OTR Interviews

Sen. Graham: Pres. Obama has mishandled Syria as badly as he could, 'chickens have come home to roost' on 'leading from behind' foreign policy

Some critics say a strike on Syria is not about human rights but Obama saving face on the world stage


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," August 30, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: This is a FOX News alert. Warships are ready to strike Syria, and President Obama is consulting with American allies. Senator Lindsey Graham says, quote, "Now is the time for decisive actions." So what action should the U.S. take? Senator Lindsey Graham joins us. Good evening, sir.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: Thank you, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, what do you think could possibly be achieved? Here is the situation we're in. You've now told President Assad we're not going to get rid of him, it is going to be a very short duration, there will be no boots on the ground, and so what's our goal? What are we going to achieve if we do missile - if we do cruise missile attacks?

GRAHAM: Nothing but reinforce that we're weak. You nailed it. The president painted himself in a corner in 2012 when he told Assad, you better not use chemical weapons. And the question is, a year later, why would Assad use chemical weapons after being told by Obama not to? In the last year he's used chemical weapons at a low level, Assad has, and we've done nothing.

So in the last year, I think President Obama has convinced radical Islamists that we really don't mean -- that we're not coming their way. After Benghazi, when four Americans were killed, our ambassador was killed, the consulate overrun, no one has been held to account. We sent all the wrong signals, Benghazi, pulling out of Iraq.

So Assad has sized up Obama and he said this, I don't really believe the guy means what he says, and a weak response by the president reinforces a longer war. And the longer this war goes on, the more likely chemical weapons get into the hands of terrorist organizations. The kind of Jordan is likely to fall. Lebanon and Iraq are falling apart because Syria is a cancer.

The president has mishandled this as badly as he could. Quite frankly, the chickens have come home to roost from Obama foreign policy of leading from behind and being passive. So a pinprick strike, giving an aspirin to a person who has cancer, is the worst of all worlds.

VAN SUSTEREN: The strike, as we understand, is going to be, this is what's so baffling to me.

GRAHAM: Mind-boggling.

VAN SUSTEREN: Tomahawk cruise missiles, which can't hit moving targets, and can't hit underground bunkers. So, Assad, who we're not even trying to get rid of under this project, is going to go in an underground bunker. We're not going to get the launchers for the chemical weapons, and we're not going after the chemical weapons themselves. So we knock down a couple of military buildings, and a couple of things, 24 hours, that's over. The president then goes off to the G-20, they clean up the rubble. The president just gets, rallies the troops, and says look how horrible these Americans are, and then shows pictures of dead children we've killed.

GRAHAM: This is the response from the president that he is having to do because he painted himself in a corner. It's not a logical response to a real problem. How many times have you heard the Israelis tell the enemy, here is where we're going to hit you, here is how long we're going to hit you, here are the weapons we're going to use, and we promise you it won't last long? Never in the history of military operations has a military campaign been successful when you tell the enemy exactly what you're doing.

Now he's painted himself in a corner with a response. He's told the entire world it will be limited in nature. We don't need boots on the ground, but he has taken off the table an effective military response. So it is the worst of all worlds. Barack Obama has put the American national security interests in Syria and throughout the region in the worst possible position it could be.

VAN SUSTEREN: We have 30 seconds left. And of course, he has a little problem within his own party. You have Democrats who want answers. They want a robust debate on Capitol Hill.

GRAHAM: Well, what I want is decisive action before it is too late. Iran is watching every move we make in Syria. To say that what we do in Syria doesn't affect Iranian behavior is just unrealistic. We're showing weakness in Syria, which makes it more likely the Iranians will march toward a nuclear weapon, which makes it more likely Israel will attack. In his effort to avoid war, Obama has spread war. In his effort to reach out and make peace, we have gotten the finger. So at the end of the day if he really thought he could go into the Mideast, not be like Bush, give speeches, and charm people. It hasn't worked. Radical Islamists are not taking Obama seriously. This war is going to spread outside of Syria. This weak response is going to make things worse, not better.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you, sir.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

VAN SUSTEREN: So how would a strike on Syria go down? Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North joins us. Colonel, I want to ask you basically from what Lindsey Graham said, we are where we are in this mess, whatever it is. What is the president going to do and what could he do in light of everything that's going on right now? Give an exit strategy that's good for America.

LT. COL. OLIVER NORTH (RET), U.S. MARINE CORPS: After the Kerry speech today, everybody thought he decided to postpone it, and I don't think he has.

VAN SUSTEREN: I actually thought the opposite. I actually thought Kerry's speech was a warning that we're not going to pay attention to the U.N., we're full speed ahead.

NORTH: It was setting up the Obama presser where he says I haven't decided. He has decided. He is going to go ahead with a very, very limited strike, and that's going to make him feel better.

Here is what cruise missiles do in these kinds of situations. They make weak presidents look like in the mirror they're stronger. The reality of it is, the enemy knows better. As Senator Graham just pointed out, Assad knows exactly what's going on. Worst of all in this, Greta, is that the cruise missiles are going to strike targets around Syria, but not the ones you really need.

VAN SUSTEREN: They're not going to do the underground bunker or the launchers.

NORTH: Wait a second. Tartus is the biggest Soviet naval base outside of Russia, OK? It was built by the Soviets back in the bad old days. It is used by the Russian Navy today, I keep saying that, slipping into it with Mr. Putin. And Putin does not want that base hit, so it won't be. On top of that, this is a war, a civil war, that is being run by an outside party. The outside party is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard core, headquartered in Tehran. We're not going to hit Tehran. Tehran is the one, they are the ones calling the shots how the Syrians fight this.

VAN SUSTEREN: What can we do? We're in this battle we're in, so what do we do?

NORTH: It would take guts for this guy to look into the camera and say I should not have said anything about a red line. What I am going to do is immediately beef up the security at every one of my embassies all over the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, because as you and I both know, in nine days, you have the eve of another 9/11 attack. And those anniversaries really are important to the bad guys. So do that immediately.

Second of all, go to the Israelis right now and say I'm going to pull back my horns. You've got the southern part of that country targeted. You take care of the things you need to take care of to make sure you're not going to hit as a reprisal, because Syria can't come after us, but the Iranians can go after the Israelis, not in Israel, but all around the rest, at every Israeli embassy on the planet.

Lastly, what this president needs to do, should do right away, go to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, The Senate Select Committee with a covert action finding, say I want my risk-averse intelligence agencies to immediately hire 1,000 contractors, civilians who are military people who have gotten out, who speak the language, and there are thousands of them, who are now looking for something to do in an economy that has never turned around, and put them to work recruiting, training, and fielding a real Syrian freedom fighter movement. It can be done. Those people are out there. They've just not been given any weapons by Erdogan, our erstwhile NATO ally in Turkey.

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't see how that works. But anyway--

NORTH: I know a little something about freedom fighters--


VAN SUSTEREN: No, I know. I was going to say I was trying to figure out, how to get myself out of that.


NORTH: It is not going to finish easily. It is a bad situation.

VAN SUSTEREN: Indeed. Colonel, as always, thank you. Nice to see you, sir.

NORTH: You too, Greta, thanks.