Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, called Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s chief spokesman an “idiot” last week during an interview with a North Carolina radio talk show host.
The name calling was prompted by Rear Adm. John Kirby’s long answer to a reporter’s request for a response to McCain’s contention that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is winning in its war against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq and Syria.
“This idiot Admiral Kirby was asked ... ‘John McCain says that we are losing. What do you say?’ McCain told WAAV AM radio host Tyler Cralle before describing Kirby’s response as “blah, blah, blah.”
McCain’s remarks were first reported on Wednesday by Buzzfeed.
McCain has been an outspoken critic of the White House response to the rise of ISIS and its territorial gains across large swathes of Syria and Iraq. Since Syria first began unraveling more than two years ago, he has called for arming rebel groups he believes would oppose both the Assad regime and jihadist groups such as ISIS intent on establishing Islamic rule over the region.
In his reply to a reporter’s question, Kirby several times began a sentence and then stopped as he sought to describe the situation in Iraq and Syria as complicated and fluid, according to a transcript of the press conference.
“Well, I'm not going to -- I would just tell you that we believe that -- let me put it this way,” he began. “It’s going to be a long fight. It's going to be difficult. There's going to be setbacks. There's going to be wins, and there's going to be losses.”
Kirby acknowledged, in fact, that he may not have been clear.
“I don't mean to ramble, but it's a mixed picture,” he said.
But from a military perspective, Kirby said, “it does no one any service to try to, you know, make a call on any given day.”
The Pentagon has not responded to McCain’s remark and Kirby, when contacted by Washington Post reporter Dan Lamothe, said he would have no comment.
McCain’s office did not reply to Military.com’s request for comment.
Kirby was named by Hagel to be his press secretary and his principal spokesman last December. At the time, Kirby was the U.S. Navy's chief of information. But Kirby had previously served as one of the Pentagon’s top spokesman under Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and had also been a public affairs advisor to Adm. Mike Mullen when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Kirby has a good reputation among reporters who have covered the military.
“Kirby comes out classier than McCain in this,” Laura Rosen, a former Politico reporter who now writes a column on the Middle East for Al Monitor, said in a Twitter posting.
Jim Garamone, a former reporter for Military Times who now writes for the Pentagon, tweeted: “Having known John Kirby many years now, I deeply resent Sen. McCain's comments and believe the admiral deserves an apology.”