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Mr. McCAIN. Madam President, I join my friend Senator Lieberman again on the floor on the issue that has, in my view, transcendent consequences not just for the people being massacred in Libya, but also for a definition of what the United States of America is all about.
Yesterday's attack in Syria killed some key leaders of the Assad regime, including one of its most notorious and brutal henchmen. It is a sign of victory and progress for the Syrian opposition and, hopefully, it could be a sign that Assad is losing his hold on power. But it is hardly time to celebrate or claim credit.
I see in the various organs of the administration, such as the New York Times that, well, the administration's hands-off policy has been successful. Successful? Seventeen thousand Syrians have been massacred while this administration has done nothing, and the President has refused to even speak up. The President of the United States talks about Bain Capital all the time. Why doesn't he talk about the capital of Syria where thousands of innocent people have been tortured, raped, and murdered?
So Assad will fall, as the Senator from Connecticut and I have said time and time again. But how many more will die before the United States of America, first, speaks up for them and, second, helps with other countries to provide them with arms and an ability to defend themselves and a sanctuary--a no-fly/no-drive sanctuary--and work with other countries in the region, accelerating the departure of Bashar Assad.
I will make another point before I ask my friend from Connecticut to speak. It seems now that U.S. national security rests not with the decisions that should be made in the Halls of Congress and at the White House, but that the decisions concerning what actions the United States of America may take is now dictated by Russia and China in the United Nations. How many times have we heard the administration say: We would like to do more and have more happen, but Russia vetoes it in the U.N. Security Council?
Does that mean when these people are being massacred and are crying out for our help and moral support, because Russia vetoes a resolution--as they did today again, supported by China--in the Security Council, therefore we can do nothing?
Former President Clinton went to Kosovo without a United Nations Security Council resolution because he knew the Russians would veto any resolution concerning Kosovo. He went and we saved Muslims' lives. The administration continues to assume what they call a ``Yemen solution'' is possible in Syria. They believe that with Russia's backing, we can compel Assad and his top lieutenants to leave power and the apparatus of the Syrian State will continue to function under new management.
I wish this could be so. Let me also point this out: I ask my friend from Connecticut, isn't it true that the predictions that the longer this conflict lasts, the more likely it is that extremists will come in and take this revolution, which began peacefully?
Isn't it true that our concern about weapons of mass destruction and the stockpile become more valid every day this goes on? Isn't it a valid assumption that Bashar Assad, in his desperation, may use these weapons against his own people, and the whole stockpile of those weapons becomes more and more tenuous by the day?
Isn't it true that the likelihood of further chaos, further inability to put that country and its people back together after this conflict is over and, as we agree, Bashar Assad relieved--but isn't it true that every day that goes by and he remains in power the situation becomes worse in all respects as far as American national security interests are concerned, whether it be weapons of mass destruction, whether it be Islamic extremists taking over that country and, by the way, including the continued Iranian presence in Syria propping up Hezbollah in Lebanon and all of the ramifications of their continued presence there?
I ask my friend, finally, doesn't this argue and cry out that rather than saying, well, what happened yesterday, that was good, and it shows Assad is on his way out--but doesn't this indicate it is now more in our interest to accelerate his departure, not with American boots on the ground but through moral, physical, and logistic support, working with our allies?
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Mr. McCAIN. Madam President, I want to mention to my friend from Connecticut, as we continue this colloquy, there is another aspect of this that I would appreciate his comments on.
We all agree that Bashar Assad will go. We know that. Now, the question is how many will die, how many are wounded, how many are killed, and what happens to the weapons of mass destruction? I think we have established that the longer it goes on, the more those threats increase, and the more dangerous the situation becomes, the harder it will be to resolve once Bashar Assad does leave.
I also ask my friend from Connecticut, how will the Syrian people feel about the United States of America if we continue to sit by and provide them not even moral assistance, much less the physical and logistical assistance the Senator and I discussed being necessary. Senator Lieberman and I have been to Libya on numerous occasions. I was there at an exhilarating moment--at the time of their elections.
I can tell you firsthand from seeing a couple hundred thousand people celebrating that they are grateful to the United States of America for what we did. I wonder what the attitude of the people who will emerge as the new leaders of Syria--whoever they are--what their attitude will be toward the United States, I ask my colleague. Taking into consideration that the challenges that whoever takes over power in Libya will face are myriad, and there are incredible obstacles to a path to a free and democratic nation, that would cry out for American assistance, how willing and eager will they be for the United States to be engaged in any way in assisting them as they try to achieve the goal they have already sacrificed 17,000 lives for?
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Mr. McCAIN. First of all, I wish to point out that I understand--as I know my friend from Connecticut does--the focus of the American people is on our economy, on jobs, and the severe recession we are in. But I say to my friend from Connecticut, I just wish every American could have been with us or had seen on film a recording of our visit to the refugee camp on the Turkish-Syrian border, with 25,000 refugees--I understand now that is up to 35,000 or 40,000 refugees--from Syria. These are people who have been driven out of their homes, living not in squalid conditions but certainly very crowded and unpleasant conditions. They are certainly not the same conditions which they enjoyed in Syria. I wish the American people could have seen when we met those young children who have been displaced from their homes or when we met a group of men who told us about watching their children being murdered in front of their eyes and of the young women who had been gang raped and hear the defectors from the Syrian military who told us their instructions are--in order to try to subdue the people--to torture, murder, and rape. We know from human rights organizations there are torture centers set up around Syria by the Assad military, where people are taken and, obviously, tortured.
The American people are the most generous people in the world. The American people, where we can, try to stop these kinds of atrocities and offenses that are against everything we stand for and believe in. I wish more Americans would know how terrible and dire this situation is for the average citizen and not just for those who are demonstrating but anybody who happens to be in one of these areas where the tanks roll in and the artillery starts firing and the helicopter gunships start slaughtering people in the streets.
I hope I am not saying this in a partisan fashion, but I wish the President of the United States would speak up for these people. That is the job of the President of the United States--to lead. I wish we in Congress would do more in order to help these people because that is a long American tradition. Yes, it may require some financial sacrifice and maybe materiel sacrifice on the part of the American people, but I think the cause is one of transcendent importance.
I wish to thank my friend from Connecticut for his compassion, his concern, and his commitment to these people who live far away.
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Mr. McCAIN. I would say my friend from Connecticut is exactly right. Both he and I visited Lebanon recently, and the fact is that Hezbollah basically controls the government with a Prime Minister who is not Hezbollah but who was put into power by Hezbollah, and their country is basically gridlocked as well. If Syria goes, Bashar Assad goes. That connection between Iran and Hezbollah will be severed and the people of Lebanon will have a great opportunity to have what once was a very thriving democracy restored.
Finally, I would like to mention to my friend one of the things that surprises me from time to time as I have traveled to places such as Burma, whose people were recently freed. I met three men there who were in prison, one of whom had been there for 18 years and another for 22 years. When I have traveled to Libya, as I was for the elections the other day, when I have been in Egypt and I have met some of the young people who were part of the revolution, and in Tunisia, where we met the young people there and the new government there, much to my surprise, to some degree, they pay attention to what we say. They pay attention.
These three men who were imprisoned for over 20 years said: Thank you for what you said. We listened to you in prison. The people in Libya on election night, waving little Libyan flags, were saying thank you. Thank you, America. Thank you. Thank you, Senator McCain, for saying that. The people in Syria are listening and will find out what we are saying today on the floor of the Senate.
Does it matter much? I don't know. But the people in Syria know there are some of us who are committed and will not rest until this massacre stops, until these terrible atrocities cease, and that we will continue to do everything we can to provide them with the kind of moral assistance, which is a vital ingredient in continuing their resistance, and the materiel assistance which provides them the wherewithal to gain their freedom.
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Mr. McCAIN. I think the Senator is exactly right and has described it well.
There is an element also that adds more urgency, of which I know the Senator from Connecticut is very well aware; that is, that published media reports have talked about the fact that weapons of mass destruction--which, apparently, Bashar Assad has significant stocks of--have been moved around. For what purpose those weapons have been moved around is not known. But it is not an unbelievable scenario that, in final desperation, Bashar Assad would behave as his father did and use these chemical weapons and slaughter unknown numbers of people.
Again, that information lends urgency to bringing him down, to having it happen as quickly as possible, and that, of course, means the kind of engagement the Senator from Connecticut just described.
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