OTR Interviews

Sen. Graham: No Concerns About Al Qaeda Running Libya, But Qaddafi Must Go

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," March 29, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

Joining us is South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Good evening, Senator. And...

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: Good evening.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... one of the U.S. senators, just one of many, Senator McCain, says the goal in Libya is that Qaddafi must go.

GRAHAM: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is that a goal different from the president's?

GRAHAM: Well, the president said he must go, but the big mistake in the speech last night, he said that military force to make him go would be a mistake. The day you say that, you're telling Qaddafi that maybe he's not going to face the wrath of the coalition fully.

So my belief is that the president needs to allow the air strikes to continue. We started this country with a ragtag band of rebels. I know they're not a professionally trained army, but they're willing to take the fight to the streets. And why are they fighting? They're not fighting to create an al Qaeda-led Libya. There may be some al Qaeda members there...

VAN SUSTEREN: How do you know that? I mean (INAUDIBLE) the admiral saying the -- I don't know what a "flicker" of al Qaeda is, but...

GRAHAM: Because I go there a lot, and I know this. I know that the young men and women in Egypt didn't go to the streets to replace Mubarak with al Qaeda, and al Qaeda is rejected all over the Mideast and the only way they come back in power is when vacuums exist. And at the end of the day, Greta, I have no concern about al Qaeda running Libya.

I do have concern that the president's speech last night is going to prolong this war. If Qaddafi stays in power, it'll be a national security disaster for this country and the region! That is non-negotiable. He must go. And military force should be on the table to make him go.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, so you think we should have boots on the ground?

GRAHAM: I don't think we need boots on the ground and...

VAN SUSTEREN: So what, air strikes?

GRAHAM: Oh, absolutely. Any time a tank moves out in the open, blow it up. And that's worked thus far. But the reporter was right. The closer you get to Tripoli, the harder it's going to be. But at the end of the day, our air power can neutralize his tanks and his artillery, and his inner circle will crack. At the end of the day, I don't think people are going to want to fight to the death for Qaddafi.

And if he does come back, if he's able to survive, it'd be the biggest foreign policy blunder in history. Look how unstable the Mideast would be. So from President Obama's point of view, if he doesn't realize it, he should. Libya is a defining moment in his presidency and for the peace and security of our nation throughout the Mideast.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is he going, Qaddafi?

GRAHAM: Yes, he's going to go because the people out in the streets have made -- they've crossed a line and there's no going back. They know that if Qaddafi comes back, they're going to get slaughtered. So I believe that Moammar Qaddafi, after 40 years of tyranny, is not that popular in his own country.

And why the heck we don't knock him off TV? You know, when the host of his state-run TV has an AK-47, says, Fight for the dear leader, that should be off the air! He should not be able to communicate and intimidate his people.

VAN SUSTEREN: So am I correct in saying that we're sort of, like, casually executing this, or I mean...

GRAHAM: We got one foot...

VAN SUSTEREN: Or we don't...

GRAHAM: ... in and one foot out. We need to let the coalition know that we're going to go in as NATO, but America is fully committed to helping NATO replace this guy. The opposition should know, You're going to have to fight for your freedom, but we're going to be there with you every step. And the inner circle of Qaddafi needs to know it's just a matter of time. Make a decision now, while you can, to get rid of this guy.

And my belief is he goes when his own people turn on him. If they feel the wrath of the coalition and the wrath of the Libyan people is uncompromising, they're going to turn on Qaddafi. But the message the president sent last night is the wrong message. The message should be, He's going to go, and all options on the table to make him go exist.

VAN SUSTEREN: When you talk about "go," is exile in your idea? You don't care where he goes?

GRAHAM: I don't care where he goes. I don't care...

VAN SUSTEREN: You don't care if he goes to some other country and lives high off the hog on the $33 billion he's stolen or whatever?

GRAHAM: I tell you what. He's not going to rule Libya. If he does rule Libya in any fashion, he will come after our interests in the Mideast. He will create tyranny for everybody who tried to replace him. You think oil prices are high now, let him come back into power.

VAN SUSTEREN: If you had this conversation with President Obama, what do you think he'd be saying back to you?

GRAHAM: You know, he said, Lindsey, we going to have a coalition. We can't just be breaking, you know, every country in the Mideast. We need to be cautious. We need to be deliberate. We need to be cautious. But when the fight is joined, you need to win. So Libya's now...

VAN SUSTEREN: What would he say to that?

GRAHAM: What?

VAN SUSTEREN: What would he say to that?

GRAHAM: Well, all I can tell the president is, You criticized Iraq policy. The policy in Iraq was poor because we didn't have enough troops and we almost lost it. If the policy doesn't change in Libya, we could lose there. And the policy needs to be clear. Mr. President, you're right to say he needs to go. You're right to say we should take him on. But you're wrong when you take off everything that's possible to make him go.

So Mr. President, if you're listening to Greta tonight, let the coalition do its job. Do not disengage. Put the military option on the table in full force, and we will win because in guy is weak. He's a bad guy. And we will win. If we tell the world we're going to win, then Gadhafi will go.

VAN SUSTEREN: How soon?

GRAHAM: You know, I don't know how -- the longer it takes depends on how decisive we are. You're into urban environments now where air power is not as strong. But if you neutralize his -- tell the Libyan army, Go back to your base. If you're out in the open, if you fire an artillery round, you're going to get bombed. If you get in a tank, it's going to be blown up.

The more indecisive we are, the longer it takes. We've had two chances to knock him out. If we'd done a no-fly zone four weeks ago, it would be over. If he'd have told the world and the opposition and Qaddafi last night, You're going to go and everything's on the table -- well, he's missed two chances to knock him out. He's still going to go because the option of leaving him in power is a disaster for this country.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you, sir.

GRAHAM: Thank you.