Why does John McCain have a problem with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs?
Sen. John McCain said he’d put a hold on the confirmation of Gen. Martin Dempsey for a second term after a testy exchange about Syria. Is the senator's real aim to engage with the White House on Syria policy?
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McCain responded that as he recalled it, “You and I went through this in 2006, when I said it wasn’t succeeding [in Iraq] and that we had to have a surge – and that only a surge could succeed in reversing the tide of battle, and you disagreed with me, way back then,” he noted. “And I think history shows that those of us who supported the surge were right, and people like you who didn’t think we needed a surge were wrong.”Skip to next paragraph
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Iraq has recently descended into a new round of violence that analysts blame in large part on a lack of governance throughout the country.
In Thursday’s hearing, McCain pressed Dempsey for his personal opinion on the wisdom of becoming more deeply involved in Syria. The chairman has repeatedly expressed reservations about arming the rebels.
“The question whether to support it with direct kinetic strikes ... is a decision for our elected officials, not for the senior military leader of the nation,” Dempsey said.
McCain seemed mystified that Dempsey would not provide his personal opinion on the matter.
“I’ve given those views to the president,” Dempsey said. “It would be inappropriate for me to try to influence the decision with me rendering an opinion in public about what kind of force we should use.”
He added, “If the administration and the government decides to use military force, we have provided a variety of options – and you know that.”
This seemed to be the point at which McCain decided to hold up Dempsey’s confirmation. “Well, 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 the last 30 years.”
After he left the hearing, McCain indicated he would block further action on the confirmation until he gets an adequate response from Dempsey.
“I want to see him answer the question,” McCain said in a briefing with reporters following the hearing. “I mean hello.”
That said, McCain has long been frustrated with Dempsey’s caution about the arming of rebels, and the hearing Thursday brought this frustration to a head.
“I wasn’t surprised at how things unfolded in the hearing,” says Elizabeth O’Bagy, senior Syria analyst at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington.
By McCain putting pressure on Dempsey, McCain is in turn pressuring President Obama.
“This is one way that Congress can leverage the administration to give them answers,” Ms. O’Bagy adds. “It’s indicative of a larger issue that’s going on between Congress and the White House.”