McCain Sees Two Syrias: One Is 'Moderate,' the Other Is 'A Client State of Iran'

By Susan Jones | September 4, 2013 | 6:05 AM EDT

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks at a roundtable Arizona business people on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013 in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

( - Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) strongly supports a U.S. air strike on Syria, which he described as both a "moderate nation" and a "client state of Iran."

In an appearance on Fox News's "O'Reilly Factor" Tuesday night, McCain was asked about the rebels fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Some of the rebels are moderate, but some are "jiihadists" and "al-Qaeda," O'Reilly said.

McCain insisted that the rebels are "not" bad guys.

"And I went there, and I know General Idris (head of the Free Syrian Army), and I know these people, and they are moderates. Syria is a moderate nation," McCain said. He said the rebels are "demonstrating now in the areas that are controlled by the jihadists."

"It is a nation who would reject them (jihadists)," McCain said. "People who allege that you can't tell the difference" between the good guys and the bad guys "are using it as an excuse for not going in and doing the right thing," he added.

Later in the interview, McCain said failing to respond to the atrocities in Syria puts America's national security at risk.

He dismissed the possibility of reprisals from Iran and Russia, saying those countries "know what will happen to them" if they do anything: "They'll get beaten," McCain said. "But if we're going to be intimidated and bullied by them, then we're not worth anything.

"But the point also is that Iran is the one that's going to gain if we do nothing. Syria is a client state of Iran. That is a battle that we're fighting, and Iran...will learn a lesson, and that is, it's OK for them to have nuclear weapons out of this if we do nothing."

McCain said a U.S. attack on Syria would have three objectives: "One is, degrade (Assad's) capability for delivering those (chemical) weapons, which means take away air capability; the second is to strengthen the resistance, which by the way is legitimate and moderate; and third is to change the equation on the battlefield."

McCain said the U.S. can do all three things from the air, without putting a single boot on the ground in Syria.

McCain's ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told CNN on Tuesday that of course there are terrorists fighting in Syria -- because the Obama administration has done nothing to prevent it for the past two years:

"[T]he vacuum created by this war going on for two years has allowed al Qaeda, Al Nusra, al Qaeda affiliates, to come into Syria and do battle against the Alawite Shiites. They're there, not because they're part of Syria. They're there because they're part of a religious war.

"Most Syrians aren't interested in replacing a dictator called Assad only to be governed by al Qaeda. So, I've been in the Mideast, and I really find it quite frankly astonishing for anybody to suggest that the Syrian people are al Qaeda sympathizers. But you got two wars now.

"If you'd done what Senator McCain and I said two years ago, there would not have been thousands of al Qaeda members in Syria. Assad would have been gone a long time ago and we'd be moving forward. But if this war goes on a year from now, you'll have tens of thousands of al Qaeda," Graham warned.

"What will happen, once Assad goes, and it's important he does, because if he stays in power, that's a huge blow to our national security interests. You got to fight the al Qaeda groups in Syria. The Syrians will take care of al Qaeda with our help. That's the good news. You don't need any boots on the ground."

Graham said, "If we get Syria right, maybe we can avoid a war between Israel and Iran, which we would surely get dragged into."