Meet the Press   |  June 16, 2013

The endgame: Arming Syrian rebels

Sen. Lindsey Graham discusses the administration’s intended goal in its declaration of intent to provide assistance to Syrian rebels, with input from a Meet the Press panel of experts.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> you. senator graham, let me start with you. the key step has been taken by this administration, the president saying he is now willing to arm the syrian rebels. so, what is the goal and how much closer to the goal does this step take us?

>> i really don't know. it seems to be not being bush is our foreign policy . the goal should be to basically make sure assad leaves. last year, assad was isolated, he had very few friends, he was hanging by a thread . this year he's entrenched with hezboll hezbollah , iran and russia , stronger behind him than ever. i think our goal should be in the short term is to balance the military power and providing small arms won't do it, so we need to create a no-fly zone to neutralize assad 's airpower.

>> so, you're saying this is too late, this is too little, the syrian rebels cannot prevail with this step by the administration.

>> under this construct, they can't, and what does it mean if they lose? i think as syria 's become a powder keg for the region, there's 60,000 children in jordan , the kingdom is under siege in terms of refugees. hezbollah is all in in syria , so lebanon's even more destable. this has been a nightmare year for syria . egypt's going backwards. leban lebanon's becoming unstable. russia is introducing into syria , threatening very sophisticated weapons. the weapons caches i fear the most could fall into the hands of hezbollah . it's a powder keg for the region. our policies are not working and ak-47s will not neutralize the advantage assad has over the rebels. we need to do more.

>> so, only by taking out assad can we have peace in this civil war ?

>> that's what the president says. the president says --

>> what do you say?

>> -- assad must go. i say a political solution is the only way you solve this and assad those go to get a political solution. no rebel group's going to partition syria with assad still in power. so, yes, he has to go. then you find a political solution. but if the war lasts four, six months, jordan 's going to go and israel's going to be surrounded by syria on fire, jordan at more radical and egypt becoming more radical. the whole region's about to blow up and our foreign policy , to me, i don't understand it. whatever it is, it's not working.

>> david ignatius , what forced the president's hand on this?

>> i think when the decision, the chemical weapons had been used by the assad regime, was completed by the intelligence analysts and ready to go, it forced a decision that really already was made in embryo within the administration. i would add to what senator graham said. yes, our policy is to force assad to leave, but our policy at a deeper level is to build up the moderate opposition to assad . if assad left tomorrow in a sense, that would be bad for us, because the strongest forces in syria would be the jihadists, and you'd have complete chaos. so, in a sense, you want to wait a little bit for these forces to get stronger, for the u.s. arms to flow through. i was told by my syrian sources that just in the last few days, at this announcement, 60 syrian officers defected because they thought maybe there's a chance -- 6 generals, 22 colonels. so, there's one concrete sign on what difference it makes when the u.s. says we're with you.

>> on the other side, our colleague, jeff goldberg, making the point that we're going to send small arms into syria . where are they going to go? we don't know who has guns in the united states . are we really going to be able to track guns inside of syria ?

>> exactly. now, one of the questions that i think also precipitated this is iran . i think the administration had the intelligence about chemical weapons and were slow-walking it, they were hoping they could get to a political negotiation in geneva. that they've now given up on. in fact, they want to delay it. they realize assad 's gained so much strength with hezbollah all in that if they were to go to negotiations now, there would be no way to remove him. i think what really precipitated this, moving on that red line , which they knew about and which britain and france had plenty of evidence of, was iran . they realize they are now at war with iran and with hezbollah and russian support, there was no way assad was going to lose. and in fact, it wouldn't just be stalemate, assad would win. the biggest problem they have now going into the g-8 is that russia has categorically denied it and the u.n. secretary-general agrees with russia . so, they are challenging the american intelligence, and frankly, after the last decade, u.s. intelligence on weapons of mass destruction doesn't have a whole lot of credibility around