JOHN DICKERSON INTERVIEWS
SENATOR JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ) AND
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC)
NOVEMBER 29, 2015
***FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW***
JOHN 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 US Embassy there. Senator McCain, I want to start with you. There are two problems in Syria: Bashar al Assad and ISIS. What are your plans for handling both of those?
JOHN MCCAIN: Well I think you have to handle both and then 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 innocent civilian men, women and children and driving millions into refugee status which we are trying to cope with now.
JOHN 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?
LINDSEY GRAHAM: They better be, because if you 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're 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've 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.
JOHN DICKERSON: Robert Kagan in the Wall Street Journal, Senator Graham, wrote that the kind of operation that you both are recommending could require 40-50 thousand troops. Is that what people should be considering here?
LINDSEY GRAHAM: I think it will require more than that, but the good news -- 90% will come from the region. The kind of force that John and I are talking about is that 10% 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'll pay for this war. But the one thing I could 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, is limited in focus and it will get limited results. General McFarlane is doing a very good job with limited capability. We don't have enough American troops inside of Iraq to destroy ISIL anytime soon.
JOHN 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's Fallujah, there's Mosul and others. We need a more robust presence, and John, again, as all of our candidates bloviate about the refugees, 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.
LINDSEY GRAHAM: And the one thing I can 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're making a huge mistake.
JOHN DICKERSON: so Senator Graham, the President says because there is no US ground force, military advisors tell him it would require an occupational US force. And that's a recipe for lots and lots of forces for a long period of time. What's your response to that?
LINDSEY GRAHAM: I haven't been told that by anybody. The holding force would be the region. We're talking about regional armies coming together with a western component, 90% them 10% us, the holding will be done by Sunni Arab states. We'll 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 can get them out of Mosul 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.
JOHN 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 affect outside the United States in the fight against ISIS?
JOHN MCCAIN: Oh, I think it has an interesting effect of turning Muslims all over the world against the United States of America, which is 99 and 44 one hundredths 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 stay in power, they more this poison spreads and metastasizes from as far away as Afghanistan, Africa, and other parts of the world.
JOHN DICKERSON: Final question to you Senator McCain, you're talking about a regional force. But, you know, the administration has been trying to get Gulf States to participate, 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.
JOHN MCCAIN: Well, let them be skeptical. We haven't tried it. Second of all, they are ready but also that Bashar 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 put together a regional force which has to have America participation.
JOHN DICKERSON: Senator McCain and Senator Graham thank you so much. And stay with us, we'll be right back.
***END OF TRANSCRIPT***
Jackie Berkowitz, firstname.lastname@example.org