Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks to reporters during a press conference on Capitol Hill on June 4, 2014.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks to reporters during a press conference on Capitol Hill on June 4, 2014. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

McCain Calls for Obama’s National Security Team to Resign Over Iraq

Fuming Republican senators blast the administration for abandoning Iraq as Sen. John McCain says Obama’s national security team should resign. By Kevin Baron

Roaring onto the Senate floor as swaths of Iraq fall to insurgent control, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the entire Obama administration national security team, including Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, should resign for failing to keep Iraq secure.

“Could all this have been avoided? …The answer is absolutely yes,” McCain said. “If I sound angry it’s because I am angry.”

McCain has remained Congress’ biggest advocate for keeping U.S. military forces in Iraq to maintain the security gains of the Iraq War, and its loudest critic of the Obama administration for failing to convince Iraqi President Nouri al-Malik to permit U.S. troops to stay past 2011.

President Barack Obama said his White House national security team has been working “around the clock” on options for Iraq. “Iraq's going to need more help,” he said Thursday in the Oval Office, "I don’t rule out anything because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foot hold in either Iraq or Syria, for that matter.”

The United States is considering “short term, immediate things that will need to be done militarily – and our national security team is looking at all the options,” he said.

McCain said Obama should replace that team because they failed to protect Iraq and are making the same mistake in pulling out of an equally vulnerable Afghanistan. McCain said Obama should instead recall “those who succeeded in Iraq.”

“It’s the time that the president got a new national security team,” he said. He suggested putting retired Gen. David Petraeus, the former commander of the Iraq war, U.S. Central Command and the CIA, in charge. McCain said Obama also should recall Marine Corps Gen. Jim Mattis, former CENTCOM commander; retired Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Jack Keane, chairman of the board for the Institute for the Study of War and lead advocate for the Iraq surge; and Robert Kagan, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who was McCain’s senior foreign policy advisor during his losing 2008 presidential bid against Obama.

McCain has long been a political and military opponent of Dempsey’s. Last year, he threatened to hold the chairman’s pro forma confirmation for a second term, and he has used several hearings as a chance to prod Dempsey into admitting the Iraq surge was a success, as McCain believes. Dempsey and McCain have also faced off over Dempsey’s reluctance to support U.S. military involvement in the Syrian civil war. On Thursday, McCain said, Dempsey “has gone along with this policy for a long time. We need a new chairman.” 

McCain also said “We need a new national security advisor,” calling out National Security Advisor Susan Rice.

“What’s the president doing? Taking a nap?” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in a separate appearance on Capitol Hill.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., in a statement noted that Iraq’s woes dated to the 2003 U.S. invasion that was executed “without adequate consideration for the consequences,” and continued because Iraqi leaders ignored U.S. pleas to find political unity after American forces withdrew.  

“It’s unclear how air strikes on our part can succeed unless the Iraqi army is willing to fight, and that’s uncertain given the fact that several Iraqi army divisions have melted away,” Levin said. “While all options should be considered, the problem in Iraq has not been so much a lack of direct U.S. military involvement, but a lack of reconciliation on the part of Iraqi leaders.”

But McCain indicated time won’t allow for much deliberation. “Every hour the options become fewer and fewer as ISIS, the most radical terrorist group alive, sweeps across Iraq,” McCain said. He criticized Obama for declaring the Iraq war over and withdrawing troops before attaining “victory.”

“The Iraq war did not end because the forces against Iraq and within Iraq were still undefeated. The conflict in Afghanistan will not be over two years from now, in 2017, when the final American is scheduled to leave Afghanistan. Please learn the lessons,” he said, to abate “this direct threat to the national security of this nation."