McCain says that in talks with opposition leaders, he brought up the possibility of the rebels’ paying the United States for the many millions of dollars already spent on the Libyan operation. “I reminded them that Kuwait and Saudi Arabia reimbursed us after Operation Desert Storm,” McCain says. “They said they’d be glad to discuss that.” Although the rebels are low on cash now, Libya has significant oil wealth; before the war began, its production was about 1.6 billion barrels per day.

McCain, perhaps the most vocal supporter of the Libyan war in all if the U.S. government, says he was impressed by his meetings with rebel leaders. “They’re very good people,” he says. “Mainly well-educated, a number of women in the [Transitional National Council] — very normal, dedicated people.”…

McCain dismissed concerns that rebel forces include some veterans of al Qaeda. “I’m sure that there may be some element there, but I guarantee you that they didn’t rise up because they wanted to be al Qaeda fighters,” McCain says. “They rose up because they wanted to throw off the yoke of Gadhafi, the same way that people in Egypt rose up and the same way that people in Syria are rising up. It’s not because they’re al Qaeda extremists, it’s that their tired of being governed by an extremist who doesn’t hesitate to massacre them.”

McCain became impatient when reminded of a 2007 report which found that Libya, and specifically Benghazi, had been a source of insurgents who traveled to Iraq to fight American forces there. “Look, that’s not why the Libyans rose up,” McCain emphasizes. “It’s not an al Qaeda- led insurrection. These are ordinary citizens who wanted to get rid of Gadhafi, who was one of the more brutal dictators in the region. I don’t think they’re any more al Qaeda-inspired than what’s going on in Syria, or what went on in Egypt, or what went on in Tunisia…This wasn’t fomented by al Qaeda, it was fomented by chance who saw a chance, an opportunity, for a much better life. They hate Gadhafi. They hate Gadhafi with a passion that is hard to describe. And it isn’t because they’re al Qaeda, it’s because they are citizens who want freedom and democracy.”