John McCain: Sorry we haven’t connected recently. We’ll try to do this every two weeks… While we were traveling over there [Iraq], we met with new President of France, Sarkozy. He’s the first pro-American I’ve met since LaFayette.
“In Iraq we’re making progress militarily, we’re not making progress politically. The Maliki government not making progress it needs to. It’s been acting as a Shia government, not an Iraqi government.”
[McCain sounds a bit tired – I’m sure it’s been a hell of a week.]
“We’ve had financial problems. I am responsible for those problems. I’m very sorry that I had to part company with some folks with whom I am very personal close friends with.”
Jen Rubin: Warner and Luger put forth new proposal. Have they talked about it with you?
McCain: My conversations with them had been largely general. Not had a chance to examine… Once you authorize a country to go to war, you either win the war or lose the war. I don’t think we’ve lost the war. We’ve made important progress militarily. I have great respect for Lugar and Warner.
James Joyner: Why any optimism with Maliki?
McCain: Maliki deflected some of our questions. [U.S. Ambassador Ryan] Crocker is working hard with them to get them to recognize how improtant it is that we see them moving forward… They have not shown kind of progress that you would think would be in their self interest… I think they’re staring at the abyss. This thing cannot succeed without a complete package of progress.
JJ: How do we know when we’ve won? How do we define victory?
McCain: Good point. For years we were at utmost frustration. Strategy was doomed to fail. But that’s history, for the books like Fiasco and Cobra II. Petraeus can say here’s where we succeeded, here’ where we failed…
I think there’s a group of Americans who if we’re making progress, will be willing to stay…
Michael Goldfarb: How ya doin’, Senator?
McCain: In the words of Chairman Mao, “it’s always darkest right before it’s totally black.” We just had a good rally here in New Hampshire. Goldfarb asks if it was a good week for the cause of winning Iraq, and McCain says the votes in the Senate could have been dangerous, and beat back attempts by adversaries. “It’s heartening. Two tough votes coming up… Crunch time is going to come next Wednesday and Thursday. I think we can beat ‘em both back.”
Jim Addison: Thoughts on Dominici?
McCain: It’s hard to keep (40 votes) together… Discussion on Senate floor helps. I have great respect and admiration for Sen. Dominici. I wish he and others were able to get over there a little more, and have contact with guys like Petraeus and Crocker. I don’t think Americans get a complete picture of the progress we’re making or the consequences of failure. I think President gave a very good speech on it the other day.
John Hinderacker: Administration says, ‘wait until September.’ My concern is that September is right around the corner. How realistic is it to expect visible change on the ground?
McCain: You make an excellent point. I have opposed concept of Sept. make-or-break date or some time. Some people have agreed in order to buy time, and we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.H
His most ominous comment: “If I were a bad guy, I’d be setting off a lot of bombs around Labor Day in a lot of places…”
“Petraeus is one of the most dynamic military figures we’ve encountered.”
Jeff Emanuel: Ever since September deadline was agreed to, the Democrats ignored it. Will Petraeus really change any minds? And will you remain on the campaign trail?
McCain: If you get Petraeus visibility to a lot of Americans, then I think that’s entirely possible. I was in Senate all this week and I will be all next week.
A question from me: Every poll of Republicans shows that when they’re asked if President Bush is a conservative in the mold of Ronald Reagan, that number has never been that high, but in recent months it has plummeted. Are there issues in which you can separate yourself from the administration, and get yourself to the right of President Bush?
McCain: Yes, Jim, spending, spending, spending, spending. [There may have been another “spending” or two in there.] I know the War in Iraq had an effect in last election, but I may be only person in the country who thinks the bigger impact was spending. We totally disappointed our base on spending and the corruption. When the “Bridge to Nowhere” was on the cover of Parade, the insert in every Sunday paper in the country, it was a tipping point. Our base didn’t turn Republican [I’m pretty sure he meant Democrat] but they got dispirited. So it’s the spending and the expansion of the size of govenrment, and I have a long record of that on the conservative position and working with a great American, [Oklahoma Sen.] Tom Coburn. That’s how I think I can help myself and get them to conclude, ‘McCain is legit, despite for one or two real disagreements.’
My impression at the end: The man is exhausted after this week, but put me down as no earlier than February 6, 2008 in the McCain leaves the race pool.