Sen. John McCain has a long history of ripping President Obama’s foreign policy as “feckless,” and has blamed it in recent months for the rise of the Islamic State that has terrorized Iraq and Syria. McCain just found a less likely target, however, blasting the Pentagon press secretary as an “idiot” for not taking his side when asked about McCain’s recent remarks that the U.S.-led military coalition is losing the fight against the militants.
The senator’s insult came last week on the conservative Tyler Cralle Show on 980 WAAV-AM radio in North Carolina, and received new attention Wednesday after Buzzfeed highlighted them. The Arizona senator, a former Navy pilot and prisoner of war, said the spin and lies coming from the White House are “unbelievable,” and then started in on Kirby.
“This idiot Admiral Kirby was asked, I think yesterday, that said, ‘John McCain says that we are losing, what do you say?’ The guy, you gotta run it, you gotta run it. Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. I mean, it’s amazing.”
Kirby, reached by telephone Wednesday evening, said he was aware of McCain’s remarks, but declined to comment. He has sparred with reporters frequently during news conferences in recent weeks, urging them to take a nuanced look at the U.S. campaign in Iraq and Syria. But he also is generally well respected within the Pentagon press corps.
The comments from Kirby that drew McCain’s ire came Oct. 15. As the Arizona Republican alluded to, a reporter asked the admiral for a response to McCain’s assessment that the Islamic State is “winning” the fight in Iraq and Syria.
“We’re mindful of the complicated nature of this,” Kirby responded. “And we’re also very mindful of the fact that — and I’ve said it before — military power, military action is not going to be decisive in and of itself. It’s just not going to work that way. But the situation changes every day. And so I’m not going to qualify who’s winning or who’s losing today. This is — this — the strategy is still sound, but you don’t judge the success of a strategy based on a day or a week or even several weeks.”
Kirby added that “we all need to be in this for a matter of years,” and that the United States has only been launching airstrikes against the militants since Aug. 8.
“I don’t mean to ramble, but it’s a mixed picture. And I don’t think it’s — I don’t think it’s militarily — because I can’t speak for, you know, other elements of the government, but, I mean, I’d say, from a military perspective, it does no one any service to try to, you know, make a call on any given day. We know we’re having some success. We know we’re making progress. But it’s going to take a long time.”
It’s not the first time that McCain has blasted a senior officer this year. As the crisis in Iraq deepened in June, he called for Obama to fire National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, among others. McCain has long held that if the United States did not pull its troops from Iraq in 2011, the militants would not have been able to take control of broad sections of Iraq this year.