May 29th, 2013
03:17 PM ET
9 years ago

McCain says State provided security in Syria trip

Updated at 10:43 p.m. ET Wednesday 5/29

(CNN) – The U.S. State Department helped Sen. John McCain with his trip into war-torn Syria this week, the senator from Arizona said Wednesday.

McCain acknowledged on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" that the State Department and rebel groups were both involved in providing his security.

"I want to express my appreciation to the State Department," McCain said in the exclusive CNN interview. "The reality is if they had said no, I wouldn't have made this visit. They were very helpful and cooperative, and I'm grateful."

On Monday, McCain slipped across the Syria-Turkey border and became the first U.S. senator to visit the country since civil war broke out more than two years ago. He traveled roughly 1 kilometer inside Syria to meet with rebel leaders from different Syrian cities. He remained in the country for several hours.

State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed earlier Wednesday in the daily briefing that Secretary of State John Kerry knew beforehand McCain intended to travel to Syria. While she said Kerry and McCain spoke about his trip Tuesday evening, she directed reporters to the senator's office for any further questions.

The White House was also aware of McCain's travel plans, Press Secretary Jay Carney said this week.

McCain declined to give too many details on the logistics of his trip but said the D.C.-based Syrian Emergency Task Force help set up the meetings with rebel groups. He credited Syrians for being "pretty brave in making this happen."

He did not detail how exactly the State Department helped him with security but said Salim Idris, a Syrian rebel general, accompanied him in and out of Syria from Turkey.

McCain is the leading voice in Congress for a greater U.S. role in ending Syria's civil war, which has been waged for more than two years. He has suggested establishing "safe zones" for Syria's rebels and taking out the regime's air assets, along with providing lethal weapons to Syria's opposition.

Meeting members of Syria's opposition face-to-face in the country they're fighting to control deepened his conviction that the United States must become further engaged in the bloody conflict.

The 2008 GOP presidential nominee said meeting 18 commanders with the Free Syrian Army provided an in-the-flesh reminder of the civil war's human cost.

"When you look at the faces of these people and hear their stories, so many of them have lost family members, so many of them have lost friends," McCain said in the interview, speaking from Dubai. "This is a pretty bloody, bloody business that they've been in."

He said Wednesday his positions have hardened now that he's seen the fighters working to oust Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

"Of course it's as you might imagine intensified because these are human beings that are trying to achieve the same thing that we have shed American blood and treasure for, for well over 200 years," he said.

Republicans and Democrats alike have called on President Barack Obama to ramp up support for Syrian rebels, who now receive nonlethal aid like food and medicine from the United States. In early April that aid was stepped up to include equipment such as body armor, night vision goggles and other military equipment that is considered defensive in nature.

In their meeting with McCain, leaders of the Syrian rebel forces pressed the United States to provide them with weapons to continue their fight against Assad. They specifically said they need ammunition, as well as antitank and antiaircraft weapons, McCain said.

"They do not understand why we won't help them," he said.

They also called for the United States to "take greater leadership in supporting the rebels in a more serious manner," according to Mouaz Moustafa, who helps run the group that organized McCain's trip.

"Their main message was that we are desperate for ammunition. We are desperate for weapons," Moustafa said.

U.S. officials from both parties have expressed concerns about American arms ending up in the hands of terrorists in Syria should the United States decide to provide rebels with lethal aid. Members of al-Nusra Front, which is designated by the United States as a pro-al Qaeda terrorist group, have joined the rebels in their fight against Assad.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul, for example, has been outspoken about his opposition to U.S. intervention in Syria. In a new opinion piece for, Paul writes that arming the rebels would be "complicated and dangerous" and "could actually help the extremists."

He also took subtle jabs at McCain, pointing to the senator's switch in support from former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to the rebels seeking his demise.

OPINION: Helping Syrian rebels a dangerous risk, Rand Paul says

McCain told CNN that members of the extremist group represent only 7% of the 100,000 total rebel forces. "We can help the right people," he said. "Is there some risk involved? Absolutely. But is the status quo acceptable?"

Filed under: AC360 • John McCain • Syria
soundoff (125 Responses)
  1. IvotedforObama

    Let MCCain go over and fight then.

    May 29, 2013 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  2. rs

    Steels his resolve to do what exactly? Engage in yet another war we cannot afford? Send more of our bright young people to a foreign soil to die, so he can feel "manly" again? The last rounds of wars hasn't turned out so good. Iraq was a mistake; Afghanistan was horribly mis-managed, Libya got 4 Americans killed (that the GOP keeps crying themselves to sleep over). Maybe it is high time the oil rich Middle East fixes its own mess.

    May 29, 2013 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  3. ray

    GO have a heart attack somewhere

    May 29, 2013 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  4. ThinkAgain

    "When you look at the faces of these people and hear their stories, so many of them have lost family members, so many of them have lost friends," McCain said. "This is a pretty bloody, bloody business that they've been in."

    Why isn't McCain rattling his saber and demanding we go to war with North Korea? That regime has been starving its people for about 50 years now. Bet they've lost family members; I know they have terrible stories; it's a terrible business (bloody for the "enemies of the state", just plain miserable for everyone else).

    Oh, that's right: North Korea doesn't have oil ...

    May 29, 2013 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  5. The Real Tom Paine

    -just sayin

    Unfortunately for Mr. McCain, the administration has been mulling intelligently and carefully over many options over the past few months
    months??? try two years.

    and along with other countries help will act when the time is right. The talks that Sec. of State Kerry will have with Russia should be helpful too
    yeah, cooperation from russia like they are now saying they will send assad more modern air defense systems. that is called spitting directly in obama's face. they know he's a joke.

    you are the typical ill-informed obama supporter.
    Had Obama come out in support of the rebels, you would have undoubtably been screaming about gettting us involved in another war in the Middle East. As I recall, that is exactly what happened when we gave material support to the Libyan rebels: people like you were screaming about the risk we were taking in that. Interesting that you have convenient amnesia about this, but hardly surprising.

    May 29, 2013 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  6. Jack

    We should jump in & help just like we did in Iraq. Look how well that turned out?

    May 29, 2013 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  7. Boothill Dem

    I hope McCain didn't spend one penny of taxpayer's money on such a stupid trip. If he did, then him and his entire operation should be put under investigation. Since when is McCain, or any Congressman, a legitimate State Department representative? I suppose if he and his entourage came under attack while he was there, then he would blame Obama. There should be a strict "no travel to Syria" policy for anyone not directly assigned to a State Department mission. McCain is just a grandstanding old war monger trying to get us into another war.

    May 29, 2013 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  8. LouAZ

    Sen McPain is not the CIC, he is not the Sec of State, he is not the Sec of Defense, he is NOT the POTUS !!!
    He cannot declare war on anybody. His "trip" and meeting with either side in Syria is TREASON.

    May 29, 2013 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  9. Michael

    You go back. Our kids will meet you there.

    May 29, 2013 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  10. Patrick in Minnesota

    Just askin, come back when you can even talk sense. Rebutting a rubbish and incoherent argument like the one you just put out is like taking candy from a baby.

    May 29, 2013 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  11. Rudy NYC

    This reminds me so much of his surprise visit to Benghazi, where he was talking about arming the rebels. I wonder how many of those guys were promised something, which they didn't get? Or, I cannot help but wonder if any of those guys were part of the attacking force on the US compound.

    May 29, 2013 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  12. smokeee

    thank God Mccain was not elected as our President. He's everything wrong with the leaders of our country thinking its our obligation to be the world police. Its funny to me how Republicans get so mad at Obama for our deficit and spending when they want us to get involved in all of these wars. and 7% of 100k people is still a lot...not like arms don't get in one persons hands to another either. I hope Mccain and Republicans take full responsibility for any weapons we provide that in the future are used against us, especially considering how much they blamed Obama's administration over the Fast and Furious incident.

    May 29, 2013 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  13. Elliott

    Mr. McCain does not seem to learn from the past mistakes of Bush/Cheney administration. We don't want to put boots on the ground and get involved in another quagmire like we did in Iraq and paid the price. These weapons/training could be used against our troops in the future.

    May 29, 2013 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  14. richie

    Let the dead bury the dead!

    May 29, 2013 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  15. Dr. Saleh Sultan

    It is clear to me reading the comments that America is a nation of cowards. American soldiers would be exterminated in a fight against a country that could defend itself. The glory days of WWII are long gone America, leave the fighting to real men.

    May 29, 2013 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  16. Rudy NYC

    ThinkAgain wrote:

    McCain supports further deficit spending to fund war – but not investment in OUR country.

    Makes you wonder whose side he's on ...
    I don't think that it will play out that way. It would be more like Hurricane Sandy relief. "We have to cut something to pay for something."

    May 29, 2013 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  17. Badly-Bent

    I used to be anti-Assad but, now it looks like we are going to nuture another Taliban-like group of extremists who will turn on their less-extreme bretheren and then turn around and bite the hand that feeds them!

    May 29, 2013 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  18. GonzoinHouston

    Syria is rapidly becoming the Islamic Viet Nam, a proxy war for Sunnis and Shiites. Neither side is particularly pro-western or pro-democracy. It may have started as a field for the Arab Spring, but that's long past. Russia and China both have major interests in the country already, and they will get involved. Russia is sending air defence systems in case we dispatch an aircraft carrier. Al Qaeda and other terrorists are on the insurgents' side. Hezbollah is on the other. And McCain wants us to get in the middle of it? No thank you!

    May 29, 2013 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  19. blue max

    Let me get this right.... mcain wants provide lethal weapons to terrorists?

    May 29, 2013 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  20. m123

    Yes, let's spend another trillion dollars on a worthless war.
    These are the same rebels accused of eating the hearts out of govt soldiers, and may have used chemical weapons.
    Main point, nunya business.
    Stay home McCain, you are a dinosaur RINO

    May 29, 2013 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  21. granny4life

    These folks are going to be fighting long after all of us are gone. Our country does not need to keep going to war. Why is is that McCain can call for war, but not protect, serve, and do justice to the folks of the United States. This man has been angry since he was a prisoner of war, he failed to be elected to the Presidency, do you think he has a hard head, The people of the United States has declared him and his friend Sarah unfit to run this country, he needs to do the job of Senator of Arizona and represent those poor folks in that state and stay out of trying to go behind the scenes for attention or what ever floats his boat this week. Hopefully the good folks of Arizona will finally get this old goat out of office so he can sit around his ranch and write his life story that hopefully few will read.

    May 29, 2013 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  22. Badly-Bent

    Blacklisted – so much for freedom of expression. . . .

    May 29, 2013 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  23. sadlyperturbed

    @Tony D: Did you not get enough killing from thew last two wars? Do you really think it wise to al;low more of our soldiers to die because you and many like you think war is the answer to everything? Obviously, you think it would have been wise to rush into a situation which is NONE OF OUR BUSINESS. People like you love to stick your nose where it doesn't belong.

    May 29, 2013 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  24. Bob R., Maryland

    McCain should stay home and clean up his GOP. First, he should make it know the GOP is closed for repairs' as Dole recommeded. Those GOP fools need some leaderhip. McCAin should keep his nose out of the President's business. McCain travels on my tax money and I resent that!.

    May 29, 2013 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  25. Jocho Johnson

    Where on earth does McCain come up with the 7% number. I wish the people of his state would impeach him and throw him out of office. Then, he could go to Syria and join up with the al-Qaeda he loves so much.

    May 29, 2013 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
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