OTR Interviews

Sen. Lindsey Graham: I'm 'absolutely dumbfounded' by Obama's ISIS strategy

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey opened the door to US boots on the ground against ISIS, despite the president's pledge otherwise.

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," September 16, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Senator Lindsey Graham joins us. Nice to see you, sir.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

VAN SUSTEREN: After today's hearing, you had a chance to question the general and also Secretary of Defense Hagel. Do you understand the Obama administration's strategy?

GRAHAM: I am absolutely dumbfounded as to what we're doing and why. But I do believe this. Destroying ISIL is the right goal. That if we don't destroy them, they will get stronger and hit us here at home. It's just not about Iraq and Syria. I just don't know how we destroy ISIL, given what I heard today.

VAN SUSTEREN: What did you hear today? What did General Dempsey tell you and Secretary Hagel tell you is how the Obama administration intends to destroy --

GRAHAM: In Iraq, we use the Kurdish forces. We regenerate the Iraqi army that's fallen apart. We pull the Sunni Arab tribes away from ISIL and hit them inside of Iraq.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me stop you right there. The Sunni people are not wild about the Iraqi forces. At all.

GRAHAM: No, they're not wild about ISIL either.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, they're not wild about ISIL, but they have -- they're more --

(CROSSTALK)

GRAHAM: Can I just tell you what they said.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK.

GRAHAM: So the way you win in Iraq is you reconstitute the Iraqi army from the south. You have the Sunni tribes in the West abandon ISIL and fight with us, fight with the Iraqi army. And you have the Kurds hit them from up north. Then ask them about Syria. Two-thirds of ISIL is in Syria, not Iraq. So to destroy ISIL, you have to hit them in Syria. And this is where it all fell apart for me. There's supposed to be a mythical Arab army formed sometime in the near future that will go in on the ground and destroy ISIL without any substantial U.S. help. I don't believe that's possible. And the worst outcome is to send an Arab army into Syria and ISIL beat them.

VAN SUSTEREN: Who's this Arab army that the two witnesses today said was forming?

GRAHAM: Well, I don't know who they are. The Free Syrian component is part of it. I'm all for training Free Syrian Army, but it would take a lifetime to train enough of them to defeat ISIL. You've got Turkey. You've got Egypt. You've got Saudi Arabia. You've got forces in the region. I'm all for using those forces. But I don't want to be unrealistic to the American people. I don't see how a large Arab army, without substantial American support, can defeat ISIL. And if we lose to ISIL in Syria, they're not destroyed. They actually come out of this thing stronger.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you have a sense today that you got military strategy answers --

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: -- or politics?

GRAHAM: This is the key. The strategy the president has adopted was made up by him, not our military. This is not a military plan. This is -- this military strategy won't destroy ISIL. It's designed to protect the promises made by President Obama as a politician. The military must be pulling their hair out tonight. They're in a box created by our president. This is not rational. And it all goes back that he's stubborn, he's vain, and he's been incompetent, and he's going to continue this fight against ISIL in a fashion where it goes longer than it should and more people get killed than necessary. He is that stubborn. To President Bush's credit, he understood that his approach to Iraq was falling apart and he abandoned it and replaced it with a new strategy. President Obama cannot admit to himself that what he's done in the past is not working. The worst thing a commander-in-chief can do, I believe, is to send American forces into a battle where they can't win. That's what we're asking of our military, to fight ISIL in a fashion that they can't win.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, nice to see you, sir.

GRAHAM: Thank you.