McCain pans Obama for "backseat role" on Libya

Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) assesses U.S. policy in Libya and Syria on "Face the Nation," Sunday, May 1, 2011.
Chris Usher/CBS

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Sunday criticized President Obama for taking a "backseat role" in Libya, and said it was time for the United States to get "back in the fight."

In an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation," McCain argued that Mr. Obama had "withdrawn" from NATO in its actions against Libya, and that NATO forces were subsequently weakened and inadequately supplied.

"I would like to remind you that NATO is an organization of 28 countries," McCain told CBS' Bob Schieffer. "With Italy there's now seven of them actually in the fight. They don't have the assets that the United States of America does. ...the United States is NATO. So the British and the French - God bless them and others - they don't have the assets. They are running out of some of their munitions.

"We need to get back into the fight," McCain urged. "We should be leading. We should not be following."

McCain warned against allowing the conflict to end in a stalemate, an outcome he characterized as "very bad," and which he said would "open the door to al Qaeda."

"It's events on the ground that will drive Qaddafi's desire to leave or not to leave," McCain said. "Right now in many respects he's not doing too badly for a third-rate military power."

And while the senator emphasized his opposition to employing ground troops in the Libyan conflict, McCain said the U.S. had to "get its assets back into the air fight" and elsewhere.

"We should recognize the Transition National Council, thereby freeing up money so that they can start financing their operations and providing people with the things they need," McCain said. "Humanitarian efforts, communications capability, facilitate the movement of weapons in not the United States arm but facilitate as we did during the Afghan war."

The former Republican presidential nominee defended recent NATO airstrikes that may have killed members of Muammar Qaddafi's family - including his youngest sons - arguing that the Libyan leader and his family could ostensibly be viewed as part of the command-and-control. (McCain said he could not, however, confirm the deaths.)

"I think if you view Qaddafi himself as part of the command and control, I think you could argue that if he was in one of those places, then it would be part of it," he told Schieffer.

"But, Bob, we tried many times to kill leaders," McCain added. "It's not as easy as you think. So, we should be taking out his command and control. And if he is killed or injured because of that, that's fine. But we ought to have a strategy to help the rebels succeed and overthrow Qaddafi and everybody associated with him."

The Arizona Republican also spoke out against increasing violence by the Syrian government, but said he couldn't currently "see a military option" that would be effective in the situation.

"It's going to be a very bloody time, I'm afraid, in Syria," said McCain. "I think it's clear that [Syrian president Bashar al-Assad] is willing to slaughter his own people. The question is what can we do to affect the outcome? Frankly, I don't see a military option."

Noting a lack of organized opposition to the Syrian government, McCain said America should be focused on increasing pressure on the government through sanctions and "whatever pressures we can bring to bear."