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Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, at this late hour of our session, until September, I think it is important we continue to pay attention to and be concerned about the situation in Syria. Today, Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, announced the failure of his mission. If there is anything about the conflict in Syria that did not surprise most of us, it is the fact that Kofi Annan's mission was a failure. It was doomed to failure from the beginning. It was based on the premise that somehow Bashar Assad would be motivated to stop the massacre of his people. It was motivated on the premise that somehow U.N. observers could come in and stand between the two fighting forces but totally ignore the fundamentals of this conflict.
The fundamentals of this conflict are simple: It is the Syrian people attempting to assert their God-given rights and throw off the yoke of a brutal and unconscionable dictator, and on the other side of the equation Bashar Assad's commitment to doing whatever is necessary, including massacring now as many as 20,000 of his own people in his desperate quest to remain in power in Syria.
Let's not forget that one of the reasons we have seen heavy Russian involvement in the form of supplies of arms and equipment and continued Russian veto of resolutions in the U.N. Security Council that would have imposed even the mildest sanctions on Bashar Assad is what seems to be some kind of nostalgia on President Putin's part for the old Russian empire and the maintenance of their one base on the Mediterranean port in Syria.
The Russians' behavior in this throughout, as they continue to block one resolution after another, of course, is revealing of the true nature of the Putin regime, the autocracy and kleptocracy that has now asserted its full power and weight in Russia. In addition to that, of course, we have the Chinese joining Russia in their sustaining of vetoes in the U.N. Security Council.
It is hard to overstate the damage these actions by Russia and China have done to them, but it is also hard to overstate the damage that has been done to the Syrian people, with Russian equipment being supplied constantly, Iranian boots on the ground helping to set up torture centers, and continued encouragement of Bashar Assad to remain in power.
I am not here to again critique this administration's abysmal record, but isn't it ludicrous--isn't it ludicrous--to base your entire policy toward Syria on the belief that somehow the Russians would convince Bashar Assad that he should leave Syria? Isn't it foolish to somehow base your policy and nonintervention on the belief that somehow the mission of a former Secretary General of the United Nations would succeed when it was clear the Syrian people were not going to be satisfied with the continuous barbarous regime of Bashar Assad, and certainly Bashar Assad was not going to give up?
It is clear through Iran's actions that its rulers are playing for keeps in Syria, and they will stop at nothing to prevent the fall of Bashar Assad. Why are the Iranians so committed and involved? The words of General Mattis, the Commander of U.S. Central Command, described it before the Senate Armed Services Committee when he said that the fall of Bashar Assad would be ``the greatest blow to Iran in 25 years.''
So the United States does have more than a humanitarian interest in what
happens in Syria. In fact, if Bashar Assad falls, Syria loses its position as far as Lebanon is concerned, the Lebanese people have an opportunity to lose their client status of Syria, and Hezbollah absorbs a serious blow because they lose their patron in Syria.
So the fall of Bashar Assad is not only a victory for the force of democracy and freedom, but it would also mean a significant--a significant--advance in our interest in the region as our major concern today remains the Iranian continued development of nuclear weapons. The path they are on sooner or later may provoke an attack by either Israel and/or the United States of America.
I say that with some authority because the President of the United States, President Obama, has appropriately said it would be unacceptable for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.
I have been, along with my friend Joe Lieberman, to a refugee camp in Turkey on the Syrian border. There have now been thousands and thousands of additional residents there who have had to flee the brutality of Bashar Assad inside Syria. I met young men who were freshly wounded. I met defectors from the Syrian Army who described how they are instructed--they are instructed and indoctrinated to rape, to murder, and to torture. I met individuals who have watched their children murdered before their very eyes, and I met a group of young women who had been gang raped.
I wish every American could have had the opportunity to see these people whose only reason--only reason--to rise up is because they want to achieve their God-given rights.
What is going on now in Syria is very important, because the longer the conflict drags out, the more jihadists and foreign fighters and extremists come into the fight.
Every day that goes by that Bashar al-Assad is in power is another day which will make it more difficult once he leaves--and he will leave, but the question is when--but how difficult it will be for Syria to knit their country back together and become a functioning democracy.
There is also a very serious issue of chemical weapons. It is well known, and for the first time recently, the Syrian government acknowledged that they have stores of chemical weapons. These chemical weapons pose a great threat in a very unstable region. There are various scenarios that we should be deeply concerned about. One of them is that if chemical weapons fall into the hands or shift to Hezbollah, what kind of a threat does that pose to Israel? I remind my colleagues that Hezbollah has committed to the extinction of the State of Israel, as has Iran.
So what happens with these chemical weapons is a very important issue. The more chaos and the more disorder and the more frustration and anger that is displayed on both sides, the more likely it is that these chemical weapons can fall into the wrong hands, and they are not located in one place.
So there is a great deal at stake. There is one thing I hope we could all agree on; that is, the longer it lasts, the greater the danger, the greater the chaos, the more killing, the more rapes, the more murders.
Today we have information that the President of the United States has made a decision--and I am not sure of the details because I only know the media reports, but the best way to describe, as I understand it is--to facilitate the flow of weapons to the Syrian resistance fighters. I don't know how that is done. I don't know how that is accomplished, but I do know this, that they also need a sanctuary. They need an area that is secure, the same way the Libyans needed Benghazi, so they can train, equip, and establish a government.
The resistance, as we all know, is fractured. The best way to join them together is to have a central council they can answer to and that can make sure the weapons go to the right place. That is a vital component that should happen sooner rather than later.
None of us seeks to put American boots on the ground for a whole lot of reasons. I know the American people are war-weary and focused on our own domestic challenges. Both of these sentiments are genuine and legitimate. But what has unfolded in Syria over the past 1 1/2 years not only offends the conscience of our country, it also poses real and growing risk to our national security interests and to those of some of our closest allies.
I don't believe Bashar Assad can last, even under current conditions. But I do know for sure America's national security interests in Syria will remain long after Assad's fall. In many ways, they could become more precarious because of our inaction, because of the failure of the President of the United States to speak up for these people. Why doesn't the President of the United States speak up for them? I have never understood that.
Because of our inaction, the people who will inherit the country in Syria will remember that in their hour of greatest need, when the bravest among them were fighting and dying for their freedom in a grossly unfair fight, America stood idly by and refused to help.
As the sister of a fallen opposition fighter in Syria recently remarked, ``When we control Syria, we won't forget that you forgot about us.'' Millions of her fellow Syrians share that sentiment.
If we continue on this path of inaction, mass atrocities will continue to unfold in Aleppo and other places in Syria. We have the power to prevent this needless death and advance our strategic interests in the Middle East at the same time. If we don't, if we continue this shameful behavior, our failure of leadership will haunt us for a long period to come.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.
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