Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told NBC News’ “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd that he “hoped” President Donald Trump was being drawn into the so-called “Washington establishment” during an interview Sunday.
Ever since Trump ordered an airstrike in Syria in retaliation for the chemical attack that killed more than 80 Syrian civilians earlier in April, he has received increasing praise from the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party.
“We’ve got to have strategy. And I’ll give them some more time, but so far that strategy is not apparent.”
When Todd pointed to those who say “the Washington establishment sucked [Trump] in” and compromised his conservative populism and “America first” agenda, McCain unequivocally expressed his glee at the prospect.
“I hope so!” McCain said before laughing.
Todd, appearing a bit taken aback, laughed before replying, “Oh, ok!”
Both McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), frequent critics of the president, cheered the action against the Syrian regime and have called for expanded U.S. intervention in the messy Syrian conflict. In a joint statement released April 6, both senators said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “must pay a punitive cost for this horrific attack.”
“In addition to other measures, the United States should lead an international coalition to ground Assad’s air force,” the pair of hawkish GOP senators said. “Ultimately, the grounding of Assad’s air force can and should be part of a new comprehensive strategy to end the conflict in Syria … If the President is willing to take the necessary action, he deserves broad bipartisan support, and we will help build it.”
Graham went even further during an appearance April 10 on “Meet the Press,” telling Todd that the U.S. must send “five or six thousand” more troops to Syria.
“I want more American troops, five or six thousand, like we have in Iraq, to help destroy ISIL,” Graham had said. “That means that we’ll accelerate the demise of ISIL.”
Neither McCain nor Graham voted for Trump, and both senators have been notoriously vocal critics of Trump throughout his first few months in office.
“I think that [Trump] is growing and he is listening to some very wise, intelligence people,” McCain said. “But I do believe that we do not have — and I support what he did and I support the bunker-buster bomb — but we’ve got to develop a strategy. There is still not an overall strategy that he can come to Congress and his advisers and say, ‘Ok, this is how we’re going to handle Syria. Here’s how we’re going to handle post-Mosul Iraq.'”
“We’ve got to have strategy. And I’ll give them some more time, but so far that strategy is not apparent,” McCain said. “Because I don’t think he’s absolutely sure what he needs to do.”
Noting that the war crimes in Syria “are horrendous,” McCain insisted that “to just say were only after ISIS, in my view, rather than regime change, is something that we have to rethink.”
The Arizona senator expressed his confidence that the president had assembled “a strong team” on national security, and his belief that Trump is “very appropriately listening to them.”
Todd noted “not everybody thinks the Washington consensus on foreign policy has worked in the Middle East over the last 25 years,” and that this fact provided some of the impetus behind Trump’s “America first” platform and his ultimate Election Day victory.
Although McCain admitted that U.S. foreign policy over the past 25 years hasn’t worked, he still called for more foreign intervention.
“For eight years we basically did nothing in response to some of the most horrendous war crimes in history. At least [Trump] did something,” McCain said. “Now, I hope that there will be a strategy to follow that up. And America is about a moral superiority and our willingness not to fight every fight but at least respond to horrendous acts of inhumanity and war crimes, and also, by the way, Syria will continue to have the spread of al-Qaida if we don’t take care of Bashar al-Assad.”