McCain v. Pentagon: getting personal over Libya debate
March 4th, 2011
03:18 PM ET
4 years ago

McCain v. Pentagon: getting personal over Libya debate

Washington (CNN) - Trash talk and criticism seems the norm in these days of social networking, talk radio and cable pundits. But now it's spreading to the halls of Capitol Hill and the leadership of the Department of Defense.

Secretary Robert Gates may have started it when commenting on an idea for establishing a no-fly zone over Libya to protect the rebels.

"There's a lot of, frankly, loose talk about some of these military options," Gates told a House committee on Wednesday. "Let's just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That's the way you do a no-fly zone."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) has been one of the most vocal people on the Hill when it comes to consideration of a no-fly zone. He responded Thursday in a Senate hearing.

"May I just say personally, I don't think it's loose talk on the part of the people on the ground in Libya, nor the Arab League nor others, including the prime minister of England, that this option should be given the strongest consideration."

But it's not just the idea of a no-fly zone that has these powerful men trading barbs in public.

On Tuesday, Sec. Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff briefed reporters at the Pentagon. They were asked if they had seen independent confirmation of Gadhafi attacking his own people from the air. "We've seen the press reports, but we have no confirmation of that," Gates replied. Mullen echoed the Secretary's remark. "That's correct. We've seen no confirmation whatsoever."

The next day Mullen told the House Armed Services Committee that the Pentagon had seen media reports of the attacks but still had no official confirmation.

"We've also seen and have not been able to confirm that - that any of the Libyan aircraft have fired on their own people. There have been reports of that, but we have been unable, through this morning, to confirm that that's actually happened.."

McCain has twice made remarks very critical of Chairman Mullen. During a Senate Armed Services hearing on Thursday he questioned Gen. Martin Dempsey, the nominee to be the next Army Chief of Staff.

"Have you seen media reports that the - that Gadhafi is using some of his air assets to attack or attempt to attack the pro- revolutionary forces?" McCain asked. Dempsey responded "I have, Senator." To which McCain replied "You have seen that? You might tell Admiral Mullen that you've seen that."

The criticism continued Friday morning when McCain was talking to reporters on the Hill.

"When the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says that he has no sign of attacks from the air on citizenry and of course we see then shortly thereafter film of that happening and then obviously I would assume they are not completely up to speed."

To be fair, Mullen never said he'd seen no sign of attacks. He said he had no independent confirmation of media reports of the attack.

McCain isn't alone in criticizing the DoD leadership over some of the issues surrounding Libya. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), who attended a closed door meeting between DoD officials and the Senate Armed Services Committee with McCain, said he shared McCain's concerns. "Yes I do. I felt like our briefing lacked clarity on matters I would have hoped we had better intelligence on. It does appear that we sometimes get as much good information from the television as you do from the briefers."

We asked Adm. Mullen for a response to the criticism. His spokesman said they had no comment.


Filed under: John McCain • Pentagon
soundoff (44 Responses)
  1. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    The U.S. was misinformed on WMDs in Iraq and went to war with no plan killing thousands. If the U.S. does the same thing again in Libya the Arab world will surely retailiate. McCain needs to shut up and sit down because if he had become President and that nut case Palin were VP they would have bombed Egypt.

    March 4, 2011 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  2. Scott

    Pehaps it's good to keep in mind that military action doesn't come cheap. Just a single flight by our fighters jets costs a couple hundred thousand dollars. So, with all this talk of wanting to "cut spending" and "reduce the deficit", perhaps involving our military in yet another conflict isn't such a great idea.

    March 4, 2011 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  3. seriously???

    DemoCommunists for a Better Way – Bankruptcy... so in other words we should start military action in Libya and oh, probably about 15 other countries. You're so smart and such a patriot. Please don't ever vote again.

    March 4, 2011 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  4. vic nashville tn

    Time for him to Retire

    March 4, 2011 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  5. victim of democrat hypocrisy

    I think it's pretty obvious that for the past 10 years or so, the Pentagon has primarily based its intelligence reports on CNN videos.

    March 4, 2011 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  6. Inmyopinion

    This is tricky for President Obama, on one hand I hear that Libyan people don't want U.S. to help because then Libyans won't get the glory of defeating Gadhafi themselves but on the other hand they do want the U.S. to shoot down any air attacks by Gadhafi.

    I heard that if the U.S. sends in the military (troops) to help the Libyan people then the Libyans say they will take our action ( as always ) as invading their country. U.S. can't win with foreigners and neither will Obama as foreign people are always highly jealous of the U.S.

    If you don't believe me take a trip around the world as many of us have done, foreigners have felt this way about the U.S. since I was a child and that was a long time ago.

    March 4, 2011 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  7. Obama is, always will be my President

    DemoCommunists for a Better Way – Bankruptcy

    So, DemoComm, when has Libya been a ally of the US...
    ==============================================
    They have never been and I did not say they were. My statement was a reference to the way Obama hung Mubarak out to dry in public. And waiting for the UN to do anything is a joke. Honestly, who in their right mind even thinks this is even a possibility?! THEY HAVE NO MILITARY. It would be ours that is used anyways dummy, except we might not retain command of it.

    If you want to give your life go over there. I am sick and tire of fight other people wars. The USA can not be every thing to every country. Take John McCain and go fight this one your self. Bye

    March 4, 2011 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  8. melonero

    It's true. The ivasion to irak was a error but in this case the world is accepting a genocide becausse our terrible president loves those kind of regimes. Obama USA opened the eyes and now everybody know that you campaing was financed with money of ALBA countries (venezuela, ecuador, etc.) and for countries like the same libia, iran , north korea. All of this money was sent to the campaing using many organizations and domestic individual leftist. But believe obama everybody know all the true and you must be ready for the worst defeneat in a presidential election. I was so happy when you won the election but now I can say that I good DEMOCRAT is a not elected democrat. I don't like republicans either but I prefer to but for them to see you in the presidential seat again.

    March 4, 2011 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  9. geecee

    Love how the Republicans shift gears when it comes to Libya. In 1988 when Pan Am 103 was bombed, (let's see, who was President then? I think it was Reagan wasn't it?) we didn't do a darn thing to Khadafy, when we knew full well he was responsible for the 300 or so people murdered by his assassins. And then when W forgave Khadafy for being a bad boy in 2004 if he would just give up his nuclear ambitions, it was embraced by the Repugnantcants. Sure, when a Republican President is in office, we play nice with the demonic dictators (except of course, if it's Saddam!!). Now, just because President Obama is in office, we have to start a war with Khadafy, even though his own people have already and they will ultimately be successful. Let them sort it out, since we don't have the money nor manpower to do it, McCant. Okay?

    March 4, 2011 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  10. Bill from GA

    George H. W. Bush, the greatest Republican President since General Eisenhower, enjoys jumping out of planes, possibly remembering a 'large' moment in his military career. Couldn't we find a military jet for McCain to crash, sorta in the same vein?? Without a parachute.

    March 4, 2011 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  11. Tony in Maine

    As much as the testosterone overloaded would love to see another unilateral US attack on an Arab country to prove how tough we are, it's an idea that belongs in the 19th Century. McCain needs to take Lieberman to a Tail Hook convention instead of the two old men rattling sabers that they won't have to wield.

    March 4, 2011 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  12. DemoCommunists for a Better Way - Bankruptcy

    so in other words we should start military action in Libya and oh, probably about 15 other countries.
    ================================================================================
    15 other countries??? What are you smoking or drinking? We're talking about taking out a thrid world air force to give the libyan people the freedom they are fighting and dying for. We'd be on the side of most of the libyan military. Egads man, GET A CLUE! Without the Libyan air force flying, Gaddafi is GONE.

    But Obama is just too weak and indecisive to seize a once in a lifetime opportunity to rid the world of its original terrorist, responsible for the deaths of HUNDREDS of American civilians.

    March 4, 2011 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  13. ConservaFascists/F.U.B.A.R.

    Leave it up to McCain to want to invade the entire Middle East. What part of "our military is stretched thin" doesn't he understand? What part of Sec. Gates comments when he said "whoever proposes to the President on sending troops into that region needs to have their head examined?" McCain is Senile and Lieberman is his Yes Man.

    March 4, 2011 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  14. DemoCommunists for a Better Way - Bankruptcy

    Love how the Republicans shift gears when it comes to Libya. In 1988 when Pan Am 103 was bombed, (let's see, who was President then? I think it was Reagan wasn't it?) we didn't do a darn thing to Khadafy, when we knew full well he was responsible for the 300 or so people murdered by his assassins.
    ================================================================================================
    What a clueless wonder... Reagan BOMBED Libya and tried to take Gadaffi OUT. One of his children was killed in the raid. Maybe you should try educating yourself before posting?

    March 4, 2011 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  15. rusty155

    I'm ex military and If America Is broke and the Republican our cutting program for the poor and middle class. How can another republican say we should spend money to send the Military to a Foreign Country who as say they don't want help from the U.S. And how can this Republican spend money we don't have on this , take more away from American people too cover another war started by Republican that put America In the trouble It In now. You want to cut the Budget get us out of the two war we are In now , It would save Trillions of dollar.

    March 4, 2011 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  16. HAHAHAHA500

    McCain just burns with Presidential envy. He's going to force someone to do something sometime, dagnabit. What a bitter guy he's become.

    March 4, 2011 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  17. chill

    Hey, Europe is the chief beneficiary of Libyan oil and it's in their neighborhood. Why not for once have some other country pay the price in blood and treasure to do the world's dirty work. Let the Arab League do the No Fly Zone if their so hot to trot about it. If we're so broke, then let the EU handle their own issues.

    March 4, 2011 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  18. Bill from GA

    And more to the point, how do we determine which countries to intervene in, with so much death in the world from low-lifes? Maybe we should overthrow the dictator of North Korea, to end the starving in his country, as he spends tons of money on his military, and also baubles of the rich for him and his friends. Let's free all of Africa, while we are at it. And Mexico certainly needs help with their irresponsible, corrupt government. And Georgia (my state, not the country) has been taken over by right-wing nutjobs, intent on destroying the middle class (alright, maybe that's a national trend)..

    March 4, 2011 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  19. DAVE

    john mccain has no idea why he lost the election! people could not trust him to control his need of projecting american power all over the world. now he is running his mouth about libya. how do you plan to pay for your needs john? with tax payer money or your own money? the moslim world hates us when we help them , when we don't help them in the right way and when we don't help them. the moslum world has been blaming the west for years for all of their short comings. muslims pray to god to creat our down fall. we now have muslims killing moslims and after watching planes being blowen out of the sky , people in a wheel chair being pushed of a ship to drown , embassy's blowen up big buildings falling in new york and trains being blowen up in train stations i don't care about who is killing who or how many in the middle east as long as its not people who live in non muslim countries.!

    March 4, 2011 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
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