Interview with Senator John McCain

Interview with Senator John McCain

By The Situation Room - June 18, 2012

BLITZER: And Senator McCain is joining us now from Capitol Hill. He's the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator, you gave a powerful speech today at the American Enterprise Institute on Syria, and among other things, you said this about the president and his strategy. Listen to what you said.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: When it comes to the administration's policy towards Syria to say they are leading from behind is too generous. That suggests they are leading. They're just behind.


BLITZER: Specifically, Senator McCain, what do you want the Obama administration to do?

MCCAIN: First of all, lead. It might be nice to start with that the president would talk about the plight and the term (ph) on the Syrian people and the terrible atrocities that are being committed against them. Second of all, I know from countries in the region if we led in a coalition that we would be able to take significant action to stop the massacre and the status quo that's going on right now. Murder, rape, torture is an instrument of national policy by Bashar Al-Assad. Part of that would be a safe area that we could protect along with our allies and help these people organize and to more effectively resist. They are resisting. The longer it drags out, the more likely it is that extremist elements could hijack this revolution.

BLITZER: You say you don't want U.S. boots on the ground in Syria, but you do call for some use of air power. Specifically, what do you have in mind?

MCCAIN: Well, to ensure that a safe area would be respected by Bashar Assad, along with other countries who would be willing to supply their air power now? As you know, some countries now in the region are supplying weapons which we steadfastly refuse to do while they are being slaughtered.

BLITZER: Do you support supplying weapons to the opposition?

MCCAIN: Of course, of course. The Russians, recent news carried on CNN that (INAUDIBLE) is headed towards the Russian port in Syria. But the secretary of state said that helicopters, which we understand are refurbished, but that is basically the same thing, arms and equipment, Iranian assistance on the ground, is all -- it's not a fair fight, Wolf. It's an unfair fight that's going on right now and slaughter.

BLITZER: The Obama administration insists it can't do anything really militarily launching cruise missiles or airpower or anything along those lines without the authority of the United Nations Security Council. And as you anyway, Russia has a veto on the Security Council and they're more than happy to use it.

MCCAIN: So we are now having any national security action taken by the United States of America dependent upon the good graces of Russia. We went to Kosovo, as you may recall and I'm sure you do, without a U.N. Security Council resolution for the same reason because Russia would have vetoed it. The United States of America cannot gauge or condition its actions on whether Russia and China veto resolution in the U.N. Security Council. That's consigning our policy to Mr. Putin.

BLITZER: As you know, the president just issued a joint statement with Mr. Putin at the G-20 summit. They met for a while today and they go into where they agree. Among other things they say "we are united in the belief that the Syrian people should have the opportunity to independently and democratically choose their own future." But they don't go into a whole lot of specifics, certainly there's no reference there to the significant disagreements between the U.S. and Russia on this sensitive issue of Syria. What is your reaction to that?

MCCAIN: Well, I think it was the kind of statement that you usually hear when there's no concrete agreement. Also, it's a little weird or welein (ph) to consider their statement about Kofi Annan, supporting Kofi Annan's initiative. I mean almost every observer up to Kofi Annan recognizes that it's been a total failure. The observers have just been pulled back, so to somehow say that they're dependent upon what has been a failed course of action is a little bit unrealistic to say the least.

BLITZER: You also in your speech today, you expressed concerns about Iran and its apparently growing influence in the region. Not only moving from Iran, but through its allies now, some of them in Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon. We now see the Muslim Brotherhood winning the presidential election in Egypt. What's going on here from your perspective and how specifically does Syria fit into this?

MCCAIN: Well, I think Syria followed Bashar Al-Assad. According to General Matis (ph), our head of Central Command, it would be the greatest blow to Iran in 25 years. Apparently media reports today that the talks with Iran on the -- their nuclear program had broken down. If you had Syria in the hands of free and democratic country, that would be the last real Bastian (ph) of the Russian empire in Syria.

You would have a direct blow to Hezbollah. A chance for Lebanon to become truly independent and, so, it would be a huge setback to Iran if Bashar Al-Assad failed. And so you've got a humanitarian situation here where torture, murder, rape is being systematically employed against people who are having -- do not have the weapons to defend themselves, and the strategic implications of a massive blow to Iran if Bashar failed.

BLITZER: Senator McCain as usual, thanks very much for coming in.

MCCAIN: Thanks for having me on. 

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