Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) today released the following statement on developments in Syria and Iraq:
“More than two years ago, we asked, ‘how many more have to die?’ before the United States would provide meaningful assistance to the brave Syrians fighting against Assad’s forces. That was when 7,000 people had been killed in Syria, and there were only a few hundred foreign fighters there. Because of our inaction to date, there are now more than 160,000 dead in Syria. Nearly one-third of all Syrians have been driven from their homes. Iraq and the rest of the Middle East are completely destabilized. A terrorist safe-haven has emerged across Syria and Iraq that is full of thousands of hardened fighters from a terrorist organization more radical and dangerous than al-Qaeda. Indeed, the Director of National Intelligence, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Director of the FBI have all warned that this group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), now poses a direct threat to the United States.
“We appreciate the President’s request for $500 million to train and equip moderate Syrian opposition forces. What is needed, however, is not only more resources, but a strategy, which does not appear to exist at present. We need a change in policy to shift the momentum on the battlefield in favor of moderate opposition forces in Syria and to reverse the grave threats facing us in Syria and Iraq. We want to work with the President to develop such a strategy, and we need to do so urgently.
“An effective strategy must recognize that Syria and Iraq have now become one integrated battlefield, and that we must change the balance of power on the ground against both Assad’s forces and ISIS if there is to be any chance of achieving a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Syria and positive political change in Iraq. We are not advocating the commitment of ground combat troops to either Syria or Iraq. Instead, an effective strategy could include, among other actions, the provision of anti-air capabilities to moderate opposition forces in Syria so they can defeat Assad’s use of barrel bombs and other indiscriminate air power, helping our Syrian partners establish humanitarian safe zones, and beginning airstrikes against ISIS bases and other targets in Syria and Iraq, while we take steps to improve intelligence collection and exert our influence to bring about political change in Baghdad.
“Now is not the time for half-measures. The conflict in Syria has deteriorated and spread so dangerously that it is now the source of direct threats to the United States. The leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has already stated his ambitions to attack the U.S. homeland. ‘I’ll see you guys in New York,’ he has warned. ISIS is now the largest, richest terrorist organizations in history, with a base of operations in an ungoverned territory the size of Indiana. We need to take action now to defeat ISIS and create political conditions for a more secure Middle East. We cannot afford to re-learn the lessons of September 11th the hard way.”