November 15th, 2015
11:52 AM ET

Graham: "There's a 9/11 coming and it's coming from Syria if we don't disrupt their operations inside of Syria."

SOTU

Today on CNN’s State of the Union, Senator, member of the Senate armed services committee, and presidential candidate Lindsey Graham (R-SC), joined anchor, Jake Tapper to discuss the Paris attacks and the threat of ISIS.

 

For more information, see http://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com/. Also, text highlights and a transcript of the discussion are below.

 

MANDATORY CREDIT: CNN’s “State of the Union”

 

Contacts: Lauren Pratapas — Lauren.Pratapas@turner.com; 202.465.6666; Zachary Lilly – Zachary.Lilly@turner.com

 

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS

Graham on how to handle the Syrian refugee crisis: “I believe the United States and the world needs to go on offense and stop the reason people have to leave Syria.  The good people are leaving because they're being raped and murdered and some terrorists are trying to get in their ranks. The best thing the world could do for Syrian people is to create a safe haven within Syria, a no-fly zone.  The best thing the United States could do to protect other homeland is go on offense, to form a regional army with the French involved that they'd like to be and go on the ground to destroy their caliphate. I've come to learn one thing over the last two years.  We're going to fight ISIL in their backyard or we're going to fight ISIL in our backyard.  I choose to fight them in their backyard.  I choose to fight them in Raqqa, not on the streets of the western capitals of the world or American cities.”

 

Graham responds to the possibility of boots on the ground: “I can only tell you what I've learned after 35 trips to Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade trying to understand this war. Number one, Obama's strategy against ISIL is failing. It will not working.  You are only going to win this war if you go on offense…So, what I'm pleading with every Republican - I hope Hillary Clinton - I hope the president will listen to what I'm saying.  We don't have until the next election to deal with ISIL.  There is a 9/11 coming and it's coming from Syria if we don't disrupt their operations inside of Syria. So, what I'm suggesting to presidents, to Democrats and Republicans, listen to what I have been saying and follow my advice.  The Arabs in Turkey want to destroy ISIL as much as we do.  France is now a victim twice of this organization.  Let's rally the world, form an army that is there to be formed, lead it, going on the ground and destroy ISIL before they attack our country.”

 

Graham on the role of Russia in Syria: “I would tell the Russians that you're not going to use military force to keep Assad in power.  That disrupts the region.  It gives Iran more power at a time they should have less.  It's a recruiting tool for ISIL to be able to fight the Iranians, Alawite controlled by Iran, it destabilizes the region.  The Syrian people are not going to accept Assad as their leader. So I would tell the Russians, you have bombed the people we have trained to take Assad out, who needs to go.  If you want to fight for Assad, that will be your choice, but what you will be doing is fighting the entire world. You'll be fighting the region, Turkey, all the Arabs, us, the French.  And we are going to do two things in Syria.  We are going to destroy ISIL before they hit our homeland, and we're going to replace Assad, because if he stays in power, the war never ends.  And let Russia make a decision.  And here's what they would do, they would back out.”

 

FULL TRANSCRIPT

THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

 

JAKE TAPPER:  Welcome back.

We have learned that an American woman is among those murdered during the brutal terrorist attacks in Paris.  Nohemi Gonzales was just 20 years old.  A student at Cal State Long Beach and a design major who friends called vibrant and energetic.  She was spending the semester studying in Paris.  The State Department says they're aware of at least two Americans who are injured as well.

Let's bring in Senator Lindsey Graham.  He joins me now as a Republican presidential candidate and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Senator Graham, thanks for joining me.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Thank you.

TAPPER:  Senator, do you believe if France requests that NATO invoke Article V an attack on one is an attack on all, that NATO and the United States should formally declare war on ISIS?

GRAHAM:  Absolutely.  Here's what I believe, without adjusting our strategy the worst is yet to come when it comes to ISIL, that the Obama strategy regarding destroying ISIL is not working and will not work.  And I'll be glad to tell you what I would do to destroy ISIL.

TAPPER:  We'll ask some of those questions coming up.

You've heard breaking news from CNN's Christiane Amanpour this morning, according to French authorities at least one of the Islamist terrorists smuggled himself into France, embedded among refugees from Syria.  Do you still believe that the U.S. needs to take its fair share of Syrian refugees?  How do we prevent this happening here in the United States?

GRAHAM:  I believe the United States and the world needs to go on offense and stop the reason people have to leave Syria.  The good people are leaving because they're being raped and murdered and some terrorists are trying to get in their ranks.

The best thing the world could do for Syrian people is to create a safe haven within Syria, a no-fly zone.  The best thing the United States could do to protect other homeland is go on offense, to form a regional army with the French involved that they'd like to be and go on the ground to destroy their caliphate.

I've come to learn one thing over the last two years.  We're going to fight ISIL in their backyard or we're going to fight ISIL in our backyard.  I choose to fight them in their backyard.  I choose to fight them in Raqqa, not on the streets of the western capitals of the world or American cities.

So, what would I do?  I would form a regional army made of Arabs and Turkey and American forces would be part of that army.  We'd go in on the ground in Syria.  We'd pull the caliphate up by the roots and we would take back land held by ISIL and hold it until Syria repairs itself.  That requires American boots on the ground in Syria and we need more American boots on the ground in Iraq if we're going to protect the American homeland because they're coming here if we don't stop them there.

TAPPER:  Senator Graham, you and Senator Rick Santorum are the only two Republican presidential candidates calling for more boots on the ground in Iraq and/or Syria.  And yet you and Senator Santorum are not doing particularly well, at least when it comes to polls.

Why is it do you think that those who are not calling for that, not calling for more boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria are thriving in the Republican primary race?

GRAHAM:  You know, I can't explain the politics, I can only tell you what I've learned after 35 trips to Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade trying to understand this war.

Number one, Obama's strategy against ISIL is failing. It will not working.  You are only going to win this war if you go on offense.  You will never win the war from the air.

So, what I'm pleading with every Republican - I hope Hillary Clinton - I hope the president will listen to what I'm saying.  We don't have until the next election to deal with ISIL.  There is a 9/11 coming and it's coming from Syria if we don't disrupt their operations inside of Syria.

So, what I'm suggesting to presidents, to Democrats and Republicans, listen to what I have been saying and follow my advice.  The Arabs in Turkey want to destroy ISIL as much as we do.  France is now a victim twice of this organization.  Let's rally the world, form an army that is there to be formed, lead it, going on the ground and destroy ISIL before they attack our country.

I am not trying to have pride of authorship here, I'm trying to protect America from another 9/11.  And without American boots on the ground in Syria and Iraq, we're going to get it here at home.  And if you don't understand that, you're not ready to be commander in chief, in my view.

TAPPER:  Senator, if the Arabs such as Jordan and the Saudis and the UAE and Egypt -

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER:  And Egypt and the Turks...

GRAHAM:  Yes.

TAPPER:  ...are eager to get in this fight, where are they?

GRAHAM:  The reason - they're eager to get in the fight, but they're not going to go destroy ISIL unless we take a side out, too.  No Arab nation is going to fight just for ISIL.  Turkey is not going to go on the ground and fight ISIL and leave Assad in power.  That's the problem with Obama's strategy.  He is leaving Assad in power.  That means you're giving Damascus to the Iranians.  To get a regional force, you have to accomplish two goals, to go in to destroy ISIL, which is a threat to the region, and also take out Assad, who is a puppet of Iran.  Without putting Assad on the table, you're not going to be able to rally the region.

I hope the French will invoke Article V.  They should.  The world should be at war with ISIL.  If I'm the commander in chief of the American component, we will be part of a worldwide force to destroy ISIL, and we will not leave Assad in power.  I am not going to give yet another Arab capital to the Iranians.  I will not do that.

TAPPER:  Senator, aren't you concerned that if we rally this coalition, the United States, put it together to take out not only ISIS but Assad, that that is going to be a war with Russia?  Russia, as you know, is now in Syria, doing everything it can politically, militarily, economically, to prop up Assad.

GRAHAM:  Here's what I would do.  I would tell the Russians that you're not going to use military force to keep Assad in power.  That disrupts the region.  It gives Iran more power at a time they should have less.  It's a recruiting tool for ISIL to be able to fight the Iranians, Alawite controlled by Iran, it destabilizes the region.  The Syrian people are not going to accept Assad as their leader.

So I would tell the Russians, you have bombed the people we have trained to take Assad out, who needs to go.  If you want to fight for Assad, that will be your choice, but what you will be doing is fighting the entire world. You'll be fighting the region, Turkey, all the Arabs, us, the French.  And we are going to do two things in Syria.  We are going to destroy ISIL before they hit our homeland, and we're going to replace Assad, because if he stays in power, the war never ends.  And let Russia make a decision.  And here's what they would do, they would back out.

TAPPER:  Senator, quick question, who do you think is better prepared to take on ISIS?  Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?

GRAHAM:  Lindsey Graham.  Hillary Clinton seems to be disconnected from what she needs to do.  She won't embrace boots on the ground.  And Mr. Trump's position regarding Syria has always been delusional.

I'm not worried about them, I'm worried about me and my homeland.  I have a plan.  Please, for God's sakes, wake up to the threats we face.  Hit them before they hit us.  Fight them in their backyard, not our backyard.  There are people ready to be led.  America must lead.  We must have American boots on the ground as part of a regional army.  We need 10,000 American forces in Iraq, not 3,500.  If we don't do these things soon, what you see in Paris is coming to America, and if I'm commander in chief, that will not happen, I promise you.

TAPPER:  It's a good answer, but you didn't answer the question.  I'll let you go there.  Senator Lindsey Graham, thank you so much, appreciate your time.
 

 

 

 

###END INTERVIEW###

 

 

 

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