CNN "State of the Union" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Lindsey Graham
Date: April 24, 2011
Location: Unknown

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CROWLEY: Thanks, Senator, for being here.

I want to move you first to Libya. And Admiral Mullen said in Iraq that this was moving toward a stalemate. I want you to tell me what it looks like to you.

GRAHAM: Looks like a stalemate. The military's strategy of taking U.S. air assets out of NATO I think was a big mistake. We have a unique capability. We got AC-130s, A-10s that can do a lot of damage to the Libyan forces supporting Gadhafi. When you take these off the battlefield -- you know, we wanted a no-fly zone for the Libyan aircraft, not ours. So it is leading to a military stalemate. I'm glad the Predator drones are going to be used.

But here's what I think is going to happen. Right now there's just not enough momentum by the rebels even if they are better armed to break through to Tripoli. There's not deep support for Gadhafi. So my recommendation to NATO and the administration is to cut the head of the snake off, go to Tripoli, start bombing Gadhafi's inner circle, their compounds, their military headquarters in Tripoli.

The way to get Gadhafi to leave is have his inner circle break and turn on him. And that's going to take a sustained effort through an air campaign. I think the focus should now be to cut the head of the snake off. That's the quickest way to end this.

CROWLEY: Here's the problem. The U.N. resolution calls for protecting the Libyan people. It is going to be hard to make that connection saying, listen, we're going after Gadhafi, we're going after his men. That is not within the mandate.

GRAHAM: Well, it is my belief that it is going to be hard for American national security interests to survive intact if Gadhafi stays.

You know, I like coalitions. It is good to have them. It is good to have the U.N. involved, but the goal is to get rid of Gadhafi, a military stalemate is ensuing and the only way I know to make this thing successful is to put pressure on Tripoli.

The people around Gadhafi need to wake up every day wondering will this be my last. The military commanders in Tripoli supporting Gadhafi should be pounded. So I would not let the U.N. mandate stop what is the right thing to do. You cannot protect the Libyan people if Gadhafi stays. You cannot protect our vital national security interests if Gadhafi stays. The long drawn-out protracted engagement is not good for the Libyan people.

A lot of people are going to die unnecessarily. Let's get this guy gone and the way to get him out of Libya is to go after him militarily through the air. You don't need ground troops to do that.

CROWLEY: You know, NATO, within -- the countries within NATO, there are not a majority of countries participating in this to begin with. The U.N. was reluctant even to do what it did. But you're saying that you think, regardless of what -- and you're going to get backlash from this. If the U.S. goes in and takes out the leader of a nation, however illegitimate we consider him to be, there is going to be a lot of backlash.

GRAHAM: You know, who's it going to come from? Who in the world is going to say we regret Gadhafi being driven out of Libya or being replaced?

CROWLEY: Wouldn't they be in the Middle East?

GRAHAM: Or being taken out? No, I don't think anybody is. No, I don't buy that at all, Candy, quite frankly. I don't think there are many people in in the world who will be upset if Gadhafi is taken out of Libya and particularly in the Mid East. Look at the Mid East countries participating. NATO is uneven in terms of this engagement strategy. The American airplanes have been taken out of the fight. It's making it more difficult for NATO to support the rebels.

At a the end of the day I think there are very few people in the world that would be upset at all if Gadhafi leaves.

I can tell you what, if he stays, it is a nightmare for the world at large. You think gas prices now are high and unstable? Let him survive and see what the Mideast turns into. The people who have taken to the streets in Egypt and Tunisia and Syria, what kind of message would you be sending to the Iranians if Gadhafi stays?

So this is not even a close call for me. You can't let the Russians and the Chinese veto the freedom agenda. So any time you go to the United Nations security council, you run into the Russians and the Chinese. These are quasi dictatorships so I wouldn't be locked down by the U.N. mandate. I would do what would be best for the United States, the Libyan people, the region and the world and that's replace Gadhafi.

CROWLEY: And you had said that you would support arming the rebels if it made sense. Does it make sense now?

GRAHAM: If it made sense. I think so. I think we can provide additional military capability to the rebels, but the one thing that's missing is an effective NATO air campaign. And the day that NATO lost American air power, it became less effective and the fight has been really neutralized in Tripoli. Close air support is vital to the rebels hanging on to the ground that they hold now.

But the idea of the rebels pushing all the way to Tripoli, even with new weapons and an air campaign, is limited because they're not well trained. The way to get this over quickly is to go after the inner circle in Tripoli, in my view.

So let's have two strategies. Make sure that Gadhafi forces lose on the battlefield, better equip the Libyan rebels, have more air power coming to their aid so they begin to win on the battlefield, and put pressure on Gadhafi's inner circle in Tripoli by going after their compounds and their sanctuaries.

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