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Mr. GRAHAM. I would be glad to respond to the Senator's comments.
No. 1, I understand the average American thinks of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as having been long and difficult wars costing a lot of money and a lot of American lives. But the point of the war is to make sure that radical Islam is contained and eventually defeated, and that is going to take an effort on our part.
Does it matter that the Al Qaeda flag flies over Fallujah and Ramadi? I think it does. I think when Al Qaeda occupies a city anywhere in the world, it potentially affects every city throughout the world. Imagine the Nazis having come back in Germany and occupying part of Germany. We didn't let that happen. We had a following force in Japan and Germany to make sure the transition from totalitarian and dictatorial states to functioning democracies would occur. We are still in Japan and Germany. We are not taking casualties.
To go into the Mideast and replace dictatorships and think you can do it in a matter of months or even a decade is probably not going to hold water, quite frankly. The good news is we were in a position in Iraq in 2010 where if we had left behind a residual force not to be in combat but to provide the logistical, air support, training, intelligence capabilities missing in the Iraqi Army, this would have been a very different outcome.
And it does matter to my fellow citizens here in the United States. If Al Qaeda is on the rise anywhere, it does affect us. Remember Afghanistan? Remember when the Russians left and the Taliban took over and they invited Al Qaeda and bin Laden in to be their honored guests? The rest is history. The reason 3,000 Americans died on 9/11 and not 3 million is the terrorists, the radical Islamists, Al Qaeda and their affiliates can't get the weapons to kill 3 million of us. If they could, they would.
So the goal is to create stability and marginalize Al Qaeda throughout the region. Unfortunately, as Senator McCain has predicted for a very long time, the absence of a following force allows security to break down and the vacuum was filled by the emergence of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
I would like to go over some testimony from June of 2010, when General Austin was about to take over from General Odierno the command of our operations in Iraq. General Austin told me during my questioning that we were inside the 10-yard line when it came to being successful in Iraq. In other words, the surge had worked. The surge Senator McCain supported during his Presidential campaign worked.
President Bush made his fair share of mistakes in Iraq, but to his undying credit he adjusted policies. We were all in. He gave General Petraeus all the troops we had to give and he stood behind General Petraeus, and over a 2- or 3-year period there was a phenomenal turnaround in the security situation in Iraq. The surge started in late 2007, early 2008.
Here is what had existed in 2010 in June. Basically, we were inside the 10-yard line, and General Odierno said: I think the next 18 months will determine whether we get to the goal line or give the Iraqis an opportunity to hit the goal line beyond 2011.
So we were in a good spot. The surge had worked, and we needed to close this thing out. I asked this question back in 2010: What would happen if Iraq had become a failed state? Let's say we are inside the 10-yard line but we are not smart enough to get in the end zone. What would happen? Here is what General Odierno said:
..... if we had a failed state in Iraq, it would create uncertainty and significant instability probably within the region. Because of the criticality of Iraq, its relationship to Iran, its relationship to the other Arab states in the region, if it became unstable, it could create an environment that could continue to increase the instability.
I don't believe we are close to that. I believe we are very far away from that happening. I think we are definitely on the right path. But those are the kinds of things which would happen if we had a complete breakdown inside Iraq. Here was a quote:
The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, has said repeatedly that Iraq is not yet fully capable of defending its own air space or land borders, and that it needs help in other areas such as intelligence and logistics.
Our military commanders were telling us that the surge had worked, but we were not there yet.
Here is what I would like to say to the administration: If you believe Iraq was the wrong war to fight and we shouldn't be there, own your decision. Don't blame the Iraqis.
The truth is the administration, led by President Obama, had absolutely no desire to leave one person behind in Iraq because this was Bush's war and America was tired, and he ran on the idea of ending the war in Iraq. When it came time to make that fateful decision about a small 10,000 or 12,000, whatever the number was, residual force to maintain the gains we fought so hard and to keep Iraq stable, he now wants to tell the world it was the Iraqis. I know differently.
I know, and so does Senator McCain, that this administration made it impossible for the Iraqis to say yes because this administration would never give the Iraqi Government a troop number from the White House as to the size of the force.
I remember General Austin saying publicly we needed 18,000. The bottom line from the Pentagon was somewhere slightly north of 10,000. I remember the discussions in the White House got down to 3,500 and it was cascading down.
I remember General Dempsey answering my question as to how the numbers were reduced: Was it as a result of the Iraqis saying, no, that is too many troops to leave behind in Iraq or were the numbers reduced because the White House did not want to have that many people left behind? He said the cascading down from 18,000 all the way to 3,500 had nothing to do with the Iraqis. It was the uncertainty and unwillingness of the White House to commit to a number.
So what happened? We left the country with 200 U.S. troops advising and assisting, no capability. Everything they talked about happening if we do not get Iraq right and get into the end zone from the 10-yard line in 2010 is happening on steroids. Everything our generals told us about what would await Iraq if we didn't get this right is coming true at an accelerated pace.
So I turn it back over to Senator McCain.
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Mr. GRAHAM. As to the future of how to move forward, Prime Minister Maliki with all thought did go to Basra and take on the Shia militia.
The political gains we made in Iraq are being lost by lack of security. If we would have had a residual force, the political momentum toward reconciling Iraq would have continued. Without security, people go back to their sectarian corners. I would argue that the Sunnis need to up their game too.
But the immediate problem is how do you repel Al Qaeda from Fallujah and Ramadi? The way it worked before is you had the Sunni awakening, where the Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar had a taste of the Al Qaeda agenda and said: No, thank you. They were literally killing children in front of their parents for smoking. The stories coming out of Anbar Province about the abuse the people of Anbar suffered under Al Qaeda control would break your heart. So the Sunni leaders married with American military personnel to drive the Al Qaeda elements out of Anbar.
We are not there now. So how do you get Al Qaeda dislodged from Anbar Province, Ramadi and Fallujah? You are going to have to get the Sunni tribal leaders to work with the Iraqi Army.
I think now is a good time to send a former military commander of the U.S. forces--someone who is retired if that is what is required--to see if they can bring these parties together to form a military alliance between the Sunni tribal leaders and the Iraqi Army so the weight of the Iraqi Army can be brought into this fight. The distrust is high. But the way Al Qaeda was defeated in the past was the U.S. military working with the Sunni tribal leaders. We are not there.
Mr. McCAIN. I would argue, I say to the Senator from South Carolina, two names which spring to mind would be General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, probably the two most respected people in Iraq today. Maybe we are getting into too much detail, but I do agree with him on that.
Mr. GRAHAM. The bottom line is we have to change the momentum. We are not there. But Senator Menendez, to his great credit, is willing to release his hold on the sale of Apache helicopters to allow the Iraqi military an advantage over Al Qaeda. I think Senator Menendez did the right thing.
So supplying arms in a smart way is part of the strategy to move forward. But we have to get the military in Iraq working with the Sunni tribal leaders.
I would ask Senator McCain this question: On the other side of the border in Syria is complete chaos, is hell on Earth. I don't know how we stabilize Iraq long term until we deal with the dismantling of Syria where Al Qaeda occupies the region right across the Iraqi border. How does a breakdown in Syria affect Iraq?
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Mr. GRAHAM. If I may just conclude. I have a quote from Speaker Boehner, who said he would support the Obama administration if it decides to leave troops in Iraq beyond 2011.
I remember Senator Obama and Senator Clinton not being particularly helpful to the mistakes made in Iraq during the Bush administration. In fact, the entire election in 2008 and the primary was about Iraq. I remember the politics of Candidate Barack Obama, who basically used the Iraq war to win the nomination, for lack of a better word.
I remember during the campaign he talked about Afghanistan being a good war. We will talk about Afghanistan later. It is not a happy story either, I am afraid.
But the bottom line is that there was bipartisan support for troop presence beyond 2011, a residual force. This administration chose to ignore the advice of the commanders, and they created the situation where the Iraqis could not say yes. Yet they want history to record this being a problem created by the Iraqis for not giving legal immunity to U.S. soldiers. History is going to be written about our times. How this ends, nobody knows. But I know this: It is not fair to say that the reason we have nobody left behind in Iraq is because of the Iraqis. It is fair to say that the administration got the result they wanted, and they should own that--good, bad, or indifferent. Don't create a straw person for the situation that you drove and you created.
As to Syria, please understand that this whole conflict started when people went to the streets peacefully to ask for more political freedom after the uprising in Egypt; that this war in Syria did not start with a Sunni uprising or Al Qaeda invading the country. The conflict in Syria started when the people of Syria, from all walks of life, started demanding more from their government, from this dictatorship, and the response they received from their government was to use lethal force.
It has broken down now to a regional conflict where the Iranians are backing Assad and you have Sunni Arab States backing parts of the opposition and you have Al Qaeda types coming from Iraq and other places filling in the vacuum created by this breakdown in Syria.
At the end of the day, what Senator McCain had been talking about for 3 years is that once you say Assad has to go--no President should say that unless they are willing to make it happen. Assad was on the ropes. With just any effort on our part, a no-fly zone to boots on the ground, any assistance at all in the last couple of years and Assad would be gone, the transition would be well underway. It would have been bloody at first, but we would have behind us now a Syria moving toward stability because the good news is the average Syrian is not a radical Al Qaeda Islamist. Syrians have been living peacefully with each other--Christians, Sunnis, and Alawites--for hundreds of years. Now Syria has become the central battle for every radical Islamist in the region, and it is just sad and sorry to witness.
But what does it mean to us? It means that if this war continues--our friend the King of Jordan is under siege. The Lebanese Ambassador testified a couple of weeks ago in our committee that the country is saturated. Almost 1 million refugees from Syria have gone to Lebanon. There are over 5 million in Lebanon today. They have added almost 1 million refugees from Syria. They didn't plan to get to 5 million people until 2050. The Kingdom of Jordan--the Jordanians have received over 600,000 refugees, with no end in sight.
Syria is not a civil war. Syria is a regional conflict where you have proxies backing each side in Syria that are taking the entire region into chaos. It is killing Iraq. It is destabilizing Lebanon and Jordan. It has to be addressed in an effective way.
If you want to be President of the United States, certain requirements come with the job: having a vision, making tough calls at the time when it would matter. On President Obama's watch, you had the Arab spring come about and you had a desire by this administration to leave the region at any and all costs. Now you have absolute chaos. The only way we are going to fix this is for America to get reengaged. We do not need boots on the ground, but we need leadership.
It just breaks my heart to see how close we were in 2010. The surge did work in spite of opposition from President Obama as Senator and Secretary Clinton as Senator. In spite of their vehement opposition, the surge did work, and on their watch we are about to lose everything we fought for. Al Qaeda is the biggest beneficiary of our withdrawal from Iraq. Al Qaeda is the biggest beneficiary of our indifference in Syria. Al Qaeda is thriving, and our allies and our friends are in retreat.
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