McCain: Fight Assad And ISIS At Same Time; "We Can Walk And Chew Gum"


Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona says he disagrees with Secretary Tillerson that the U.S. should just concentrate on ISIS. "We can walk and chew gum. We have the capability to do both, the Senator adds.

Related Video: Tillerson: First Priority Is To Defeat ISIS, Assad Comes Next

"They're totally connected," McCain said about the opposing sides in the Syrian Civil War.

MCCAIN: Well, I think what the president did was an excellent first step and it was a reversal of the last eight years.

And I think it was important. But it is now vitally important we develop a strategy, we put that strategy in motion, and we bring about peace in the region. And that obviously means that there has to be a cessation of these war crimes.

John, dropping, using chemical weapons is a war crime, but starving thousands of people in prisons is also. Barrel bombs which indiscriminately kill innocent civilians, precision strikes done by Russians on hospitals in Aleppo are war crimes as well.

So there's a lot of war crimes that are taking place. And another area -- aspect of this that I do not agree with the secretary is that you have to just concentrate on ISIS.

We will take Mosul. We will take Raqqa. And we better have strategies as to how to handle those places once we have won it. But they are not disconnected from Bashar al-Assad and the al Qaeda and the war crimes that have been taking place.

You can't -- to a large degree, Bashar al-Assad, by polarizing the Syrian people, have also given rise to ISIS and al Qaeda. So they are both connected. And I believe that the United States of America can address both at the same time. We can walk and chew gum.

We have the capability to do both. And, yes, we want a negotiated settlement, but the only way that that will happen is if it is not in their interests to continue what they have been successful at for over eight years. And that is why I thought, symbolically and psychologically, the president's action was very important, but now we better follow it up. And, by the way, we should have cratered the runways.

DICKERSON: Just to follow up on that, Senator, Secretary of State Tillerson said when I listed those other parts of Syrian efforts that you mention, he said that America needs to -- quote -- "keep its priorities straight and focus on ISIS."

But your argument is that taking care of the humanitarian actions that Bashar al-Assad is -- is taking, that that is a part of the fight against ISIS as well.

MCCAIN: I think they are totally connected.

And also, when you see these crimes that are being committed, they are horrifying. John, I also believe that a grieving mother whose child has been killed isn't too concerned whether it is a chemical weapon or a barrel bomb. He is still slaughtering people. And we may stop the chemical weapons.

But we have also got to stop the other indiscriminate, inhumane war crimes that are being committed as well. And that means, obviously, trying to set up some kind of safe zone, so that these refugees can have a place where they can be. And, also, that would help with the refugee flow issue.

DICKERSON: Senator, you said you had wished that they had cratered the runways.

Based on your assessment of the damage that was taken from the U.S. military action, what kind of a signal do you think that sent to President Assad?

MCCAIN: Well, I think the fact that we acted was very important, and I support the president's action.

And I have been told that there was some recommendations to take out all six places that the Syrian air force operates out of. But now that they are flying again, basically, within 36 hours is not a good signal.

But I would point out, taking out their -- all their support facilities doesn't let them fly with any consistency. But it -- the signal that they are able to fly almost right away out of the same facility indicates that I don't think we did as thorough enough job, which would have been cratering the runways.

And somebody will say, well, then they can fill in the runways. Yes. And we can crater them again too.

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