September 3rd, 2013
10:16 AM ET
5 years ago

McCain, Graham issue tough warnings on Syria dilemma

(CNN) – Republican Sen. John McCain, who met with President Barack Obama on Monday, said the president would "seriously consider" sending weapons to the rebel forces in Syria on top of a military strike against the country's regime.

"That means providing them not only weapons but the kind of weapons they need: anti-armor and anti-air. AK-47s don't do very well against tanks, so we discussed that and that that would be a course of action that the president would seriously consider, I guess is the best way to describe it," the Arizona Republican said Tuesday on CNN's "New Day."

McCain and fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have been vocal proponents for a strategy that seeks to topple President Bashar al-Assad's regime, rather than take limited, punitive strikes against Syria.

Syria possible strike: Get up to speed in 20 questions

Graham, who also met with Obama on Monday, gave harsh criticism of the president's handling of the situation in Syria so far, including the Obama's decision to seek Congressional authorization for military action more than a week after chemical weapons were used in Syria. With Congress still in recess, a vote is not expected until next week.

"This is about the most mismanaged situation I've ever seen since World War II, when they were trying to control the Nazis. This is bizarre," Graham said in a separate interview on "New Day."

McCain underscored a sense of urgency, saying the delay in taking action will worsen the situation in Syria and further complicate a potential U.S. intervention.

"To think that the Syrians aren't making accommodations to the likelihood of a strike by moving their assets around, including military assets into civilian areas is foolishness. This kind of telegraphing punches could make our mission much more difficult and much more damaging to the civilian population. It's frankly crazy," he said.

While the administration announced this weekend it had positive results for traces of sarin used in Syria, some skeptics say it's best to wait until the United Nations chemical weapons inspectors release their results from samples gathered last week. Those results could take up to three weeks. Others point to varying intelligence gathered from the U.S., France and the United Kingdom.

But McCain argued "we need no further proof."

"I mean those bodies you saw stacked up with physical wounds, I mean, it's clear that the issue is chemical weapons. He's already used them, it's been proven," he said.

Military has concerns about Syria mission

It's now up to Congress to weigh in on whether the U.S. should take action, though the president has said he maintains the right to act unilaterally. So far, most lawmakers indicate they're undecided on the issue and many are waiting to hear what the administration says in congressional hearings and more classified briefings this week.

How will they vote? House of Representatives | Senate

Graham said he hopes Congress will get behind the idea of a military campaign and weapons upgrade for the rebels, otherwise, he said, "the worst is yet to come."

"This vote is going to be too close to call right now, and if we lost this vote, oh my God, I can only imagine how it would make us look throughout the world. But if we have a weak response, that's just as bad. So the president needs to up his game," he said.

Filed under: John McCain • Lindsey Graham • Syria
soundoff (96 Responses)
  1. S.B. Stein

    We should have made a statement when Iraq used these kind of weapons against the Kurds and the Iranians. I guess this is making up for past mistakes. When we couldn't find the weapons in Iraq, they were trucked into Syria with the understanding that they would be sent back when the inspectors had left.

    September 3, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  2. GloSeattle

    Yep, and "send more middle class taxpayer sons off the Arabian coast" strategy. Just another chess game, we do this, they do that in response (maybe attack our embassy or tourists or an ally, we amp it up and do something else to them... it just continues. They will not turn a blind eye – they're hurting their own people, what will they do to people they hate? It's not just a limited action, get real folks!

    September 3, 2013 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  3. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    McCain and Graham and their "The Sky Is Falling" routine.
    Shut up and sit down.

    September 3, 2013 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  4. Data Driven

    @Dave and RealPolitik,

    Both of you pointed out these Senators' hypocrisy as it applies to Congress actually being the government body who is supposed to declare war. You're right, but Congress gets around that y allowing the Executive to call war something else, thus permitting them to avoid responsibility for military actions. By not calling a war a war, the Executive is untrammeled and can do whatever it likes, which is what everyone prefers. Congressional "sign-offs", like the "AUMF" from the Iraq War, are solely designed for political optics, and thusly we can all pretend we're not living in a elective monarchy.


    September 3, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  5. zappo15

    Make McCain the commander of the strike. It will be a dream come true for him.

    September 3, 2013 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  6. sammy750

    McCain and Graham are war mongers, they urged G. Bush to attack Iraq. And that war was not necessary. It all started with big lies from the Republicans.

    September 3, 2013 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  7. Denverdriver

    I don't understand why war hawk McCain has been trying to drag us into this mess for the last two years. One would think he'd have gotten his fill of war in Viet Nam.

    September 3, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  8. Thomas

    These are other news reports. Of course CNN would never report these::

    "Syrian rebels in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta have admitted to Associated Press journalist Dale Gavlak that they were responsible for last week’s chemical weapons incident which western powers have blamed on Bashar Al-Assad’s forces, revealing that the casualties were the result of an accident caused by rebels mishandling
    chemical weapons provided to them by Saudi Arabia.“From numerous interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families….many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the (deadly) gas attack,” writes Gavlak. "


    "We are still waiting on a comprehensive report from our Turkish colleagues,” he added, citing the incident when a gang of terrorists carrying a canister with nerve gas sarin was arrested inside the Turkish territory about two weeks ago."


    More will be revealed , we need facts , not reactionary regret .

    September 3, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  9. tim

    Its not sbout what's right or wrong. It's about Obama saving face. More civilians will die than government troops but it will make the president look strong.

    September 3, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  10. resident

    What part of "we don't have a dog in this fight" don't our elected reps understand? Shiite vs. Sunni, al-Qaeda vs. Iran. As far as "humanitarian" goes, that ship sailed when they flew passenger aircraft into buildings and hacksawed people's heads off on YouTube.

    September 3, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  11. Tom1940

    So! Tell me John and Lindsey, how is the killing of Syrians, by other Syrians a bad thing? Does the means bother you? Does the fact that the Assad Regime supports Hezbollah in Lebanon, The West Bank and Gaza and does all that can to inflict casualties upon Israelis? What is it you really want? Estimates are that 7 of the 9 groups making up the insurgents in Syria are either Al Qaeda or Affiliates and/or the Muslim Brotherhood. Are these the folks you wish to put in charge of Syria, should an attack by the U.S. weaken Assad and topple his regime? Really! Have you two fellas really thought this through? It sounds like with the "known" circumstances, you would want the U.S. to very carefully weigh this decision before putting it into play. As to the "Unknown Consequences plus "unintended consequences", you boys have not taken the time to consider – actually – in reality – there is absolutely no "upside" to our intervention into this "Syrian Affair". We can wring our hands. Send humanitarian aid and assistance – but really fellas – that should be all we are doing in the middle east right now, except letting things go and letting the cards fall where they may. Diplomatically – yes. Behind the scenes – trying to get the best possible political outcome favorable to our interests, yes.
    All the rest – no! It just isn't worth the lives of our troops, our fortune as a country, and as to "credibility" – that is something this President gave up long ago. That will not change until the Presidency does. – Sorry! Your just not right on this issue.

    September 3, 2013 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  12. Rudy NYC

    A vote on this issue will be one of the most interesting votes before the Congress since the vote for the first Gulf War. I look forward to seeing how the members put themselves on the voting record. Assuming an authorization passes the Congress, it goes to the White House where the president decides whether or not to actually take military action.

    I would shamelessly vote against an authorization to use military force against Syria. I cannot wait to hear the rhetoric out of the war mongers if an authorization does pass. I'm sure that they're going to act like it was a mandate to take action.

    September 3, 2013 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  13. ????

    Its not sbout what's right or wrong. It's about Obama saving face. More civilians will die than government troops but it will make the president look strong.


    September 3, 2013 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  14. ST

    @ Barbara
    Can you please stop those nonsense. How sure are you that it was the rebels who used the chemicals and not Assad govt.? Is it because someone reported it so? Who is that someone and why do you trust him/her while you were not around to witness the incedence. We know it was Assad who used them, because since then he hasn't initiated any investigation to find out who did that to his people. Can you please be wise enough and refrain from the propaganda of Assad?

    September 3, 2013 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  15. ????

    I Read a quote last weekend that said:

    "We are going to bomb Syrians for bombing Syrians."

    The logic of that statement is powerful.

    September 3, 2013 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  16. Wake up People!

    Well tim, it has been the mission of the GOP to constantly call the POTUS weak and incompetent even before he was inaugurated. I wish people would make up their minds. Is he weak and afraid, is he a dictator looking to take over the world or is he the President of the United States doing the job he was elected to do?

    Whatever happened to the mantra, either you're with us or against us?

    September 3, 2013 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  17. jo

    No weapons no money no troops no missles no ships no people nothing at all to Syria.Theres No US flag there and no Syrian flag here. let Obama McCain and grahm suit up and go it alone with france,,,after we pay them and forgive there debts to us.let them keep McCain and Obama though as the free gift from us

    September 3, 2013 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  18. Silence DoGood

    Mr. President – please don't start bombing again until you are sure.

    September 3, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  19. Anonymous

    @barbara – That's pretty heady stuff that would change everything.
    @Thomas – "more will be revealed" – I hope so, and fast. "Reactionary regret" is not an option.

    So, Ticker, do you have any facts about this story?

    September 3, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  20. Fair is Fair

    Rudy NYC

    Fair is Fair wrote:

    Are we really considering arming the "rebels", who by all accounts are comprised of Al Quaeda and Islamists? Really?????
    "We" are not considering arming "rebels", but rather another group of "friends" that McCain met during one of his secret vists to an Arab state embroiled in civil war. The administration gives the appearance that they have little or no desire to give arms to McCain's newly found "friends".
    ANY arming of ANYONE by the United States over there would have to be done with the approval of the President. Stop finding someone else to blame. It would be HIS decision, not McCain's.

    September 3, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  21. Terry

    Can you please stop those nonsense. How sure are you that it was the rebels who used the chemicals and not Assad govt.?

    ST Can you please stop those nonsense. How sure are you that it was Assad who used the chemicals and not the rebels .? Is it because Kerry and Obama said so? It wouldn't the first and the last time our Government lies to us. rememeber Iraq ? Rememeber Benghazi?This administration has said so many lies that it is hard to believe anything thay say. We will see if CNN will publish this comment

    September 3, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  22. Robert Jay

    Can we just get past the political posturing? Typical Republican BS – Why are we supposed to be the police of the world for mindless Arabs who put no value on life except singularly theirs- Have a war -kill themselves off shut down the supply of oil (maybe we will get serious about alternative energy!) and when its over (and it will end quickly) maybe they will have learned once and for all to quit fighting stupid wars and that religion begets wars it does not stop wars!

    September 3, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  23. Rudy NYC

    ST wrote:

    Can you please stop those nonsense. How sure are you that it was the rebels who used the chemicals and not Assad govt.? Is it because someone reported it so? Who is that someone and why do you trust him/her while you were not around to witness the incedence. We know it was Assad who used them, because since then he hasn't initiated any investigation to find out who did that to his people.
    There you go again. You accuse other people of drawing conclusions when they truthfully do not have all of the facts, yet you somehow are able to rise above that limitation and draw the "correct" conclusion based upon those same limited facts.

    You argue the Assad regime's lack of calling for an investigation is proof of guilt is laughable. Ask yourself this. How much credibility would the Assad regime's self-investigation carry in the world?

    Here's another question to try on for size. Who would most benefit from a U.S. military response to the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons? I say that it would be the extremist forces in Syria that have hijacked what began as a genuine civil uprising. They would benefit from U.S. air and missle attacks. They would benefit from U.S. arms being supplied from the U.S. Ask yourself, who benefits the most, and you are more likely to find the guilty party.

    September 3, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  24. Sniffit

    Breaking: Congress, jealous that they don't have time for fantasy football, seeks alternative means of vicarious entertainment. Story at 11.


    September 3, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  25. Mel

    The only reason Obama is consulting Congress is because he is AFRAID of making a decision. It was real easy for him to stand on the sidelines and criticize Bush, but when it comes down to him having to make a hard decision he can't or won't do it. Just like all those times in the Illinois legislature when he voted "present" rather than Yes or No. This shows the world what a weak leader Obama really is. Putin figured this out a long time ago. Iran an North Korea are watching, too. Over the weekend, the Syrian press was comparing Obama to a cat in a tree; Obama needs Congress to get him out of the tree.

    Obama could not lead flies to a garbage can. This is why you never, ever elect a community organizer as president.

    September 3, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
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