McCain v. Pentagon: getting personal over Libya debate
March 4th, 2011
03:18 PM ET
10 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. Pretzel Logic

    Uh huh, and this no fly zone would be paid for with what money? Love how the Republicans believe there's no money for Planned Parenthood but oodles of cash to pay for another WAR.

    March 4, 2011 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  2. DemoCommunists for a Better Way - Bankruptcy

    If the Obama administration lets this dictator use his air power to kill pro-freedom forces and maintain control of Libya, then he has failed miserably. He will have proven to the world that he is afraid to use the military when necessary and a viable option. He will have proven the USA is not behind you if you're an ally and not against you if you're an enemy. We'd better be prepared for a LOT of global turmoil as a result of this weak-kneed President. I guess we should not be surprised to see this from a politician whose favorite and most frequent vote was "present".

    March 4, 2011 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  3. sonny chapman

    What a prickly old sob. One thing that I agree w/ George W. about: Mac lacks the temperament to be POTUS.

    March 4, 2011 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  4. Adalbert

    This guy has lost all of his marbles.

    March 4, 2011 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  5. KM

    Are we not involved with enough wars already? We don't have any money for education, social programs, etc., but wait a minute if we need to send our armed forces to another conflict, that is part of our national defense and is justifiable. I am a veteran who has served in combat so don't respond and say that I am anti-military.

    March 4, 2011 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  6. chris

    Uh, we are not the police of the world..jeez!! I love how ole McCain and the other old cronies are so quick to want things like this, but as Gates has pointed out, it cost and there are other things that have to be done first!!! Also, do we have the right to do a military strike in another Country that has not done anything to the US (IRAQ)? This is a matter for the UN!! OMG, I am so sick of people who don't grasp the full picture of what they are asking for when it come to things of this nature. McCain rants about things like this, but does not give the people the full impact of what a decision like this entails!! Therefore you get people in an uproar prematurely!!! IDIOT!!! I mean don't get me wrong I sympathize with the folks of Libya and think the leader is a nut, but the US is one Country make your plea to the UN!!

    March 4, 2011 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  7. Larry

    So, DemoComm, when has Libya been a ally of the US...If we let sickos like McCain run our foreign policy, we will be at war with every Mideast country. We are not the world policeman, let the UN put together a plan and for a change, let the World community work this that the US will not be holding the bag to clean up the mess left behind again. But, of course the Repug are going to try and blame Obama...but if you watch closely, they never have ideas to actually help solve the problem. As a 22 yr military veteran (just retired)...I can tell you, using our military to solve everyones problem is really getting old.

    March 4, 2011 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  8. Senor Ed

    Good old John McCain ... Ready, Fire, Aim!!!

    March 4, 2011 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  9. Rick

    McCain needs to appologize to the American public for dumping bimbo Palin on us before he starts criticizing anybody or anything. Now that she's out there we can't seem to get rid of her. Thanx for that you but munch.

    March 4, 2011 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  10. Bill NY

    This from the man with probably the most redacted military record in the history of the armed forces. These republicans need to stop. They constantly have me laughing so hard that I'm starting to cough up blood.

    March 4, 2011 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  11. GonzoinHouston

    Some guys just can't stand the idea that somebody would have a war without inviting them. If the republicans are so eager to get involved in this war, which really doesn't involve the US, then the least they can do is vote a tax increase to pay for it.

    March 4, 2011 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  12. Jon

    It's weird that so many Republicans on this board seem to be dead-set against us doing anything in Libya... and yet, who are the ones really pushing for action here?

    March 4, 2011 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  13. willie floyd

    I've seen a lot of things on t.v., but I would'nt swear they were all correct. Why can't the Reps. accept the fact that our pres. waits for actual facts and doesn't rush in where angels fear to tread? He's made all the right decisions IMO, so I'm sure he'll make the right decision when he's ready.

    March 4, 2011 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  14. nell

    I don't know exactly what to say about these loons. John should be in hiding,after forcing Palin down our throats. Aren't you Republicans joyful they aren't the President and Vice?

    March 4, 2011 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  15. 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.

    The fact is that if this killer of hundred of Americans is allowed to use aircraft against his enemies then they stand no chance of winning and he will remain in power instead of rotting in a jail cell for his crimes (or even better, dead). Hundreds if not thousands will die as a result and the USA will be seen as standing by and watching it all happen when it had the firepower that could change the outcome.

    March 4, 2011 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  16. informed voter

    Thank God this war monger, McCain, is not our president!

    March 4, 2011 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  17. Stephen Real

    I love John McCain and have a lot of respect for the man.
    His defense of the Libyan people is admirable, and morally right, as I see it.

    However, Secretary Gates lives in the world of reality
    where young people loose their lives under his command every single day,
    so when he speak?
    I listen.

    And if I had to make the call between these two good men?
    I would have to give it to Secretary Robert Gates.
    My heart is with John McCain,
    but my mind, and the reality of situation, is with Secretary Gates.

    March 4, 2011 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  18. Rick McDaniel

    Senator McCain needs to be reminded, that it is not the responsibility of the US to protect the people of Libya, from their own government.

    When the people decided it was time for change, it was up to THEM, to implement change, and if that required casualties, then so be it!

    In this case.....Gates is correct. Establishing a no fly zone, would amount to declaring war on Libya. That is not a place we should go.

    March 4, 2011 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  19. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Now we see how McCain's mind works, which explains his choice of Palin for V.P.

    March 4, 2011 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  20. Video Guy

    A President McShame (for giving the lower 48 Miss Sarah) would have us in a third war by this time. Thanks God for calm leader ship of our President.

    March 4, 2011 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  21. Clayton

    Oh, McCain. Wasn't it just a year ago that he called on the US government to expand its ties to Libya after having a heart to heart with Qadhafi on his ranch? What happened, he was so aflutter that he tweeted about their little date.

    March 4, 2011 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  22. Oy Vey az

    There are many of us in Arizona who feel that John has lost touch with reality. But we dare not say a word because we are afraid to speak out. Arizona has become a hate filled police state run by The Morons.

    March 4, 2011 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  23. Anonymous

    McCain is just a typical war-loving Greedy Old Pig.

    March 4, 2011 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  24. XWngLady

    Why are all these Armchair Generals (e.g. McCain, Palin, and all other no-nothing Republicans) not listening to Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen and the other military brass that they are always deferring to? Gates was right to say that people calling for no-fly-zones are clueless as to the complexity of such an undertaking in this situation at this point in time. Our military will embark on no-fly-zone as a solution IF 1) its feasible, 2) its necessary 3) the overall effects of the operation will help and not hinder US National Security and 4) our Commander-in-Chief tells them to do so...And they will do it in a way that will least burden our miltiary forces (i.e. with the help of the international community). PERIOD.

    March 4, 2011 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  25. Joe

    Thank God McCain didn't become president. He seems to get more out of touch with reality every day. Just what we need is another war to stretch our military even thinner. Of course, he really just wants to act up in order to make life difficult for Obama who is trying to be the adult in this situation and not drag us into something else we can't afford.

    March 4, 2011 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
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