense spending that they do. I was not a great fan of my fellow Naval Academy graduate, Jimmy Carter. But after the invasion of Afghanistan by Russia, Jimmy Carter — if I may use the words — got religion and got tough. We started supporting the Afghan Freedom Fighters, and we started doing a lot of things. I had hoped that after this invasion of Crimea that the President of the United States would come to his senses. Unfortunately, that is not the case. And yesterday, when I challenged John Kerry on providing defensive weapons and small arms, ‘Well, it’s an option that we are still examining those options.’ And by the way Russian arms shipments into Damascus have increased since we have been removing the chemical weapons. The support of Hezbollah has increased. The barrel bombs -- which are these God-awful cylinder-like things packed with explosives and shrapnel -- are being dropped at an ever-increasing rate. And guess who is winning the conflict? Bashar al-Assad.

“Remember. this is the President of the United States that two years ago said, ‘It’s not a matter of whether Assad will leave. It’s a matter of when.’ It’s when then Defense Secretary [Leon] Panetta and General Dempsey -- the weakest Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff I have ever met, and I have known them for many, many years -- said, ‘It’s inevitable that Bashar al-Assad will be leaving.’ Does anybody believe that Bashar al-Assad is losing? It’s all because we didn’t help them. We didn’t help them when they needed help. Meanwhile, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard yesterday delivered 30,000 pounds of food to Bashar al-Assad. And we couldn’t even get some MREs into our guys. It’s turning into a regional conflict. That’s the long term consequence.”

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.