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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Now to the McCain campaign and McCain foreign policy advisor Randy Scheunemann. Mr. Scheunemann is a former advisor to then Senate Republican leader Trent Lott, and also to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Welcome.

Mr. RANDY SCHEUNEMANN (Foreign Policy Advisor, McCain): Thank you, pleasure to be here.

SIEGEL: Senator McCain says it would be wrong for U.S. troops to leave Iraq before al-Qaida is defeated and before Iraqi security forces are effective. What are the measures of those goals? No more suicide bombings or IEDs? No more need even for U.S. air support for Iraqi security forces?

Mr. SCHEUNEMANN: Well, the only measure of al-Qaida is not simply IEDs or suicide bombs. Some of those have been solved by Shia extremists backed by Iran. I think our military on the ground has a very good handle on the nature of the organization capabilities and numbers of al-Qaida. Clearly, they are on the defensive, but they had not been defeated. If we were to withdraw before the Iraq security forces were able to handle their security, there's little doubt that al-Qaida would be left free to reconstitute.

SIEGEL: But then what constitutes the defeat of al-Qaida? I mean, there was a small Greek terrorist cell that operated for 20 years with three people committing a crime every year. What would be defeating al-Qaida?

Mr. SCHEUNEMANN: Well, I think the defeat of al-Qaida is when they are no longer able to pose a strategic threat to the state or a region in Iraq. They had huge areas of the country that were under their control de facto, where they were able to cash arms and engage in bomb-making and terrorize the population. That is no longer the case. Had we advocated the policy that Senator Obama wanted, we would've withdrawn from Iraq a long time ago, and they would've been free to plan their activities.

SIEGEL: Are they then defeated now? Have they been defeated?

Mr. SCHEUNEMANN: They have not been defeated now, but as Senior Intelligence Officials have recently said, as well as Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus when they testified recently before Congress, they are on the defensive.

SIEGEL: Should U.S. support continue for five years, 10 years if need be?

Mr. SCHEUNEMANN: Now I'm not going to put a timetable on it. What Senator McCain has said is that timetables are wrong because it sends a wrong signal to our enemies. Senator McCain has always said in his view of force levels and deployments in Iraq, he is guided by two things: the events on the ground and the advice of military commanders.

SIEGEL: If the surge in troop levels has been as successful as Senator McCain says, why talk about reducing troops at all? Why not send in another 30,000 troops or another 50,000 troops to get the job done that much faster?

Mr. SCHEUNEMANN: What Senator McCain has said is that we need to have the right level of forces there and the right strategy. Senator Obama said the surge would not be successful in reducing sectarian violence. He was clearly proven wrong. It's hard to take seriously a question, say, why don't we put another 50,000 troops in because violence is going down? That's not a serious option under discussion by anybody.

SIEGEL: But Senator McCain has made the point that violence has gone down precisely because there have been more troops. There were numbers of troops talked about in 2002 which were much larger than this still. Is it a limitation that you just can't send in anymore troops to Iraq?

Mr. SCHEUNEMANN: The violence has gone down not just because there are more troops, but because we fundamentally changed the strategy from essentially engaging in search and destroy missions out of large bases to engaging in an active counter-insurgency strategy which gets much more intelligence from the Iraqi people and has proven far more effective. So it's not simply a function of number of troops. It's also the change in strategy and change in leadership.

SIEGEL: Democrats endlessly repeat Senator McCain speaking of U.S. troops in Iraq for 100 years. Does Senator McCain foresee long-term U.S. bases on Iraqi soil?

Mr. SCHEUNEMANN: What he said in that comment about 100 years was clearly referring to a post-war, post-conflict presence. He said in that statement like we have had troops in South Korea or Japan or Germany for many decades. If there is an agreement between sovereign governments that it serves mutual interests to have a long-term presence, he said he would be open to it. But Senator McCain has never advocated the case for long-term bases in Iraq for 100 years. He simply said that's one possibility that may be considered in a post-war scenario.

SIEGEL: Before I let you go, if you could put in a nutshell John McCain's view of foreign and security policy and how it would be distinguished from Senator Obama or even from President Bush, for that matter, what is it? How do you describe John McCain and his view of the world?

Mr. SCHEUNEMANN: Senator McCain is realistic idealist who believes that we need more rather than less allies in the world, and that we need to work very closely with our allies, take their concerns into account, and not embark on unilateral positions, be it for unconditional presidential summits of reopening trade agreements, as Senator Obama has advocated.

SIEGEL: Randy Scheunemann, foreign policy advisor to the campaign of John McCain, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. SCHEUNEMANN: Thank you. My pleasure.

SIEGEL: And earlier, we spoke with Dennis McDonough, foreign policy advisor to the Obama campaign.

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