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Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012--Motion to Proceed--Resumed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McCAIN. Before entering into our colloquy, I would like to make some brief remarks.

It should come as no surprise to any of our colleagues--and it certainly comes as no surprise to me--that the civil war raging in Syria has only deteriorated further over the past 2 weeks. On Saturday, May 26, we read the horrific news of a massacre that Bashar al-Assad's forces committed in the Syrian town of Houla. At least 108 civilians--the majority of them women and children--are now believed to have been killed, some from repeated shelling by Assad's tanks and artillery, but most slaughtered in their homes and executed in the streets. Survivors describe a scene so gruesome that even after 16 months of bloodshed and more than 10,000 dead, it still manages to shock the conscience.

There are now reports of another massacre by Assad's forces with as many as 78 Syrians dead and that Syrian authorities are blocking access to the scene for the U.N. monitors on the ground. These massacres of civilians are sickening and evil, but it is only the latest and most appalling evidence there is no limit to the savagery of Assad and his forces. They will do anything, kill anyone, and stop at nothing to hold on to power.

What has been the response of the United States and the rest of the civilized world to this most recent atrocity in Syria? More empty words of scorn and condemnation. More hollow pledges that the killing must stop. More strained expressions of amazement at what has become so tragically commonplace.

Indeed, as Jeffrey Goldberg has noted, administration officials are now at risk of running out of superlative adjectives and adverbs with which to condemn this violence in Syria. They have called it ``heinous,'' ``outrageous,'' ``unforgivable,'' ``breathtaking,'' ``disgraceful,'' and many other synonyms for the same. I don't know what else they can call it. Yet the killing goes on.

The administration now appears to be so desperate they are returning to old ideas that have already been tried and failed. Let me quote from a New York Times article that appeared on May 27.

In a new effort to halt more than a year of bloodshed in Syria, President Obama will push for the departure of President Bashar al-Assad under a proposal modeled on the transition in another strife-torn Arab country, Yemen. ..... The success of the plan hinges on Russia, one of Mr. Assad's staunchest allies, which has strongly opposed his removal.

This is a case of history repeating itself as farce. Trying to enlist Russia in a policy of regime change in Syria is exactly what the administration spent months doing earlier this year, and that approach was decisively rejected by Russia when it vetoed a toothless sanctions resolution in the U.N. Security Council in February.

How is this recycled policy working out? Well, last week, a human rights organization disclosed that on May 26, a Russian ship delivered the latest Russian supply of heavy weapons to the Assad regime in the Port of Tartus. Last Friday, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on the Houla massacre--and blamed it on the opposition. President Putin, after blowing off a trip to Washington in favor of a visit to Europe, suggested that foreign powers were also to blame for the Houla massacre. He went on to

reject further sanctions on the Assad regime and to deny Russia is shipping any relevant weapons to Assad.

Not to be outdone, last week the Russian Foreign Minister also described the situation in Syria this way.

It takes two to dance--although this seems less like a tango and more like a disco, where several dozens are taking part at once.

One might think this alone would be enough to disabuse the administration of its insistence, against all empirical evidence, that Russia is the key to ending the violence in Syria. One might think so, but one would be wrong. Asked last week whether he could envision some kind of military intervention in Syria without a U.N. Security Council resolution, which is subject to a Russian and Chinese veto, the Secretary of Defense said, no, he cannot envision it.

Similarly, the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, rejected the idea of providing weapons to the Syrian people to help them defend themselves, saying that would lead to--get this, get this: If we supplied weapons to the Syrian resistance, it would lead to ``chaos and carnage,'' and it would militarize the conflict. It would militarize the conflict. After more than 10,000 have been slaughtered by Bashar al-Assad with Russian weapons, Iranians on the ground, it would militarize the conflict.

It is difficult even to muster a response to statements and actions such as these. U.S. policy in Syria now seems to be subject to the approval of Russian leaders who are arming Assad's forces and who believe the slaughter of more than 10,000 people in Syria can be compared to a disco party. Meanwhile, the administration refuses even to provide weapons to Syrians who are struggling and dying in an unfair fight, all for fear of ``militarizing the conflict.'' If only the Russians and the Iranians and al-Qaida shared that lofty sentiment.

I pray that President Obama will finally realize what President Clinton came to understand during the Balkan wars. President Clinton, who took military action to stop ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and did so in Kosovo without the U.N. Security Council mandate, ultimately understood that when regimes are willing to commit any atrocity to stay in power, diplomacy cannot succeed until the military balance of power changes on the ground.

As long as Assad and his foreign supporters think they can win militarily, which they do, they will continue fighting and more Syrians will die. In short, military intervention of some kind is a prerequisite to the political resolution of the conflict we all want to achieve.

The question I would pose to my colleague from Connecticut and to the administration is this: How many more have to die? How many more have to die? How many more young women have to be raped? How many more young Syrians are going to be tortured and killed? How many more? How many more before we will act? How many more?

I would like to also ask, When will the President of the United States speak up in favor of these people who are fighting and dying for freedom?

I thank my colleague from Connecticut for his continued involvement. He has shared the same experiences I have in refugee camps, meeting people who have been driven out of their homes, family members killed, tortured, young women raped as a matter of policy and doctrine of Assad's brutal forces.


Mr. McCAIN. I thank my colleague. I also want to point out that traveling in the region and meeting with the leaders in these various countries, it cries out for American leadership, I think my colleague would agree, in a coordinated partnership with these countries. But they cry out for American leadership. And meanwhile, the President of the United States, as this slaughter goes on, is silent. His spokesman says they don't want to militarize the conflict. How in the world could you make a statement like that when 10,000 people have already been slaughtered? That, to me, is so bizarre. I am not sure I have ever seen anything quite like it.

There is always the comparison, I say to my friend from Connecticut, about Libya. There is an aspect of this issue. Libya was not in America's security interests. Libya was clearly a situation where we got rid of one of the most brutal dictators who was responsible for the bombing of Pan Am 103 and the deaths of Americans. But if Syria goes on the path to democracy, it is the greatest blow to Iran in 25 years. Hezbollah is broken off. Russia loses its last client state. Iran loses the most important ally it has in the region.

Finally, I would say to my friend we keep hearing over and over again that extremists will come in; Al Qaida will come in. We heard that in Tunisia, we heard that in Libya, we are hearing that in Egypt, and we are hearing that again--neglecting the fact that al Qaida and extremists are the exact antithesis of who these people are. These people believe in peaceful demonstrations to bring about change--they have been repressed through brutality--whereas al Qaida, as we know, believes in acts of terror.

I agree with my colleague, if we provided a sanctuary for these people in order to organize and care for the wounded, to have a shadow government set up as we saw in Libya, then I think it is pretty obvious that it would be a huge step forward.

Again, as my friend from Connecticut has often said so eloquently, probably the most immortal words ever written in English are: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all of us are endowed--all--by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.

The people of Syria who are suffering under this brutal dictatorship and are being slaughtered as we speak I believe have those inalienable rights. The role of the United States has not been to go everywhere and fight every war, but it has been the role of the United States of America, when it can, to go to the assistance of people who are suffering under dictatorships such as this, one of the most brutal in history. And for us to now consign them to the good graces of Russia and whether they will veto a U.N. Security Council resolution as to whether we will act on behalf of these people is a great abdication of American authority and responsibility.

Finally, I wish to say that Senator Lieberman and I have visited these places. We have seen these people. I wish all of our colleagues--I wish all Americans--could have gone to the refugee camp where there are 25,000 people who have been ejected from their homes, the young men who still had fresh wounds, the young women who had been gang raped, the families and mothers who had lost their sons and daughters. It is deeply moving. It is deeply, deeply moving. And, as my friend from Connecticut said, they cry out. They cry out for our help.

We should be speaking up every day on their behalf, all of us, and we should be contemplating actions that stop this unprecedented brutality.


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