In a wide-ranging interview published Tuesday by The New Republic, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., cast doubt on whether U.S. casualties suffered in Iraq were worth it and suggested he might buck the Republican Party if Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., wins its 2016 presidential nomination.
McCain, a prominent supporter and constructive critic of the Iraq War, lamented the 2011 pull out of U.S. troops from the country. He said he sees no way of re-establishing a military presence there to stop Islamic extremists travelling to and from Syria.
"I think it's too late," he told interviewer Isaac Chotiner. "The whole tragedy of this is 4,000 brave Americans [died], and I don't know how many thousands lost limbs, and it's all for nothing. And we had it won."
A spokesman for McCain was not available for clarification of this remark, or others attributed to the him in the article. This is not the first time, however, he has made such statements.
The Weekly Standard reported McCain said, on the eve of the troop pullout: "Over 4,000 brave young Americans gave their lives in this conflict. I pray that their sacrifice is not in vain. ... it is clear that this decision of a complete pullout of United States troops from Iraq was dictated by politics, and not our national security interests. I believe that history will judge this president's leadership with the scorn and disdain it deserves."
If Hillary Clinton, the nation's former top diplomat as well as McCain's former colleague from the U.S. Senate, and Paul face off in 2016, McCain told The New Republic, "It's gonna be a tough choice."
Paul's office did not respond to a request for comment.
In the interview, McCain hailed Clinton as "a rock star" who "did a fine job" as Secretary of State. "She has, maybe not glamour, but certainly the aura of someone widely regarded throughout the world," he said.
McCain and Paul have been at odds before. The 2008 GOP presidential candidate referred to Paul and other libertarian Republicans as "wacko birds" in March for filibustering the nomination of CIA Director John Brennan over domestic drone policy.
In this most recent interview, McCain said the name-calling was a regrettable deviation from the respectful tone he hopes to use when debating anti-interventionist colleagues.