NBC's Guthrie to McCain: Do You Retract Foreign Policy Criticism of Obama?

Updated [11:34 ET]: More analysis and full transcript added. Guthrie takes swipe at GOP 2012 field. 

On Friday's NBC Today, fill-in co-host Savannah Guthrie grilled Arizona Senator John McCain on his criticism of Barack Obama's foreign policy positions in the 2008 campaign and urged: "Bin Laden is gone. Anwar al Awlaki, who was the rising star in al Qaeda, is gone. Qadhafi is gone. Drone strikes have intensified greatly....Given the track record now in office, would you change your opinion, sir?" [Audio available here]

Prior to that, Guthrie pressed McCain on his early criticism of Obama's handling of Libya: "You were an early supporter of U.S. intervention in Libya, and yet, you harshly criticized the President for how he went about it. At this moment, given that Qadhafi is gone, are you willing to give the President credit, unqualified credit, for how he handled this?" [View video after the jump]

Update:

In response to Guthrie's push for him to retract some of his criticism, McCain explained:

The fact is that we're leaving Iraq and Iran's number one priority is all troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Every military leader has said the President's plan for withdrawal is a greater risk. There is perception around the world that the United States is weakening and withdrawing. So, I would say that the report card is incomplete. But I do give them credit for some of their significant successes, but there is certainly, as far as Iraq and Afghanistan is concerned, I think I'm very worried.

In her final question to McCain, Guthrie jabbed at the field of Republican presidential candidates: "Here you have President Obama who's politically vulnerable to not winning re-election, even he has acknowledged it. When you looked at that stage, are you confident that the Republican Party's best and brightest are running for president right now?"

McCain declared: "I'm totally confident that the Republican Party's best and brightest are running for president right now..." Referring to himself, he joked: "...maybe with one exception, but he lost."


Here is a full transcript of the October 21 segment:

7:06AM ET

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Arizona Republican Senator John McCain was a vocal and early supporter of U.S. intervention in Libya. He visited with Qadhafi two years ago, and just last month traveled to Libya to meet rebel leaders. Senator McCain, good morning, thank you for being with us.

JOHN MCCAIN: Good morning, Savannah.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: McCain One-on-One; Is Death of Khaddafy a Victory for U.S. & Obama?]

GUTHRIE: As we just saw, the scenes of Qadhafi's final moments are quite graphic. He was shot from a convoy, pulled out of a drainage ditch, beaten by a mob and then shot multiple times. One rebel leader was quoted as saying, "We were serious about a fair trial but God had other plans." Do you think Qadhafi got what he deserved or should there have been a trial?

MCCAIN: Well, I much rather would have preferred to see him in an international criminal court for the crimes that he's committed for all the world to see. Obviously, that's not going to happen. I do believe that it's important as the Libyan government, the Transition National Council announced that they would treat his body with respect. I think that's important, but it would have been much better if we had hauled him before the International Criminal Court to be held accountable for his crimes.

GUTHRIE: And of course, now these rebel leaders are in charge of Libya's future. Do you have confidence that they will be able to stand up a responsible government and that this won't dissolve into a lawless state where terrorist elements now within Libya could rise to power?

MCCAIN: I have great confidence in the leadership of the Transition National Council, but there are a lot of things that we could do. The first thing we can do, Savannah, is to provide medical help for their 30,000 wounded. They don't have the capabilities to treat these wounded people, and I'd love to see our hospital ship there, fly some of these wounded to our military hospital in Germany, we can help them there.

The second thing is, they've got a bunch of militias running around. They have to be integrated into a national army. As you know, there are all kinds of weapons spread all over. They've got to get those secured. And finally, we really do need to help them build a democracy in a country that's never known it, and we can do that.

GUTHRIE: You were an early supporter of U.S. intervention in Libya, and yet, you harshly criticized the President for how he went about it. At this moment, given that Qadhafi is gone, are you willing to give the President credit, unqualified credit, for how he handled this?

MCCAIN: Well, I give the President and the administration credit. The fact is that we could have ended this conflict a lot earlier if we had used the full weight of U.S air power instead of leading from behind and we wouldn't have the 30,000 wounded and thousands – hundreds, if not thousands – who were killed. I especially appreciate the leadership of the British, the French, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, who played a key role in making this happen. But I certainly give the administration credit, but it could have ended a lot sooner.

GUTHRIE: Take a step back. I mean, you look at the President's term. Bin Laden is gone. Anwar al Awlaki, who was the rising star in al Qaeda, is gone. Qadhafi is gone. Drone strikes have intensified greatly. I remember during the 2008 campaign you saying of the President that he was, "naive," and that, "the American people have every reason to doubt whether he has the strength, judgment and determination to keep us safe." Given the track record now in office, would you change your opinion, sir?

MCCAIN: Well, look, Savannah, the fact is that they've done some very good things. The fact is that we're leaving Iraq and Iran's number one priority is all troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Every military leader has said the President's plan for withdrawal is a greater risk. There is perception around the world that the United States is weakening and withdrawing. So, I would say that the report card is incomplete. But I do give them credit for some of their significant successes, but there is certainly, as far as Iraq and Afghanistan is concerned, I think I'm very worried.
        
GUTHRIE: At the same time, many Republican presidential campaigns have actually taken the position that there shouldn't have been intervention in Libya, they want to see a faster exit from Afghanistan. And I know you watched the debate the other night. Here you have President Obama who's politically vulnerable to not winning re-election, even he has acknowledged it. When you looked at that stage, are you confident that the Republican Party's best and brightest are running for president right now?

MCCAIN: I'm totally confident that the Republican Party's best and brightest are running for president right now, maybe with one exception, but he lost.

[LAUGHTER]

GUTHRIE: Okay. Care to name names?

MCCAIN: Oh, no, we – I wouldn't want to do that.
        
GUTHRIE: Okay, Senator John McCain, it's good to have you here. Thank you, sir.

MCCAIN: Thanks, savannah.

GUTHRIE: It is now 7:10 and here's Matt.

MATT LAUER: I think we can connect the dots there.

GUTHRIE: Yeah.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC