McCain 1991: Unwise for US to Invade Iraq

On CNN’s Larry King Live, April 23, 1991, Sen. John McCain opposed invading Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein on the grounds that 1) we’d turn Saddam Hussein into a hero; 2) we could not do it with air power and would need to commit ground troops; 3) we wouldn’t be able to tell Sunnis from Shiites; 4) once we entered Baghdad we would start taking casualties [i.e. from guerrilla attacks]

‘ Rep. STEPHEN SOLARZ, (D-NY) Foreign Affairs Committee: I think we’re in a very difficult situation, Larry. There’s no question we won a great victory but, so long as Saddam Hussein remains in power, our victory will be less than complete. . .

KING: So what are you saying?

Rep. SOLARZ: I think that the only real solution lies in removing Saddam. I don’t think this is an American responsibility alone. I think it’s an international responsibility and I think that what we should do, Larry, is go back to the United Nations and seek another Security Council resolution demanding the resignation of Saddam and his regime-

KING: And if we don’t get it?

Rep. SOLARZ: -and if he refuses to comply, authorizing the use of force in order to remove it. I do not believe that would necessarily require American ground forces to go in. Air power alone might be sufficient . . .

KING: You’re going to eliminate the Iraqi people.

Rep. SOLARZ: On the contrary, Larry-

KING: We pounded them into submission. You’re going to send them back into eternity.

Rep. SOLARZ: The Iraqi people would welcome us as liberators. . .

KING: John?

Sen. [John McCAIN: I hesitate enormously to disagree with not only Steve Solarz but Barbara Bush as well, as you know – and that’s a hard pair to take on – but the fact is, if we went in on the ground into Baghdad that’s the only way I know of that the Arab world could turn Saddam Hussein from the bum that he is into the hero that Nasser was, number one.

Number two is I don’t think you could do it with air power. Unbeknownst to a lot of people, we tried bombing- We weren’t trying to kill him, but we were just trying to bomb every place we thought he might be or could possibly be.

Third of all, I’m not sure that if we did go in on the ground we could tell a Shiite from a Sunni, even from a Kurd. And who is it that we’d be fighting and battling against on the streets of Baghdad? And, if we got into Baghdad, we would lose all of our military supremacy and we would take casualties. . .”

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