— From NBC/NJ's Adam Aigner-Treworgy
While traveling on his campaign plane from Denver to Phoenix for a weekend off, John McCain tried to clarify a somewhat controversial statement he had made at a town hall this afternoon about the relationship between America's dependence on foreign oil and its military involvement in the Middle East.
First, the statement in question: "My friends I will have an energy policy that we will be talking about, which will eliminate our dependence on oil from the Middle East that will – that will then prevent us – that will prevent us from having ever to send our young men and women into conflict again in the Middle East."
With no senior advisors traveling with the senator today, the campaign's traveling press secretary Brooke Buchanan came to the back of the plane before landing to defend her boss' remarks. The initial defense asserted that he was not referring to the current war in Iraq, but America's involvement in the first Gulf War, which was at least partially due to the country's reliance on foreign oil.
After the plane had landed, McCain himself tried to clarify his remarks, at first agreeing with his press secretary: "I was talking about that we had fought the first Gulf War for several reasons. One of them was Saddam Hussein's invasion and that's just not something that's acceptable…but also we didn't want them to have control over the oil, and that part of the world is critical to us because of our dependency on foreign oil. And it's more important than in any other part of the world."
McCain then summarized his point by basically restating his remarks from earlier in the day: "We will have independency of foreign oil and we will not have to have that as a factor in any conflict that we have to engage in. …I want us to remove our dependency on foreign oil for national security reasons. That's what I was saying. And that's all I mean."
But then when specifically asked by an Associated Press reporter if, when he made the statement, he was "thinking about the first Gulf War," he said no.
"No, I was thinking about- it's not hard to- we will not," McCain stumbled. "By eliminating our dependency on foreign oil, we will not have to have our national security threatened by a cut off of that oil. Because we will be dependent, because we won't be dependent, we will no longer be dependent on foreign oil. That's what my remarks were."
He was sure to emphasize over and over again that the reason he supported the War in Iraq was because he "believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and he was going to use them."
McCain said "the congressional record is replete with that and for me to change my view, how many years later, I mean would, just wouldn't be logical."
FULL TRANSCRIPT OF MCCAIN'S DEFENSE---
It was just a new way of hearing you talk about it. I mean one of the things, you obviously have talked about why we went in, and weapons of mass destruction.
Yeah, yeah. The congressional record is very clear, I said we went to war in Iraq because of Weapons of Mass destruction. Yeah.
Phrased as you did today, making it sound like we would never have to fight a war again, well you said we would never have to fight a war again. Well the flip side of that coin is that we had to fight a war now…
No no, I was talking about that we had fought the first gulf war for several reasons. One of them was Saddam Hussein's invasion and that's just not something that's acceptable, although countries have invaded other countries in other parts of (inaudible.) But also we didn't want them to have control over the oil, and that part of the world is critical to us because of our dependency on foreign oil. And it's more important than in any other part of the world. But what my point is that the 10 or 15 years from now we will not have to send our troops to fight in the Middle East. That's what we want to be sure of.
You've referenced other threats in the Middle East that might require U.S. presence there military presence there. So going beyond that, you linked your energy policy to saying that we would never have to send troops into the Middle East again.
Yeah Because we will not have dependency on foreign oil, we will have independency of foreign oil and we will not have to have that as a factor in any conflict that we have to engage in. I mean, look, it's very clear why I supported the war in Iraq. And if the word 'again' was misconstrued, I want us to remove our dependency on foreign oil for national security reasons. That's what I was saying. And that's all I mean. And that's all I mean. And so to put any other interpretation on it, except that our national security will not be threatened because of our dependency on foreign oil is a misinterpretation of any of my remarks. I want to make it clear. We will not have to go into a conflict in the Middle East because of our national security being threatened by our dependence on foreign oil. I don't have anything to elaborate on.
That comment that you made in the town hall meeting which is why you came back to talk to us. That was, what was in your mind, was you were thinking about the first Gulf War?
No, I was thinking about, it's not hard to, we will not, by eliminating our dependency on foreign oil, we will not have to have our national security threatened by a cut off of that oil. Because we will be dependent, because we won't be dependent, we will no longer be dependent on foreign oil. That's what my remarks were.
Go ahead and follow up if you want to.
No I understand, as I was talking to Brooke, it came on the heels of your discussion of the 100 years comment, and
McCain: Oh yeah
NBC: how your presence in Iraq had been misinterpreted.
McCain: Oh, I can see that. I can see how that –
NBC: Right on the heels of that comment, it didn't make sense to me when I was writing it, that you were referencing a previous war.
McCain: And I'm sorry if there was a, I'm sorry if there was a misconception of that. And I hope that I cleared it up and I want you to have a nice weekend and we will continue our conversations Saturday and Sunday. But I really want to be clear, I don't want us to have to be dependent on foreign oil which is our, which would then threaten our national security, because of our dependency on it. That's one of the major reasons why we have to have energy independence.
More so than just the money we spend on gasoline going to terrorist groups, which you have linked on countless occasions.
NBC: But this is a different sort of link, you're saying that we don't want to have to be dependent on protecting our oil in the Middle East again.
No, I don't want us to have to be dependent on foreign oil. I want us to be energy independent. So any decisions that are made, they're not influenced by dependency on foreign oil.
Do you think any decisions have been made in recent years that were about our, relating to our dependency?
I think that if we're dependent on any thing outside the United States of America, it has to, it has to enter into any calculations that we make. I mean if we're dependent on something from some part of the world, then that has to be part of our calculation that we make. But I, it's obvious that we are dependent on oil from the Middle East and that is something that we have to become independent of, because it's very unstable part of the world.
I just think, that that point, which you have made before, or which you made today, is not that short a leap to say then well, we got into Iraq and if that was part of our calculations then that is
No, I don't believe we got into Iraq, as I've stated, and I made the debates, and the debates and the discussions a thousand times since then. We went to Iraq because we believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and he was going to use them. That is a very, the congressional record is replete with that and for me to change my view, how many years later, I mean would, just wouldn't be logical.
Just one quick follow up then. After you said that the major combat mission was over, once the sort of regime had been overthrown in Iraq: was oil any part of the thought process as to why we needed to stay in Iraq to secure or prevent any sort of chaos in the region, was oil part of that decision.
No, we had to conduct it right, not stay. We had to do it right. We did it wrong. Fiasco, Cobra II, read any book about how it was terribly mishandled. It had nothing to do with dependency or non dependency on oil. It had to do with how we handled the post combat phase, which was terribly mishandled for nearly four years, which I fought against and argued against. But we don't want to be dependent on the Middle East for oil, for very obvious reasons. The vagaries of the supply is one of them. And so I hope that there's no confusion about my support for the war in Iraq, and it wasn't to do with oil, it had to do with Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction.
I hope it clears it that up. I'm sorry that the word 'again' somehow caused a, an upheaval.
I look forward to seeing you guys.