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CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" - Transcript

Interview

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CROWLEY: Joining me now from Greenville, South Carolina, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. Senator, thank you. I'm not sure if you got to hear the breaking news at the top of the show, but essentially the military council has said that they have suspended the constitution and that they will be conducting things for the next six months or until there are elections.

Is that an OK timeframe, do you think, as far as the way the U.S. is looking at it?

GRAHAM: Well, I think from our national security interests, this election in Egypt is going to define Egypt in the region for decades. And Mr. ElBaradei said it could take up to a year to get democratic institutions in place. Just think what they have to do going forward. There really is no independent judiciary, there are no political parties. The constitution has been used basically to outlaw political parties. So I'm looking for a free, fair, transparent election that would get the full flavor of Egypt. And a rushed election could help an organization like the Muslim Brotherhood, so my advice to the Egyptian people is, take your time, reach out to the world at large. A lot of people want to help you. And I'm not so sure you can do all the things you need to do between now and September to have an election that reflects the full will of the Egyptian people and to create democratic capacity. But that will be up to the Egyptian people.

CROWLEY: I was talking to an administration official yesterday who talked about being -- there being two different clocks in Egypt. And one of them goes slowly, because it says you are building a democracy from the ground up here. That is not easy to do. We saw that in Iraq under entirely different circumstances, but nonetheless, it takes time when every institution needs to be redone.

GRAHAM: Right.

CROWLEY: And then there is that other clock, that is the impatience that you saw in the square, the impatience that you feel from young people and from their parents. And so you have to find that sweet spot, do you not, between going too slowly to satisfy protesters who could just as easily show back up in the square, could they not?

GRAHAM: You know, that is a very good analysis. And I think your network has done an outstanding job of informing the American people what's going on in Egypt.

Yes, where is that sweet spot? There will be a desire to look backward, to hold Mubarak accountable. How much money did he steal from the Egyptian people? Should he and those around him go to jail for abusing the Egyptian people? That's going to create friction with the army, because the army has been very close to Mubarak institutions, the Mubarak presidency.

So as young people, the Muslim Brotherhood talk about looking backward, that may create some friction going forward.

We know what the people are against in Egypt. We don't yet know what they are for, so there is a lot of friction when it comes to capacity building. You know, how much can you get up and running before September to make the election really meaningful? So I would err on the time of going slow, building capacity, and as the desire to look back grows -- which it will, to hold people accountable -- that will create friction among the army because a lot of the generals in this army have lived pretty well during the Mubarak era. And I don't know how much they are going to be into letting people go back and hold him accountable.

CROWLEY: Well, and yet these are also the people who the U.S. has mainly been dealing with.

GRAHAM: Absolutely.

CROWLEY: Certainly during the last 18 days, and obviously over the course of the last three decades.

When you look at the idea of Egypt recreating itself, what do you worry about most? Because I have seen people say, I worry about the U.S. intelligence gathering. Egypt has been so helpful, particularly when it comes to Al Qaida and Iran, what's going on in Gaza. I have had other people say, you know, this was the door to other Arab countries. What worries you most that the U.S. will lose or might lose?

GRAHAM: Well, as we develop a new -- if we can pull this off, if the Egyptian people can create a democracy in the heart of the Arab world, it will be a more significant contribution to civilization than the great pyramids. It really will have a long-lasting effect.

I worry that we'll rush to an election where the Muslim Brotherhood, who is the most organized but doesn't represent the true will of the Egyptian people, will have a disproportionate effect. I worry about the army. Will the army hold together? Will the young officers accept the rule of the senior people? Will the army really subordinate itself to civilian control as this new democracy unfolds?

You talked about intelligence. I worry about our own intelligence services understanding what the heck is going on. When the DNI of the United States says the Muslim Brotherhood is mostly a secular organization, that sent chills up my spine. It makes me wonder, do we really know what's going on in Iran? And if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, all hell breaks loose in the Mideast. So I worry about what happens in the next six months to a year in Egypt affecting our relationship with Saudi Arabia, with Jordan and Israel.

Now is the time to stand by Israel without equivocation and help the people in Egypt to form a democracy. But at the end of the day the order, the task they have chosen will be very difficult but doable.

CROWLEY: And it could backfire.

GRAHAM: Oh, let me tell you, you've got Jordan and Saudi Arabia are thinking we have thrown over our friend in Egypt. Well, Mubarak was a good ally. He did bring a calming influence. The army has reaffirmed the peace treaty with Israel. But at the end of the day, people in Jordan and Egypt -- excuse me, Saudi Arabia, need to get the message from Tunisia and Egypt. And that is that you've got to give your people more say, a larger voice in society.

This could be a good thing for the region or it could all fall apart. If it falls apart in Egypt, who knows where it ends, what kind of forces does it unleash in the Mideast. So you get one chance to get this right.

To the protesters, I know you have had a tremendous effect on the future of Egypt in the last 18 days. My advice would be to go slow, form political parties, take that energy that led to bringing this regime down and chart a brighter future that is based on religious tolerance and secular democracy. And those things are not certain yet, by any means.

CROWLEY: Senator, while Egypt was busy reformulating itself, CPAC, which is the, as you well know, a collection of conservative groups, was holding a meeting in Washington, talking about spending cuts and the like. But they also had a straw poll that I just wanted to show you the results of over the weekend.

Ron Paul came in first with 30 percent. Mitt Romney next with 23 percent. And then down the line, Gary Johnson, Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich. There were others, obviously a lot of others that I'm sure you know personally that are thinking of running for president. Is there anybody on this list that you look at and think, I could go with this guy?

GRAHAM: Well, you know, at the end of the day, I'm looking for the most conservative person who is electable. And that person is yet to emerge. Mitt Romney is probably the frontrunner among traditional candidates. Ron Paul is a well organized, has a lot of energy behind his ideas. But whether or not he could win a general election, I think, is a big if.

We have got a tall task as Republicans. We're going to have to win independent voters. They are very much looking at the Republican Party anew. We are getting a second chance with the American electorate. We did well in 2010. And I think President Obama is beatable, but we have got to nominate someone that can win over independent voters, who do want smaller government and less spending, but understand there is a role for government. So over the next few months, we'll see who can pick that mantle up and run with it, the most electable conservative. No one quite knows yet.

CROWLEY: Tis the season. Thank you so much, Senator Lindsey Graham. We really appreciate your time.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

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