In an interview on CNN Monday afternoon, soon-to-be presidential candidate Senator Lindsey Graham told Wolf Blitzer he believed the Iraq War was not a mistake. Graham also said President Obama is to blame for the current mess in Iraq and Syria, not former President George W. Bush.
Graham said Syria is the "mostly likely launching pad for an attack on the United States" and argued it's going to take reengagement by the U.S. military in the region to end ISIS. Graham outlined his plan to increase troop presence in Iraq by 10,000 if he were elected president.
"I am sorry it's going to take reengagement by the American people," Graham said. "There no way to win the war without some of us being over there doing the fighting so they don't hit us here at home."
WOLF BLITZER, CNN: You want to be president of the United States. You're running for the Republican presidential nomination. Was the Iraq War a mistake?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): No. I don't think so. I think at the end of the day, if I know now, then what I know now, a land invasion may not have been the right answer, but Saddam Hussein was firing at American planes patrolling Iraqi skies under international law. He was denying U.N. weapons inspectors access to sites where we thought there would be weapons of mass destruction. He was killing his own people.
The biggest mistake we made was leaving Iraq without a follow-on force against sound military advice. There's two things going on in the Mideast that people need to understand. Of the Islamic faith. A fight for the heart and soul radical Islamists are a small minority. We need to decide with the 95% who would live in peace with us to destroy this ideology and people in the Middle East are no longer living in dictatorships for our convenience.
To those who think this is a temporary problem or that we brought this upon ourselves you don't know what you're talking about. We got hit in 2001, two years before we invaded Iraq. We didn't have one soldier, we didn't have an embassy, we didn't have one dime of aide going into Afghanistan but they hit us anyway because this is a religious war, not caused by Iraq or Libya.
BLITZER: But, Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11.
GRAHAM: Well, he had a lot to do in terms of destabilizing the region. He had invaded his neighbor (Kuwait), he was violating U.N. mandates about inspecting sites as part of the ending the first Gulf War, he was shooting at American aircraft patrolling the skies over Iraq as part of a no-fly zone, he was gassings the Kurds. I am glad he is gone. At the end of the day, I blame President Obama for the mess in Iraq and Syria, not President Bush.
BLITZER: So you don't say President Bush made a major blunder in going to war against Saddam Hussein, if you had to do it all over again, you would have done the same thing? Is that what you're saying?
GRAHAM: I'm saying I don't know if I would have done a ground invasion to get rid of Saddam, knowing the intelligence of his intelligence program was faulty, but I would have kept the pressure to get rid of Saddam. The world is bester without Saddam Hussein. At the end of the day, the Iraqi people were making progress on the security front, on the economic front and on the political front. That is an undeniable fact.
Leaving Iraq too soon, not leaving a residual force has resulted in what you see today and it is in our national security interests to get Iraq in a better position and to do something about Syria. Syria is the most likely launching pad for an attack on the United States. ISIL has a stronghold in Syria. there's no strategy to deal with that stronghold and the longer ISIL is allowed to survive in Iraq and Syria, the more likely they are to attack us here at home.
I am sorry it's going to take reengagement by the American people through their -- for their military, economic support to Iraq and Syria. I wish it were not this way, but I'm thinking about running for president, and here's what I would tell the American people if I do run:
The outcome in Iraq matters to us. You can't allow ISIL to run wild throughout Syria and Iraq and thinking it won't matter to us. We're going to have to send some of our troops back over there, to partner with Iraqis and Arab armies to make sure these radical islamists don't hit us here at home. There is no easy way forward. There no way to win the war without some of us being over there doing the fighting so they don't hit us here at home.
BLITZER: Well, there still are 3,000 U.S. military personnel in Iraq right. But what you want is a lot more. How many troops do you want there?
GRAHAM: I want to have enough to partner at the battalion level.
BLITZER: How many thousands?
GRAHAM: About 10,000. I think about 10,000.
BLITZER: And you think 10,000 troops would make a real difference?
GRAHAM: Yes, I think the 10,000 troops will allow us to train the Iraqi army at a faster pace and give them the capability they don't have. And this raid in Syria was a good step. But if I were president of the United States there would be raids every night in Iraq and Syria against leadership of ISIL. They will never know a minute's peace. If they picked up the phone, if they got in the car, they'd be subject to being killed. This is the only way you can do it. Is you've got to hit them hard and the hit them in a sustained manner.