Following his role in avoiding a nuclear war over filibuster reform, Sen. John McCain was invited with his friend Sen. Lindsey Graham to meet with President Obama in White House on Thursday to talk about foreign policy, the most in-depth meeting in years between Obama and his fiercest critics on the issue.
McCain sat down with The Daily Beast on Friday for a long interview about his White House meeting and his multi-country tour around the Middle East earlier this month, which included stops in Israel, Turkey, Qatar, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The Obama meeting lasted two hours, and attendees included Vice President Joe Biden and new National Security Adviser Susan Rice, although Obama did most of the talking on the administration side.
“The president’s invitation indicates that the president realizes that there is a very serious implosion of events ranging from across northern Africa and well into the Middle East,” McCain said. “He gave us many of his views and we exchanged thoughts on these various situations.”
Obama told the senators he was examining new options not only in Syria but also in other parts of the Middle East, including Egypt.
“I don’t know if I changed his mind on anything, but it was very clear that he is at least examining other options,” McCain said. “That doesn’t mean he has adopted a change in policy or made a momentous decision to do what we want him to do.”
A large part of the conversation focused on the war in Syria, where McCain has been advocating for a U.S.-led no-fly zone and targeted airstrikes to degrade President Bashar al-Assad’s airpower.
“It’s very clear that he sees that events are going in the wrong direction in Syria. He is examining all the other options that are available,” McCain said.
The senator’s frustration over the administration’s action on those options spilled out into the open Thursday. He publicly declared that he would hold up the renomination of Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey after Dempsey refused to say which options for Syria he supports or doesn’t support, such as a no-fly zone or targeted air strikes.
On Friday, McCain told The Daily Beast he would offer Dempsey the chance to respond in writing to the questions the general refused to answer in the open hearing—a way to deescalate the feud between the two officials. McCain sent a letter Friday afternoon to Dempsey with Sen. Carl Levin with a list of questions on Syria and Afghanistan.
The administration also has resolved its dispute with members of the House and Senate intelligence committees over Obama’s plan to provide limited military assistance to vetted groups within the Syrian opposition. Committee members in both parties and both chambers had balked at allowing the funds for the administration’s plan to provide small arms, but after the administration provided more information, the plan was finally approved, said McCain.
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