Heated battle between McCain and military chief
July 18th, 2013
06:52 PM ET

Heated battle between McCain and military chief

By Jamie Crawford

Sen. John McCain and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey traded rhetorical jabs in a lively exchange Thursday over the scope of Dempsey's role as President Obama's chief military adviser.

While the overarching concern on McCain's part was the substance of Dempsey's advice to the president on the civil war in Syria, the debate soon became a surrogate battle over the wisdom of U.S. military assistance to Syrian rebels.

McCain wasted no time in voicing his disapproval of Dempsey's tenure, and that of his deputy, Vice Admiral Sandy Winnefeld, during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee to consider their nominations for a second term in their roles.

"I must tell both witnesses at the onset I'm very concerned about the role they have played over the last two years," he said.

Specifically, McCain pushed Dempsey on whether Washington's "inaction" toward the situation in Syria is doing great harm to U.S. national security.

No sooner than Dempsey said, "Senator, as we've discussed..," McCain shot back saying, "I'd like to know an answer rather than a filibuster."

That set the tone for the discussion that was to follow.

The verbal jousting continued with Dempsey protesting the notion of U.S. inactivity on Syria, and McCain citing a rapidly deteriorating situation with the arrival of forces of Hezbollah to support the forces of Bashar al-Assad along with Russian and Iranian assistance.

During the exchange, Dempsey warned that "situations can be made worse" by the introduction of military force in certain conflicts. But McCain disagreed, telling the chairman at one point, "I know, perhaps better than you, because I've been there."

Dempsey later seemed to express frustration with McCain's portrayal of him "holding back from our use of military force" inside Syria. "I'm not saying that, general," McCain shot back.

"Senator, I am in favor of building a moderate opposition and supporting it," Dempsey said. "The question of whether to support it with direct kinetic strikes" is a decision for elected officials to make, he said, "not for the senior military leader of the nation."

As the approximate nine-minute exchange wrapped up, McCain pressed Dempsey to give his personal opinion to the committee of whether he advocated the use of military force in Syria to which Dempsey said it would be inappropriate to comment while the administration deliberates the issue.

"If it is your position that you do not provide your personal views to the committee when asked only under certain circumstances, then you have just contradicted what I have known this committee to operate under for the last 30 years," McCain said.

Later in the hearing Dempsey pledged to Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, chairman of the committee, that he would provide the committee with an unclassified list of options for U.S. involvement in Syria along with the strengths and weaknesses for those options.

Apart from that, an aide to McCain tells CNN the senator will put a hold on Dempsey's nomination until he receives answers to his questions on the U.S. role in Syria.

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Filed under: Dempsey • McCain • Syria
soundoff (48 Responses)
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    February 13, 2021 at 8:29 pm | Reply
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    November 4, 2013 at 11:36 am | Reply
  3. Joe Saini

    McCain is a bushwacker his days are over. You had your fight in Vietnam. Please retire and stop taking Amercia to war. Please award him a retirement medal.

    August 13, 2013 at 7:22 pm | Reply
  4. Dan

    John McCain's slide into extremism (and hence irrelevance) gets particularly sad when he invokes his own military service as a low-level pilot 40 years ago to question the strategic judgement of today's generals and admirals. The fact that he constantly inserts himself in every national security conversation he can find, desperately seeking the spotlight, smacks of hubris, of disrespect for the executive branch's authority on these matters, and of bitterness at losing the 2008 election. How sad to see this once sensible and decent man fall like this.

    July 22, 2013 at 7:14 pm | Reply
  5. david

    John McCain can't seem to mind his own countries business. their is no side to be on over in the middle east! they are raised to hate the west and McCain seems unwilling to learn that. leave these stone aged people living in stone aged countries following a faith that needs violence to keep going along. they seem to like killing each other so let them keep up their national past time of murdering each other.

    July 22, 2013 at 5:07 pm | Reply
  6. dennis

    Next electino weed out those that waqnt to help those that dont even like us.

    July 22, 2013 at 11:15 am | Reply
  7. Mike

    If McStain really did know better because he was there, he would have learned you do not get involved in someone's civil war. Guess his time as a POW was not a learning experience.

    July 21, 2013 at 9:39 pm | Reply
  8. Nikan

    Senator McCain, you are a traitor to the United States and I pray to God that you retire soon. You lost your credibility on Syria when you were photographed with known terrorist kidnappers when you illegally entered Syria earlier this year. You said you could "identify the good guys" and yet, you couldn't even identify who to pose for photos with!

    July 21, 2013 at 2:46 pm | Reply
  9. Gary

    There is only one thing I am gratefull to Sarah Palin for. Making sure McCain did not become President. Can you imagine the useless wars and the dead Americans this man would have created? Scary!

    July 20, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Reply
  10. Genty

    I know understand how the USA create enemies uselessly. It's a pity to see ignorant civilians pull a general in the mud. A Committee yes, but it's just one individual here. And, why waste time on Syria while the goal is Iran? You want Iran to get a warm-up?

    July 20, 2013 at 10:59 am | Reply
  11. daveyo

    its starting to look like john is upset that his carreer in wash. is stalled , no repb. gave him a good appointment over the last 40 years so he will just drill everyone that does not agree with him, time for this hero to retire on all the millions he made will skirting the laws of the land.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:44 am | Reply
  12. Ed

    Mcain is a terrorist

    July 20, 2013 at 9:41 am | Reply
  13. the navy mp adivs is congruent to 1 report

    The use of questioning mr demsey to strenghts and weaknesses would be the exam in first report -to ask as a local police man to have an evaluation of local police to demseys defencive procedues to defend country is an enactment of a roits home land demonstration of there – the real opositions sefl controll to serviv a petioning proses in washington dc ina 2 line rope barrackade for friendly but real investigation for passes from demsey if serviving a petion in white house terriory for gentalmy return to forgen lands with what would be brute forse hand shaking agreements but therres no sutch estimation of what were talking about of emmbassy cleargy a braud at this point of morsy allready out side office un less there is a real home lnad finding – mr demsey isnt leagly allowed to comment there was a mr morsy because national security donesnt invole a tv braod cast of what you dictate ed to mr demsey as real + thats sad but a real blinding tape review true when your that high ranked you could ask mr demsye -who won the football american game of blank team vers blank team – and his militray ansere would be there no suth thing as a football tv game show –

    July 19, 2013 at 9:47 pm | Reply
  14. pkrbkr3

    McCain is a "has been" who needs to be quiet. Just because he loves sending other people's kids and money into battle doesn't make it the right thing to do. Time's up, John!

    July 19, 2013 at 6:29 pm | Reply
  15. omeany

    I have an idea. Why don't we take the money we would have spent on troops in Syria if we did get involved and invest if in our infrastructure? Or reducing the cost of college education and health care access for the working poor? Or daycare and headstart programs? My point being when are we going to start investing money in things that will benefit our future instead of being the world's policeman?

    July 19, 2013 at 6:18 pm | Reply
  16. Burt

    There is a song that PERFECTLY describes people like Sen. McCain, Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc. etc. (All Republicans by the way). It's by Black Sabbath...AND TO ALL YOU RIGHT WING NUTS, GET OVER THE SO-CALLED SATANIC BS...and listen to the lyrics of 'War Pigs'. Not only does the song tell the sad aweful truth about politicians...but it's a COOL ROCKIN TUNE!

    July 19, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Reply
  17. Mystery47

    Apparently, McCain didn't learn a lot during his photo op with smiling Syrian "rebels". First and formost – THIS IS A SUNNI versus SHIA battle that has been going on for generations. CHRISTIANS AND CHRISTIAN NATIONS HAVE NO BUSINESS GETTING IN THE MIDDLE OF IT. If we do then we deserve the terrorist retaliation that will take place in our own country. Even the U.K. has backed out of supporting the "rebels".

    July 19, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Reply
  18. yogi

    McCain glorifies wars, the more the better.

    July 19, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Reply
  19. scott

    With respect, Senator McCain needs to consider the U.S. taxpayers and American lives that he wants to put in harms way.

    July 19, 2013 at 11:52 am | Reply
  20. tony

    McCain is a troll who lives on fox hate network who loves war and death. its people like mcCain why we have these wild wild west laws like stand your ground bs laws in the USA. mcCain you and your kind please die off!

    July 19, 2013 at 10:54 am | Reply
    • Carson Thaler

      "Faux News... Where Bad News is Good News" .... and the God/Universe phenomenon has it currently arranged to allow generations to rotate anew... with the hope that the succeeding generations improve from the last....

      July 19, 2013 at 12:48 pm | Reply
      • MAJ Lich

        That was a good one πŸ™‚

        July 19, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
  21. Darrell44

    It's very easy to say "Lets go to war" when it's not you or YOUR SON'S AND DAUGHTERS NOT GOING & DYING. We can't be everywhere all the time. Not to mention the BILLIONS more that would have to be paid out. Let's get out of the war's we are in now before we go into another. hOW BOUT WE FOCUS ON AMERICA FOR A WHILE, LETS GET OUT OF DEBT, LETS GET MORE PEOPLE BACK TO WORK AND WITH HEALTH CARE FOR ALL. HOW BOUT WE DO THAT FOR A WHILE.

    July 19, 2013 at 10:10 am | Reply
  22. Pete

    So the warmongering Saigon Songbird quacks again ha!!When will Arizona step up to the plate, grow a pair and tell McCain,his wife Cindy to take a hike,its overdo isn't it!!He's drooling at the chance to get us as usual into another armed conflict isn't he in Syria because the MIC is crying their cash box is getting kinda low and another war would help help pay the bills wouldn't it...Remember republicans 95% of your reps are on the take from the MIC and without those lobbyists stuffing money in their pockets they'll be out standing broke in the cold wouldn't they!!

    July 19, 2013 at 9:25 am | Reply
    • Glenn E Stockley

      Right on.....first truthful comment about this idiot that i'vee seen in a long time....

      July 19, 2013 at 10:47 am | Reply
  23. John McKane

    This stupid Senator from Arizona is especially embarrassing to me since his name is similar to mine! This man sorely needs to be ignored!

    July 19, 2013 at 8:17 am | Reply
  24. With T-25

    Really, this sounds like the first meeting of that pantsuit focus group Sec. Clinton was promoting.

    Nothing really gets it done like a pantsuit.

    July 19, 2013 at 7:41 am | Reply
  25. John

    So, a pilot whose claim to fame was being shot down and whose military career fizzled due to multiple affairs (adultery is punishable under the UCMJ) and lack of ever holding a sea command is saying he has more relevant military experience than a man who has reached the pinnale of a military career with recent relevant experience? Sen McCain, with all due respect, it is time for you to retire. Your bid at the top spot failed. We don't care where you go, just go away and leave military matters to people who still have recent relevant experience.

    July 19, 2013 at 5:08 am | Reply
    • Pete

      @John,truth be known McCain the Saigon Songbird shot himself down running into his own missiles flack,crashing into a rice party,his arm injury is the result of the crash as well!!

      July 20, 2013 at 11:56 am | Reply
  26. M.A.P.

    "I know, perhaps better than you, because I've been there." – What a smug bas-tard! You were there for what, one hour for a photo op McCain, don't act like you understand the situation. You just want to start a war so your name will appear in a history book. Don't worray McCain, you will always be remembered as the Republican nominee who lost to Obama, and who chose SARAH PALIN as his running mate. That's your place in history you loser.

    July 19, 2013 at 5:06 am | Reply
  27. SolarMoon

    McCain has clearly lost it. The admiral that never was.

    July 19, 2013 at 1:53 am | Reply
  28. markjuliansmith

    Mr Putin said Russia had told Mr Snowden: "We have certain ties with the US. We do not want you through your activity to damage our ties with the States.

    Snowden had vowed to continue his activism. "We said: β€˜That will be without us, then. We have other battles to fight,’" Mr Putin said with a smile.

    'other battles to fight' Mr Putin said with a smile. 'other' 'battle' plural. Even without Snowden one wonders where this is all leading.

    It appears to me Islam as a construct is tearing humanity apart at the centre as it sucks in the geopolitical superpowers.

    Syria whatever side it will make no difference.

    Cultural Foundation Codex (genetic, textual authority and messianic templates) = Cultural Ethics = Cultural Ideas = Cultural Motivation = Consistent Cultural and Adherent Behavioural Variance = Cultural Action For and Against Other.

    The fact is the Cultural 'education' (Cultural Foundation Codex) age 0- is the core problem.

    Liberal, Moderate Fundamentalist, Extremist, Terrorist in time and space will not exist without the other with a Culture based on a genocide construct of Other which is Islam. The proof, was there just one Muslim victim today?

    July 18, 2013 at 10:15 pm | Reply
    • Warren Jordan (Ret. Army SFC)

      Sen. McCaine has been in Washington too Long. He Needs to get out and not use his Little power to push Senior Mil. Leasders to give an answer he wants to hear, then a real straight answer. The JCOS are the Commander in Chiefs advisers, and not a sentor or congressmen-women boos. McCain was acting like a child. To Sen. McCain grow up and and stop acting like a child or get out of Washington.

      July 19, 2013 at 5:09 am | Reply
  29. George patton

    Exactly just what is this stupid Senator from Arizona trying to prove anyway? He was mistreated in Vietnam and never got over it. On the other hand, one must not blame the Vietnamese for their anger, either. After all, their cities and villages were bombed to the hilt without mercy. That war should never have taken place. Then as now, it was all politics!!!

    July 18, 2013 at 10:09 pm | Reply
    • George Patton

      I was beginning to like your post Phunnie boy, McCain is a moron, but then you blew it, you and your anti-American rants, nothing new; above post is by my impostor, so ignore it.

      July 19, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Reply
    • p

      good grief your getting lame

      July 19, 2013 at 6:37 pm | Reply
    • Pete

      @George Patton,hey phunnie boy look up the Gulf of Tonkin incident against our battleships ,that why there was war!!

      July 20, 2013 at 1:45 pm | Reply
  30. helenecha

    Whatever is supporting Syrian rebels fighting against al-Assad government an opportunity or a challenge for America at this very moment?

    July 18, 2013 at 9:41 pm | Reply
  31. Silverado

    Muslims are violent and will always try to kill people. As long as they kill each other, keep out of their conflict. If they try to kill non-Muslims, that's when there is a need to hit them with drones or something that teaches them a lesson to keep their fight to themselves.

    July 18, 2013 at 9:20 pm | Reply
  32. Raven

    Now there is evidence that the gas was used by the "rebels" who are fighting each other now. We should not support extremist muslims. See how well this worked out in Afghanistan and Iraq. McCain's push for the US getting involved in Syria makes one wonder if he has an interest in the war industry. If he retires now I'll buy him a Xbox and a copy of "World of Warcraft". I would even consider throwing in the latest version of "Call of Duty".

    July 18, 2013 at 9:05 pm | Reply
  33. Portland tony

    Senator McCain has had years of experience as a senator and served bravely in Vietnam, albeit from 30,000 ft until he was shot down. But why, knowing the traps and risks of our involvement in a sectarian revolution, would he make such outlandish statements to outstanding military leaders who only serve as advisors to the President and his political underlings. America can't fight a proxy war for the Saudis (Sunnis) against Iran/Iraq and Hezbollah (Shias) in Syria. There has to be an overriding danger to America for us to get our military involved. I don't see that!

    July 18, 2013 at 7:27 pm | Reply
    • .Ma

      Right this moment Russia is having military exercises and its not to flex their muscles they say, but we all know that's what it is. I think Mr. McCain needs to back off the situation with the rebels. To many factions involved.

      July 18, 2013 at 7:59 pm | Reply
      • USMC1371

        He needs to retire asap and fade off as only a bad memory.

        July 18, 2013 at 11:56 pm |
    • Pete

      @Portland Tony,McCain was never shot down ,he instead shot himself down running too low running into his own missile flack into a rice patty,truth be known and his arm injury was crash related not by torture as he's lied about for years...Read up on McCains Keating 5 and how much it cost tax payers back in the 80s in a S&L scam he and Cindy McCain were involved in..Then tell me why he's still in office,I'll let it rest with you!!

      July 20, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Reply
      • Portland tony

        I think it has to do with Cindy Hensley McCain and John owning thedistribution rights of Budweiser products in Arizona. It is the third-largest Anheuser-Busch distributor in the United States and one of the largest privately held companies in Arizona. It is arguably the best-known beer distributorship in America. πŸ™‚

        July 20, 2013 at 7:46 pm |

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