"Face the Nation" transcripts, September 16, 2012: Libyan Pres. Magariaf, Amb. Rice and Sen. McCain

In Syria, twenty thousand people have been massacred. These people cry out for our help. They've been massacred, raped, tortured, beaten, and the President of the United Tortured will not even speak up for them, much less provide them with the arms and equipment for a fair fight. When Russian arms are flowing in, Iranian help, and Hezbollah on the ground finally--

BOB SCHIEFFER: So what-- what is it that we are doing wrong here?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Well, it's disengagement. Prior to 9/11, we had a policy of containment. Then after 9/11 it was confrontation with the terrorists and al Qaeda. Now it's disengagement. Every time, you just saw the spokespersons, we're leaving Iraq, we're leaving Afghanistan, we're leaving the area, the people in the area are having to adjust and they believe the United States is weak, and they are taking appropriate action. And in Israel now we have a looming situation. Is there anybody that doesn't believe that Iran continues on the path to nuclear weapons, despite the sanctuary-- the sanctions that have been harmful to them? And here we are in an open fight with the prime minister of-- of Israel and they keep telling--

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, let's-- let's just talk about that.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: --could I just say, we keep telling the Israelis not to attack. Shouldn't we be telling the Iranians that we are together and that there are boundaries that they can't cross? Instead, we are in a continuous public dispute with our closest ally in the region.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well-- well let's-- let's just talk about that a little bit.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Sure.

BOB SCHIEFFER: The-- the prime minister says he wants United States to announce a red line to say to Iran if you go beyond this point--

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Mm-Hm. Mm-Hm. Yes.

BOB SCHIEFFER: --in your development of-- of weapons, then-- then that's too far, and we won't tolerate that.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Yes.

BOB SCHIEFFER: What-- what is that line and what should it be?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: When they reached, in the-- in the Israelis' view, when they've reached a level where they can quickly assemble a nuclear weapon, apparently in the administration's view, it's when they have a nuclear weapon, and that's a big difference. And the Israelis' great fear is that at some point the Iraqi-- the Iranians are able to conceal and develop weapons to the degree that they militarily can't stop that. So then they'd have to rely on us. Do you think that the Israeli government right now would readily rely on us? I don't think so.

BOB SCHIEFFER: So what should we do? Should we just tell the Israelis, look we're with you, guys, if you think we need to go, then-- then we need to bomb and we will be with you?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Yes and there should be agreement-- and there should be agreement where that point is. But most of all, let's reassert American leadership in the region. Let's point out that this wasn't a video that caused this. It's a fight, a struggle in the Arab world between the Islamists and the forces of moderation in-- and they want America disengaged. We need to assist these people. Obviously, we have the right and should demand the host nation provide security. But we should be assisting these countries and the fact is that for us to say it's all about a video, look, one of our fundamentals is freedom of speech and that's what the Arab spring was about, to bring about an end to the censorship by their government among other things. So it's not a video and by the way, I predict you, there will be many, many vide-- videos that will be out there. It was the Islamists, radical Islamists, advertising and pushing this objectionable, hateful video to incite the forces that would then bring about their assumption of power. That's what this is all about.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Did-- did Mitt Romney speak inappropriately when he spoke out so soon in all of this?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: If you look at the statement that was given by the American Embassy, and later disavowed by the-- the administration itself, of course, that was a very weak statement. This is-- it was a semi-apology. We shouldn't be apologizing for freedom of speech. We should be saying we demand freedom of speech for these people. That's one of the fundamentals of-- of democracy. So the-- the lack of symmetry on the part of the media in this campaign on this issue and-- and on Medicare and others, is-- is just saddening to me.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Let me just go back to the-- the business with Israel. What should the United States do? Should it tell Israel, look, we're with you and you take the lead here or what-- what should we say?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: What-- what we should do and it doesn't have to be public, is sit down with the Israelis. By the way rather than send our National Security adviser and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to go to Israel and come back and say, we are-- we tell the Israelis not to attack. Is that-- is that what the message we want to send to the Iranians? And by the way, because of this weakness, the Iranians don't believe that we are going to do anything about their efforts because of our other activities. We should in-- in-- in quiet-- negotiations say this is a line that you, Israel, can be confident that we will not let them cross and we will act with you militarily. Israelis are aware of the consequences of acting alone in the Arab world. But, by the way, the Arab world will be celebrating in private if we deal this blow to the Iranians. Again, the Syrian people need our help.

BOB SCHIEFFER: All right. Senator McCain, thank you so much.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Thank you.

BOB SCHIEFFER: And we'll be back in one minute with analysis on all of this.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

BOB SCHIEFFER: And we are back now to talk more about the situation in the Middle East with former Israeli ambassador Martin Indyk, who is now vice president of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution; New York Times columnist Tom Friedman; and joining us from New York, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Richard, let me just start with you. What do you make of what has happened over this last week? Is this more than just about a film? Where does this go from here?