"Face the Nation" transcript: January 8, 2012

BOB SCHIEFFER: Do you think there's a civil war coming there?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: I think there's clearly an unraveling going on which could eventually lead basically into three different kinds of states in Iraq. We needed to keep residual force there and that was what the Bush Administration envisioned and that is what we should have done and we never gave them a number until, in the words of General Dempsey, the numbers cascaded down to 3,500. The Iraqis were ready to deal on the issue. This administration did not give them a number and so what the perception is now, particularly in that part of the world, is that the United States is weak and that we're withdrawing and that is also having its effect in other places, including emboldening Iran. Leading from behind is not what this world needs and we still do have the best military in the world, we still do have the most efficient and capable ways of defending the nation.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Let me just ask you, you heard Sec. Panetta say he's confident that there's an Iraqi army in place that could protect those 15,000-17,000 Americans who are still there. Are you confident that those people are safe?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Of course not...

BOB SCHIEFFER: And what would happen? Do we have to go back?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: I think that we would have to withdraw them. Look what Secretary Panetta may not understand, and I have great admiration and respect for him is that the situation is unraveling. The Vice President of Iraq is now hiding out in Erbil. There is militias and death squads operating. There is a breakdown in the Iraqi government and there will be increased tensions on the border between the Kurdish areas and Iraq and all of these could have been avoided if we had led rather than followed. In Libya all we had to do was lead and we would have prevented thousands of casualties of brave young Libyans who gave their lives because we didn't use all of our assets. Syria, we needed to lead, we needed to encourage those people. Finally, the biggest mistake that's been made in recent history was when a million and a half Iranians were demonstrating in the streets of Tehran, chanting, "Obama, Obama are you with us or are you with them?" And his response was" I don't want to jeopardize my chances to negotiate with Iran." We are paying a very heavy price.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Let's talk a little bit about politics out on the trail. Last week, of all things you endorsed Mitt Romney and I have to say I've always known you have a pretty tough hide Senator McCain, but after some of the things you all said in 2008, I mean, look here... (VIDEO CLIP)

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, who knows, he might ask you to be Vice President?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Look, you can run clips of Reagan and Bush back in 1980 and get the same thing. These are spirited discussions and debates.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Why did you decide to endorse him? And so early?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: I think that by far he's the best qualified to lead. I admire him, I admire his family, I admire his values. Look, after the 2008 campaign was over, no one worked harder on behalf of my campaign than Mitt Romney did. You put these things aside just like Reagan and Bush did and of course they're spirited and of course they should have sometimes heated discussions, but after it's over we share the same principles, values and view of the future of this country.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Some of the other candidates have said some unkind words about you recently. Rick Santorum said that you didn't understand torture, you who spent a long time in a North Vietnamese prison camp. Could you find yourself endorsing him if he wound up with the nomination?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: I will endorse the nominee of the party but I don't have any response to Mr. Santorum's allegation that I don't understand torture. We do have a difference and I do with Newt as well on this issue of earmarks which exploded during that period of time. In Senator Tom Coburn's words, earmarks are the gateway drug to corruption.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Alright, Senator thank you so much for being with us we really appreciate it.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

BOB SCHIEFFER: Finally today, well, what have we learned in this campaign so far? Mainly that money is still the most powerful force in American politics and that the internet has made negative ads more powerful than ever. Take the case of Newt Gingrich. He zoomed to the top of the polls until Mitt Romney and Ron Paul dumped the load of negative ads on him. Down he went. The Romney people were saying Newt's fall wasn't all their doing. The ads ran only in Iowa and Gingrich's popularity also went down in New Hampshire and South Carolina too. Well, that's not quite right. The ads were seen in those states and everywhere else. Not once but over and over on cable shows and websites and then hashed out on blogs and Twitter and Facebook and all the places people get their news today. When the Berlin Wall fell, I remember writing that in the television age, there were no secrets on the other side of the tracks. People in the East could see a better way of life in the West on television and they wanted it and the wall came down.

In the age of the internet, we see not only just beyond the tracks but over the mountains behind the tracks, and behind the house, and under the bed. A television ad runs in Iowa and in seconds it's being seen in Bangor, Maine and Waco, Texas. This is probably better overall but not always. Social media has redefined the idea of privacy. Everything is out there now. And I can't get very excited about extending the reach of negative ads. But as a friend of mine who used to work here once said, "That's the way it is."

That's it for us today. Join us next week when Jodi Kantor, author of the explosive new book, The Obamas, will join us on FACE THE NATION and look for us on the web on Wednesday for our new midweek FACE THE NATION extra, FACE TO FACE at www.cbsnews.com/facethenation.

We'll see you tomorrow morning from New Hampshire on CBS THIS MORNING.