McCain, Graham: U.S. Countries Must Establish No-Fly Zone In Syria

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DICKERSON: Back now with two key Republicans when it comes to foreign policy, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain and GOP presidential candidate Senator Lindsey Graham. They join us from Baghdad in the U.S. Embassy there.

Senator McCain, I want to start with you.

There are two problems in Syria, Bashar Assad and ISIS. What are your plans for handling both of those?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, I think you have to handle both, and the biggest mistake we could make is some kind of alliance with Russia, since Vladimir Putin's ambitions are vastly different from ours.

First, you have to obviously take out ISIS. But, at the same time, you have to establish a no-fly zone, which sends the message to Bashar Assad that he can stop barrel-bombing people and slaughtering his innocent civilian men, women and children and driving millions into refugee status, which we are coping -- trying to cope with now.

DICKERSON: Senator Graham, that's two simultaneous military engagements that Senator McCain just sketched out there. Do you think the American people are ready for that kind of a commitment in Syria?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They better be, because if we don't destroy ISIL in Syria, which is their headquarters, we're going to get attacked at home.

So, the region is ready to fight. The region hates ISIL. They are coming after the Sunni Arab nations. And Turkey hates ISIL. The entire region wants Assad gone, so there's an opportunity here with some American leadership to do two things, which is to destroy ISIL before we get hit at home and also to push Assad out and not give yet another Arab capital to Damascus.

I can't overemphasize enough the influence of Iran. We have been here for a day-and-a-half. Iran is all over Iraq. They filled in the vacuum that was created when we left. And the region is very worried about Iranian dominance as much as ISIL.

DICKERSON: Robert Kagan in "The Wall Street Journal," Senator Graham, wrote that the kind of operation that you both are recommending could require 40,000 to 50,000 troops. Is that what people should be considering here?

GRAHAM: I think it will require more than that, but the good news, 90 percent will come from the condition.

The kind of force that John and I are talking about is that 10 percent of the force will come from Western powers. The force that we're talking about will come from regional armies. There are large regional armies, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey. They have regional armies. They would go into the fight if you put Assad on the table.

So, most of the fighting would be done by the region. They will pay for this war. But one thing I can tell you about Iraq, the next president of the United States is going to be dealing with ISIL in Iraq, because what we have in place here is small, it's limited in focus, and it will get limited results.

General MacFarland is doing a very good job with limited capability. We don't have enough American troops inside of Iraq to destroy ISIL any time soon.

MCCAIN: I believe we will take Ramadi back, which is very important, within a relatively short period of time. But that's just the beginning.

There is Fallujah, there is Mosul, and others. We need a more robust presence. And, John, again, as all of our candidates bloviate about refugees, we see Bashar Assad is a major cause of the refugees which are now flooding Europe and causing such consternation in the United States.

A no-fly zone will provide a refuge at least for some of these refugees.

GRAHAM: The one thing I would say, John, there is no ground force, there is no ground force being formed in Syria. And if you don't look at Iraq and Syria as one battle space, you are making a huge mistake.

DICKERSON: So, Senator Graham, the president says, because there is no ground force, military advisers tell him that it would require an occupational U.S. force. And that is a recipe for lots and lots of forces for a long period of time. What is your response to that?

GRAHAM: I haven't been told that by anybody.

The holding force would be the region. We're talking about regional armies being -- coming together with a Western component, 90 percent them, 10 percent us. The holding will be done by Sunni Arab states. We will turn to Assad and say, you must go. Russia and Iran will be on the outside looking in to an entire regional army, including Turkey, with Western elements. They will fold like a cheap suit.

Inside of Iraq, if we had 10,000 American forces, with some Western coalitions helping us, I think we could get them out of Mosul a lot quicker.

I cannot stress to you how urgent it is that we destroy ISIL. Every day that goes by that they hold millions of people under their sway is a bad day for us, because they're going to hit us at home if we don't put them on the run.

DICKERSON: You mentioned the bloviating of presidential candidates.

How much of an effect, let's say, Donald Trump, when he talks about registering Muslims in the United States. Does that have any real effect outside of the United States in the fight against ISIS?

MCCAIN: Well, I think it has an interesting effect of turning Muslims all over the world against the United States of America, which is 99.44 percent people who practice an honorable religion.

And, by the way, the fact is that we can succeed here, and ISIS is not that strong, but the longer they say in power, the more this poison spreads and metastasizes from as far away as Afghanistan, Africa, and other parts of the world.

DICKERSON: Final question to you, Senator McCain.

You're talking about a regional force, but the administration has been trying to get Gulf states to participate, have been unsuccessful. You're talking about a regional force that would be involved not with the Russians, but the Russians would be active there.

I mean, people are highly skeptical that such a force could be put together.

MCCAIN: Well, let them be skeptical. We haven't tried it.

Second of all, they are ready, but also that Assad has to be part of the equation. He cannot stay in power for one day longer than necessary. And so if you had the right president and the right leadership, they would coalesce.

But there is no confidence in the Arab world today in the United States of America. That has to be restored if we want to put together a regional force, which has to have American participation.

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