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McCain: We will win this conflict easily

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McCain says if there is a war with Iraq, there will also be the chance to bring democracy to Iraq.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. John McCain is a combat veteran of the Vietnam War who now serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

He talked about the possibility of war with Iraq with CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: You've been a hawk when it comes to Iraq. Do you think the president is just about right, or from your standpoint is he going too slow?

MCCAIN: I think the president is just about right. I think that on the 27th there will be another report from Mr. Blix [U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix] and the inspectors that I think will tell us that Saddam Hussein has not complied with the Security Council resolution. Then I think the president will make some decisions at that point.

But, again, I want to point out here the important aspect of this. The burden of proof is not on the president. The burden of proof is on Saddam Hussein.

In 1998, there was clear and total, complete, compelling evidence that he had the weapons, the laboratories. The efforts were going on. Those have to be accounted for. So far they have not been accounted for.

BLITZER: But if the U.N. inspectors, Hans Blix, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, come before the Security Council on Monday and say, 'Guess what guys, we didn't find a smoking gun,' despite the fact that the burden of proof is on the Iraqis to cooperate, public opinion is not necessarily going to be with the president on this.

MCCAIN: I think the public opinion obviously is always a problem for a president of the United States. But the responsibility for the security of the United States of America rests with the president of the United States.

Harry Truman probably did not have the nation behind him when we decided to turn back the attack from North Korea. I know that at the beginning of the Persian Gulf conflict, the American people did not support [the elder] President Bush.

BLITZER: It was deeply divided then.

MCCAIN: It was deeply divided. Yes, the president and his State of the Union speech will talk about this issue with the American people. He will again describe the threats that we face and the reasons why he will take the action that he has to take if there is non-compliance.

BLITZER: Has the president done a good enough job to date -- not only trying to win over the hearts and minds of the American public -- but France, Germany: They're clearly not in his corner right now?

MCCAIN: Well, a word about our friends or allies. It's interesting to me those that used to be communist countries are most supportive. There's a real lesson there.

We all know the behavior of the German chancellor in the last elections -- reprehensible, using an anti-American sentiment to win a close election. The French have always had some difficulties in our relationship and the French obviously are interested in a special relationship we had with Iraq.

But the point is that, one, we will win this conflict. We will win it easily. That does not mean we won't experience the tragedy of the loss of some American lives. We will have an opportunity to instill a democracy in Iraq, which will be an example, and perhaps force other nations in the region to move in that same direction. I am confident.

BLITZER: So, what you're saying is even if the U.S. is with Britain, a few of the Central European or Eastern, formerly Communist bloc nations...

MCCAIN: And Turkey.

BLITZER: Even a limited coalition is worth it to go forward and knock out Saddam Hussein?

MCCAIN: We would far prefer that not be the case. We would prefer that everybody be solidly behind the United States if it's necessary. I want to emphasize the president has not made this decision yet. But if he does make that decision, then he has to have as his primary and sole purpose the security of the United States of America.

Saddam Hussein has not come clean. Saddam Hussein has a clear record of use of weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein, therefore, must come clean. Otherwise, the president has to consider all of his options.

BLITZER: How much time do you believe, realistically, is left?

MCCAIN: You know that's pure speculation on my part. I have no inside information of any kind but I would say in a matter of weeks we have to come to some kind of resolution of this issue one way or the other.

BLITZER: And you're confident that this can be done relatively quickly, relatively easily?

MCCAIN: I am convinced of that but I also want to emphasize that it has to be the last option because Americans [would] go into harm's way. But I do not know of a soldier that's going to die for Saddam Hussein.

In 1991, on this program, I had debates with various people who said it's another Vietnam. Thousands of body bags will come home, blah, blah, blah. I said that wouldn't happen.

The United States military are the finest young men and women in the world. They're best equipped and they're best trained and they will prevail.

I do not believe that it is without danger -- Scud missiles aimed at Israel with chemical or biological weapons on them, loss of young American's lives -- but it will be quick and then we will see how world and American public opinion is at that time.

And finally, again, the president has an opportunity next Tuesday night and he will speak eloquently. This president has an ability to speak with moral clarity.

BLITZER: And what you're saying as a distinguished member of the U.S. Senate, those countries, whether it's France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, others, who might not align themselves with the U.S. in this war if the president, the commander in chief comes down to giving that order. What kind of consequences politically, diplomatically, from the U.S. should they anticipate?

MCCAIN: I don't know except that nothing succeeds like success, and if there is a success, and I predict there will be, that the countries in the region will breathe a sigh of relief because an individual who's invaded neighboring countries is out of power. And perhaps people all over the Middle East will heave a sigh of relief and hope because and feel a sensation of hope -- because we will instill a democracy in Iraq.

It won't be easy. It will be long. It will be difficult and it will be expensive but it will be an example to other nations in the region, including the Saudi Arabians.


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