McCain: “Policy towards Syria has been an abysmal failure”
Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), told CNN in an interview that the Obama administration’s policy toward Syria has been an “abysmal failure”. He also spoke about Iran and GOP politics.
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The CNN Political Ticker
A transcript and videos from the interview are available after the jump.
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CROWLEY: And joining me now, Senator John McCain, Republican from Arizona, a member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committee. Senator McCain, thanks for being here. Let me start out where I finished with Jim Sciutto, which is what is the U.S. leverage at this point?
MCCAIN: Well, first of all, recognize that the policy towards Syria has been an abysmal failure and a disgraceful one, as we have watched these horrendous — what Director Clapper said was an apocalyptic situation, particularly in regard to those photos that have now come out. There’s 11,000 documented pictures of starvation, beating, torture and murder of men, women and children.
CROWLEY: There is, Senator, but that’s kind of like —
MCCAIN: First they acknowledge that they–
CROWLEY: Right. What you’re saying is that has happened in the past.
MCCAIN: Acknowledge that — a failure. They are still — the president was still touting at the State of the Union message the removal of chemical weapons. Then, if you acknowledge failure, then you examine and re-examine options which were rejected. Increasing arming to the free Syrian army, perhaps establishment of a free zone, better arming and equipping.
There’s a number of tell the Bashar Assad to stop and take measures if necessary, these horrible barrel bombs that they are dropping on people, which is just indiscriminate killing.
We have options. The question is whether we will use them or not. After 8,000 people were ethnically cleansed at Srebrenica, Bill Clinton acted. None of us want boots on the ground, but to not revisit other options, which are viable, then I think it is the only thing that we can do. This is shameful. This is shameful what’s going on.
CROWLEY: Let me ask you about the viability, because it is argued, and it is arguable that perhaps three years ago if we had begun to make relationships with some of the legitimate rebel Syrians who wanted a say-so in their government, that is one thing. Now you have a situation where lots of fighters have come in from the outside, some of them linked to al Qaeda, some of them Islamist militants, who are also laying waste to Syria. They are — there’s fighting amongst each other, and what the U.S. fears is that you find a legitimate rebel group, you give them the weaponry, and somehow it ends up really in the hands of those who want to attack the U.S., and it’s just a bad idea to put more weaponry in a situation that is already chaotic.
MCCAIN: Isn’t it a terrible idea to do nothing? The fact is that we still have a viable opposition. Yes, these foreign fighters, 7,000 of them, foreign fighters are there. 26,000 jihadists. The black flag of al Qaeda is now flying over the city of Fallujah as the Iraq-Syria border becomes a transshipment for and base for al Qaeda.
All of these things are far worse than they were three years ago. There are viable options. There is a viable free Syrian army. There are people, who — there’s groups that have joined together against these extremists. ISIS, radical al Qaeda extremists that are there. There is still viable opposition that we can help and assist. We can do that, and to do nothing, of course, we’ll see a further deterioration and a regionalization of the conflict.
Look at the situation in Jordan. Look at it in Lebanon. Look at — and recognize that it is Russians and Syrians and outside help and Iranians, look, the Iran Revolutionary Guard are there, 5,000 Hezbollah out of Lebanon have come in and reversed the tide. Remember when the president of the United States–
CROWLEY: But why not —
MCCAIN: — said it’s not a matter of whether Bashar Assad will leave, it’s a matter of when?
CROWLEY: Right, and that now seems to now not be happening. I think that’s maybe the point here, is that Bashar al-Assad is as strong as he’s been since the civil war started. He’s strengthened his positions. He’s trying to roust out the rebels in the cities that they have captured. You’ve got all these people running around with weaponry.
Yes, there are legitimate groups, but there’s no legitimate way to tell if they will prevail.
So you mentioned all of these countries around that are affected by the humanitarian crisis, among them Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon. What about them? Why can’t they arm the people that they find to be legitimate? I think, you know, you’ve seen the polls, Senator. You know that people are really reluctant to put the U.S. even at the edge of a war in the Middle East. The Middle East has not been a great place for the U.S. to try to help other countries.
MCCAIN: If the president of the United States went on national television and showed those pictures that are on my website that have been released, which are documented, of the horrific things that are being done, the American people at least would be I think more willing to help these people.
No one is asking for military intervention. There are legitimate groups there. They have succeeded in some areas in fighting back against al Qaeda, by the way, who Bashar Assad is not fighting very hard against. There are viable alternatives inside Syria, but we also have to address the outside influences.
MCCAIN: You talk about the surrounding countries. Let — Jordan is helping a lot, but they are on the verge of collapse because of this horrendous influx of refugees from Syria. Lebanon is destabilized. The whole region has turned into a regional conflict, and who is behind it? The Russians and the Iranians. While we sit down at the table with them on nuclear weapons, while we talk about the removal of chemical weapons, it has turned into a regional conflict, and the weapons flow in from Russia and the training from Iran and all of it is evolved into the situation that we’re in today. Do not believe we are out of options. There are many options if we have the courage to pursue them.
CROWLEY: There are humanitarian crises in a number of places where the pictures are horrific, and you know these places, many of them in Central Africa, but we don’t — there’s not this kind of push to help arm the rebels or whoever it is we side with in these places, and I think when you look at the pictures, you can’t help but be moved, Senator, but you — and you say it’s what is worse than doing nothing? Maybe doing harm. Do you entertain the possibility that some harm could happen if we increase — more harm could happen if we increased it, helped with military aid?
MCCAIN: More harm could happen? More harm could happen? Candy, with all due respect that’s ludicrous. That’s ludicrous. And, by the way, in Africa we — we make efforts with the U.N. We do — we are working. We are providing assistance and things to do in Africa. In the Middle East this situation was predicted and predictable and — and the stakes here, frankly, are incredibly high. The stakes, humanitarian stakes any place else in the world are incredibly high, but we’re now looking at a regional conflict, which could over time draw the United States into it if it spreads throughout the region. The second battle of Fallujah, we lost 96 Marines and soldiers, 600 wounded, and now the black flags of al Qaeda are flying over Fallujah. It’s disgraceful.
CROWLEY: Let me turn you to a couple of political problems back home. One of them is that we’re now led to believe by the leaders in both the Senate and the House, Republican leaders, that there will be no immigration reform this year. I want to remind you of something that you said in July of 2013 in an interview to PBS when you said “If we don’t do that,” meaning immigration reform, “Frankly I don’t see — I see further polarization of the Hispanic voter and the demographics are clear, that the Republican Party cannot win a national election. That’s just a fact.” Is that still a fact, and do you believe that Republicans are undermining or enhancing their chances in the mid- terms by not dealing with immigration reform? MCCAIN: I think that I stick absolutely those words that I uttered, and were absolutely true and states like mine over time, the demographics will overtake not only mine, but throughout the whole southwest and many other parts of the country. I won’t give up. We have the broadest coalition of support of any legislation I’ve ever been involved in. Big business, small business, Evangelicals, Catholic Church, the list goes on and on. It’s time for those people to weigh in and bring pressure to bear and say, look. We need to act, and we — I have not given up hope that we will act, and we must act, and I would, again, urge my House colleagues to consider whatever way they want to pursue to try to address this issue because it’s going to have to be addressed, and to wait until 2015 when we’re now involved in Republican primaries, obviously, would not be a viable scenario.
CROWLEY: And finally, Senator Cruz this week forced Republicans to join with Democrats in the House to get past a threatened filibuster, so you could raise the debt ceiling, as — and you voted in favor of moving past debate, but then against raising the debt ceiling. You’ve been critical of Senator Cruz, but it reminds me a little bit of — coming at it from a different direction, albeit of John McCain, the maverick, the guy that told his party what they didn’t want to hear. Do you see any similarities? Do you understand where Senator Cruz is coming from?
MCCAIN: I understand where Senator Cruz is coming from. We have a cordial relationship, and I respect his right to do — exercise his rights as the United States senator which he did last week, but I allege that there was no plan. There was no plan once we had taken the United States on the brink of this financial crisis that we were approaching. I appreciate our leadership voting the way that they did, even though they face primary oppositions, especially Senator McConnell, but he exercises his rights. There was enough of us that we move forward and put this issue behind us and now focus on Obamacare, on the economy, on many other issues, in which we think are winning issues.
CROWLEY: Senator John McCain, thanks for getting up early to join us from Arizona. I appreciate it.
MCCAIN: Thank you, Candy.