Sen. Lindsey Graham: “President Obama needs to do something”
Today on a special edition of CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), member of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, spoke about upheaval in Ukraine, U.S.-Russia relations, and military budget cuts.
During the interview, regarding how President Obama should handle the Ukraine-Russia crisis, Graham told Crowley, “President Obama needs to do something. How about this, suspend Russian membership in the G-8 and the G-20 at least for a year starting right now. And for every day they stay in Crimea, add to the suspension.”
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A transcript and video from the interview is available after the jump.
CROWLEY: Joining me now, Senator Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate, and member of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Lindsey Graham, republican from South Carolina. He sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Gentlemen, thank you both for joining me today. I’m kind of tempted to say Ukraine go and see what comes out because this is an ever-changing situation.
Let me, though, try to sort of channel this and say to you, Senator Graham, the president has come out and spoken very forcefully on Friday about consequences. The U.S. has made it clear that it disapproves of what Russia has done. You’ve been tweeting about strong statements. What more do you want from President Obama at this point?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, number one, stop going on television and trying to threaten thugs and dictators. It is not your strong suit. Every time the president goes on national television and threatens Putin or anyone like Putin, everybody’s eyes roll, including mine. We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression.
President Obama needs to do something. How about this, suspend Russian membership in the G-8 and the G-20 at least for a year starting right now. And for every day they stay in Crimea, add to the suspension. Do something.
CROWLEY: Senator Durbin, I imagine you’re going to disagree, at least, with the description of how President Obama’s handled things.
SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) ILLINOIS: Well, of course, I disagree. You would expect the president of the United States to speak out against what Putin is trying to achieve here. We got to remember that Putin developed his diplomatic finesse as the head of the soviet secret police. And his idea of invading countries occupying them and really daring people to go to war is the tactics — those are the tactics of a bully.
And, what the president has done is speak out against them. This notion of taking him out of the G-8 has already been suggested by the administration, some members, and I think it’s the right thing do. Now, what Congress has to do, what the Senate should do, quickly, is a resolution condemning what Putin has done.
Second, saying that if Ukraine will stand up for real reform, that we’re going to back them through the IMF and making it clear to our allies in NATO that that alliance is strong and neighbors of Russia that we are going to do everything in our part to discourage further aggression by Putin.
CROWLEY: Does any of this — I hear of, you know, resolutions of condemnation. I hear the president say this is wrong, you’re violating the law. There’ll be dire consequences. Given the stakes for Putin in this area of the world, why would he care about any of this?
GRAHAM: Candy — DURBIN: I’m not sure that he does —
CROWLEY: I’m sorry. Go ahead, Senator Graham. We’ll be back, Senator Durbin, in a second. Go ahead.
GRAHAM: Well, I tell you what, he very much cares about Democracy on his borders. I would like to create a Democratic news around Putin’s Russia. Durbin — Dick Durbin is right. Georgia is trying to seek NATO admission through the membership action plan. Let’s accelerate Georgia’s admission into NATO. Moldavia is under siege by Russia. Let’s help Moldavia. Poland and the Czech Republic.
We abandoned our missile defense agreements with them to protect Europe from a rogue missile attack coming out of the Mid East. Russia backed Obama down. If I were President Obama, I would reengage Poland and the Czech Republic regarding missile defense. I would admit Georgia to NATO. I would have a larger military presence in the Balkans to NATO members who are threatened by Russia.
I would fly the NATO flag as strongly as I could around Putin. I would suspend his membership in the G-8, be the G-7. The G-20 would become the G-19 at least for a year. And every day he stays in the Ukraine, I would add to it.
CROWLEY: Senator Durbin, first, to the question of why would Putin care about this condemnation? He is much more interested in Crimea than he is about what the United States thinks about him.
DURBIN: Candy, Vladimir Putin and the Russians just spent $50 billion on this Sochi charm offensive to try to redefine Russia in the 21st century. That Sochi charm offensive died on the streets of Sevastopol when he moved in thousands of troops days after the closing ceremony. He is trying tries to have it both ways.
He wants to have this grandiose vision of empire at the expense of those countries that neighbor Russia are depending (ph) on it for natural resources, and then he wants to play like he’s part of civilized society. His oligarchs should be denied an opportunity to fly back and forth to Europe at will. We’ve got to make him feel that there’s a price to pay for this conduct.
GRAHAM: And he does care about missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. He does care about the fate of Georgia. He invaded the country. So, let’s challenge him where we can. Let’s secure our friends, and if at the end of this, Candy, he has not paid a price, if Russia is not isolated, if there continue to be membership in good standing with every international organization, shame on us all.
CROWLEY: In the end, can there be any sort of deal that backs Russia off that does not include Russia’s concerns and take into consideration Russian concerns when it looks at the Ukraine, it sees western intervention, it saw top U.S. officials out before the president was ousted and fled to Russia. There were top U.S. officials on the streets in Kiev supporting the demonstrators. So, Putin looks at this and says the west is, you know, interfering in sort of my neighborhood. So, doesn’t Putin’s ties to — perceived or real — to the Ukraine and to Crimea have to be considered if there’s to be a diplomatic solution? Senator Durbin.
GRAHAM: Well —
DURBIN: Well, let me say, from my point of view, I agree with Lindsey when he talks about missile defense and strengthening NATO alliance. Now, let’s be honest about it, the Crimea has been in a crucible for decades, if not centuries, over its identity and its future. And it was the Ukrainian government that invited the Russian government to establish a base agreement in Crimea. That complicates it as does the ethnic breakdown within that region.
But we’ve got to make it clear to Putin that if there are Russian speaking people on the soil of another nation, that doesn’t give him license to invade — to protect him when there’s no obvious threat against him, because there are Russians spread all over the former soviet empire there in countries that are today very free, very democratic, and very friendly to the United States. We’ve got to draw the line.
CROWLEY: Senator Graham, I want to read you something from Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur. She is part of a Ukrainian caucus on Capitol Hill, Democrat from Ohio, in which she said in an interview, “If I was President Putin, I would have been worried with the collapse of the party of regions” — that is the government in Kiev — “about peace in the Crimea. I understand Russia’s military posture.”
This, obviously, runs counter to anything either you or Senator Durbin is saying right now. What do you make of that position that there is, you know, a Russian view to this that is not totally understood or taken into account?
GRAHAM: It’s a horrible position for American political leader to take, to legitimize what’s happening. The Crimea is part of the Ukraine. In 1994, there was an agreement as the former Soviet Union split up — and by the way, Putin’s trying to create a new Russian empire and we should stand up. The Crimea is complicated, but it is part of the Ukraine. 1994 agreement, the Ukrainians gave up all nuclear weapons to maintain territorial and sovereignty.
This is not the way to influence a democratic state. Yes, people in Kiev need to understand Eastern Russia has its complications. But nobody in the world, including a member of Congress, should legitimize using 15,000 troops to invade a country to have your say about what’s going on regarding your neighbor. This is an invasion. The Crimea is part of the Ukraine. This is not the way you settle disputes.
Can China go in and take islands away from Japan? The Iranians are watching. If we do not decisively push back against Putin and make him weaker and all of our friends in the region stronger, the Iranians are going to misunderstand yet again (INAUDIBLE) regarding their nuclear program. So much is at stake. Putin’s on the wrong side of history. He’s on the wrong side of the law. Make him pay a price. The Ukrainian people are dying for their freedom. I hope we will stand with them. Not just in words, but in deeds.
CROWLEY: Senator Durbin, your reaction to what Congresswoman Kaptur had to say?
DURBIN: Well, I disagree with Marcy. I think we need to be sensitive to the Russian populations in Crimea. As I’ve said, this is an historic reality. But the notion that Putin can send in, as Lindsey graham says, 15,000 troops or whatever the number in order to so-called protect them just defies the sovereignty of Ukraine and especially the point he made, an agreement, which these Russians were signatories to back in 1994.
I would say to my friend Congresswoman Kaptur, we can be sensitive to the Russian reality in Crimea but don’t give license to Vladimir Putin to invade the sovereign nation.
CROWLEY: Senators I want to get you (ph) both (ph) to standby because when we return I want to ask you about the president’s budget cuts and military spending with all the saber rattling in Russia, is this a time to cut back? Senators, stay with us.
CROWLEY: Back now with senators Durbin and Graham. I want to take the opportunity to talk to both of you about the new budget proposal from Secretary Chuck Hagel out of the Pentagon which basically would cut the army, kind of World War II levels, cut back on equipment, getting ready for kind of a new sort of warfare. I feel as though I have heard that for some time. I imagine that both of you agree — are going to agree it is too much, but what would you suggest in terms of cuts in the Pentagon? Senator Durbin?
DURBIN: I can tell you that we live in a dangerous world. The United States has the strongest military in that world and we want to make certain we always have military that can keep America safe and free —
CROWLEY: Would these cuts make it less — would these cuts that are being proposed make it less powerful?
DURBIN: Well let me address one point you made, Candy, at the opening. And that is that this is going to reduce our troop’s strength below World War II levels. The men — primarily men and women who served in the military in World War II were the greatest generation, the best soldiers on earth and they proved it. But today’s soldier brings to battle more capacity, more capability and more firepower than those soldiers in World War II ever did. So numbers alone don’t tell the story. We have to make certain we have the very best military, well trained and that we have the best technology to back up our national defense. But at the same time, acknowledge the reality. We are not going to — I hope we’re not going to engage in another land war like Iraq or Afghanistan, a long- term commitment that costs too much in human lives and treasure. And secondly, we’ve got to make certain that we reduce spending in all areas.
CROWLEY: Senator Graham, it certainly sounds as though, given the state of the world and the kinds of warfare that are seen in the future, that you don’t need as many people as you did when there were World War I, World War II, Vietnam, any of those.
GRAHAM: Well, my goal is to deter war. Read the report as to what’s going on in North Korea. Do you think the person running North Korea is rational? It is a gulag. It is Nazi type tactics being practiced in 2014. What if the leader of North Korea woke up tomorrow and said it’s time now to take the south. 440,000 members of the United States army is a gutted army. We do have a lot of technology available to our troops. Every soldier goes into battle with an array of technology and equipment not possessed in World War II. But you still need trigger pullers.
So this budget by President Obama guts our defense. It is the smallest army since 1940. The smallest Navy since 1915 and the smallest air force in modern history. If you went into Iran tomorrow to have to neutralize or stop their nuclear program, you’re going to need every b-2 and f-22 you can get. The f-16 and f-18 are great planes but they’re not stealth. So if you’re going to modernize your military for future conflicts, this budget will not allow you to do it. And the idea you’re going to make — you taking off what kind of wars you’re going to fight assumes the enemies of our nation will agree with you.
CROWLEY: Senator Durbin, the last word to you. In fact, the “Wall Street Journal” made much the same point as Senator Graham did, saying, look, the purpose of fielding a large army is to minimize the temptation for aggression. How far is too far to cut back on troops?
DURBIN: Well, I don’t know that we can pin our national defense strategy on the irrationality of leaders of North Korea because I don’t know that we can ever build a national military that would deter some craziness by someone. But the question is can we protect the United States, can we protect our citizens and our interests around the world? And that means, for example, strengthening the NATO alliance, making certain that we do have troops in South Korea that are there, god forbid something occurs in the future.
I have great confidence of the men and women in the military and our technology to continue to meet that challenge. But we have to acknowledge the obvious. If we are going to reduce our debt for future generations, we are going to have to cut spending on the defense and non-defense sides.
CROWLEY: Senator Durbin, Senator Graham, thank you both for joining me this morning.
GRAHAM: Thank you.
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