Syria

Floor Speech

By:  Lindsey Graham
Date: May 9, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, I would just like to echo what Senator McCain said about Senator Menendez. I would like to, for the record, note that the tide of war in Syria changed today because of what is happening on the floor of the Senate. That may be hard for people to understand, but I really do not think so.

How do you change the tide of battle? You make it certain to the world that Asad will go, and you provide hope to those who are fighting him that they will prevail. I would suggest that a bipartisan consensus is forming in the Senate that now is the time to do more, not less, when it comes to Syria, including arming the rebels--the right rebels, the right opposition, with the right weapons, which will eventually change the tide of battle.

So to those who have been following this debate about Syria, to those who have been in the fight trying to topple this regime, I cannot stress to you how important today is in your cause. When you get Senator Levin and Senator Menendez, two institutional, important figures because of their chairmanships, but beyond that, important because of who they are and what they bring to every debate around national security, combined with Senator McCain and others, you have turned the tide in Washington.

As to Senator McCain, he has been talking in the most eloquent terms for at least a couple of years about stopping this war in Syria, ending the Asad regime and replacing it with something better. He has been right, as he usually is. But now is not the time to look backward, it is to look forward.

I think an effort by the Senate and the House to acknowledge that the tide of war needs to change and we should be bolder in our support for the opposition is going to increase the likelihood of a peaceful solution through diplomacy.

The Russians have to know, after today, if they know anything about American politics, the game has changed when

it comes to Asad, and this is a monumental sea change in terms of the war in Syria by having four Senators who care about such matters of foreign policy to speak out and say we will support arming the rebels and being more involved militarily.

To the opposition, this is a great day for you. To Asad, this seals your fate.

Now, what do we do and how do we do it? It will not all end tomorrow because of this colloquy today, but we are well on the way to ending this war. Here is the choice: The current regime, which is evil to the core, and the imperfect opposition, which has been infected by radical Islam--you can fix the second one; you cannot fix the first. It is that simple to me.

The sooner the war ends the better, not only for saving people in Syria from further slaughter, but preventing what I think would be an erosion of our national security interests in four areas. If this war goes 6 more months, a failed state will emerge in Syria. It will be so fractured you cannot put it back together.

The 6,000 al-Qaida associated fighters will grow in number, and there will be a safe haven in Syria like there was in Afghanistan. That is not good for us. Unlike Afghanistan, there is enough chemical weapons in Syria to kill thousands if not millions of Americans and people who are our allies. I worry greatly not only that chemical weapons have been used in Syria on the opposition by the regime, but those same chemical weapons will be used in the future by radical Islamists against us.

The next bomb that goes off in America may have more than nails and glass in it. The only reason millions of Americans or thousands of Americans, hundreds of thousands have not been killed by radical Islamists is they cannot get the weapons to kill that many of us. They would if they could.

I have never seen a better opportunity for radical Islamists to get ahold of weapons of mass destruction than I see in Syria today. Every day that goes by their opportunity to acquire some of these weapons grows dramatically. If you ask me what I worry the most about with Syria and why we should get involved, it is for that very reason. If these weapons get compromised, they are going to fall into the hands of the people who will use them against us, and to believe otherwise would be incredibly naive.

Jordan. Probably the most stabilizing figure in the Mideast in these dangerous times is the King of Jordan. His country is being overrun by refugees. If this war goes on 6 more months, that is probably the end of his kingdom because it will create economic chaos and political instability. He will be a victim of the civil war in Syria, and it will have monumental consequences for our national security.

As we talk about Syria and chemical weapons falling into radical Islamists' hands, we are dealing with a radical regime in Iran that is marching toward building a nuclear weapon. If you think the ayatollahs in Iran are trying to build a nuclear powerplant at the bottom of a mountain, you are wrong. They are trying to build a nuclear weapon to ensure their survivability. God only knows what they would do with nuclear technology. But if you believe what they say, they would wipe Israel off the map, and we would be next. I tend to believe what they say.

If you allow Syria to continue to deteriorate and have a hands-off policy toward Asad, then I think you are sending the worst possible signal to Iran. As Senator Levin said, really the only ally Iran has today is Asad in Syria. How can we convince the Iranians we are serious about their nuclear problem when we do not seem to be very serious about Asad using chemical weapons against his own people? What a terrible signal to send at one of the most important times.

I would end with this thought: This bipartisan consensus that is emerging today is going to pay great dividends. It is going to be helpful to the President. We can end this war sooner rather than later. But no matter what happens, there is going to be a second war in Syria, unfortunately.

That second war is going to be between radical Islamists who want to turn Syria into some kind of al-Qaida-inspired state, and the overwhelming majority of Syrians who want to live a better life and be our friends, not our enemies.

This war will occur after the fall of Asad. But it will end the right way. The sooner we get the first war over, the shorter the second war will be. I think we can bring this war to a close without boots on the ground. The sooner we act the better.

One last thought. To the opposition, you would be helping your cause if you would let the world know that you do not want Asad's chemical weapons; that the new Syria will not be a state that wants weapons of mass destruction; that you would agree these weapons should be controlled by the international community and destroyed; that you would agree to an international force coming on the ground with your blessing the day after Asad falls to secure these weapons and destroy them for all time. I think you would be helping your cause.

So I say to Senator McCain, I really appreciate his leadership for a couple of years. But persistence does matter in politics and all things that are important. I think the Senator's persistence is paying off.

I say to Senator Menendez and Senator Levin, what they have done today joining up in a bipartisan fashion is going to pay great dividends for our own national security interests. The way forward is pretty clear.

I say to President Obama, we want to be your ally. We want to be your supporter. We want you to get more involved, not less. We realize it is hard. We realize there are risks no matter what we do. But as Senator McCain said before, the risk of doing nothing by continuing on the current track is far greater than getting involved in ending the war sooner.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GRAHAM. I thank the Senator for his question. It was one of the most compelling trips I have ever made to the Middle East. We went to Turkey, Jordan, and we went to a refugee camp in Jordan. Some 40,000 Syrian children are now in Jordanian schools. The burden on Jordan is immense, but when you talk to the people in the camps, what they have gone through and what their loved ones have gone through is heartbreaking.

From a national point of view, once you visit the camps, you understand what is at stake. They tell you about radical Islamists moving in. They want no part of them but at the end of the day they are having more influence because we are not in the fight. You can do this without boots on the ground.

The most chilling thing they tell us, which Senator McCain, has been echoing for a long time, is their children are watching the United States. Like it or not, we have the reputation in the world that we can do almost anything.

Well, we can't do almost anything, but we are seen as a force for good. The people in Syria are beside themselves wondering where is America. America, to them, is an idea. They want to be like us because it means freedom, and it means economic opportunity. It means having a say about your children's future. They are dumbfounded that we are not more involved, given the stakes that exist in Syria. They tell us without any hesitation that the young people of Syria will remember this moment. They will hold this against us. I think I know what the Senator is telling us.

Here is the good news: There is still time to act. It doesn't have to end that way. The conditions in Syria are horrible. The refugee camps were beyond imagination. The U.N. is doing a great job, but they are running out of money. Jordan is about to fall if we don't stop this war.

From a human point of view, we have got to get this war over and America needs to be seen as part of the solution, not part of the problem. From a national security point of view, Syria is going to become a nightmare for the whole world, including the United States.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT