Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) blasted the “half-assed” administration strategy on Syria while grilling military leaders at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday.
Graham asked Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford if it was “smart to let Russia fight ISIL and we stay out of the fight.”
“Russia is not fighting ISIL, senator,” the general acknowledged. “I think we need to be engaged in advancing our own national interest. We have a national interest in dealing with ISIL and we should be doing that. I’m not confident that Russia is effective — is effective at doing that.”
Dunford also acknowledged that Russia, Iran and Hezbollah are fighting for Assad.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter insisted that the Syrians the U.S. is training to fight are squarely focused on fighting ISIS.
“You know as well as I do, both of you know, that the average Syrian not only wants to destroy ISIL, but they’re intent on destroying Assad because he’s killed 250,000 of them. And here’s the question for this committee,” Graham said. “How do we leverage Assad leaving, when Russia is going to fight for him, Iran’s going to fight for him, Hezbollah is fighting for him. And we’re not going to do a damn thing to help people take him down. And you all both know that. So when Kerry goes over to Geneva, he is turning over Syria to the Russians and to the Iranians. Is there any credible military threat to Assad now that Russia, Iran and Hezbollah is on his side? Do you see any credible military threat to take him down, General Dunford?”
“I think the balance of forces right now are in Assad’s advantage,” Dunford replied.
“Not his advantage. He is secure as the day is long. So this is what’s happened, folks. The strategy has completely fallen apart. Russia, Iran and Hezbollah are going to fight for their guy and we’re not going to do a damn thing to help the people who want to change Syria for the better by getting rid of the dictator in Damascus,” Graham said. “Do you see a scenario, Secretary Carter, where we would fight to support an effort to take Assad down — that we would fight along-side of people who want to take Assad down in Syria? Is that remotely possible?”
The Defense secretary reiterated the administration position of hoping for political removal.
“If I’m Assad, this is a good day for me, because the American government has just said, without saying it, that they’re not going to fight to replace me. The Russians and the Iranians and Hezbollah, this is a really good day for them because their guy has no military credible threat,” Graham said.
“So, now you tell me what kind of deal we’re going to get, folks. I’m sure we’ll get a really good deal with this construct. So what you’ve done, gentlemen, along with the president, is you’ve turned Syria over to Russia and Iran. You’ve told the people in Syria, who’ve died by the hundreds of thousands, ‘We’re more worried about a political settlement than we are about what follows,'” the senator continued.
“All I can say is, this is a sad day for America and the region. We’ll pay hell for this because the Arabs are not going to accept this. The people in Syria are not going to accept this. This is a half-assed strategy at best.”