Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) used President Donald Trump’s airstrike in Syria last week as a launchpad to call for a dramatic escalation of American forces in that nation, during an interview Sunday on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”
Graham, typically a vocal critic of Trump, gushed over the president’s decision to retaliate after a chemical attack in Syria last week killed over 80 civilians, including children. Graham even cited Trump’s dramatic reversal of foreign engagement as the reason why he’s “never been more encouraged by the Trump administration than I am today.” But Graham insisted Trump must do more and embed U.S. troops even more deeply into Syria to combat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
“I want more American troops, five or six thousand, like we have in Iraq, to help destroy ISIL. That means that we’ll accelerate the demise of ISIL.”
“So you need more American troops to accelerate the demise of ISIL. We’re relying too much on the Kurds,” Graham told “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd. “More American forces, five or six thousand. We’re to track more regional fighters to destroy ISIL. You need a safe haven quickly so people can regroup inside Syria. Then you train the opposition to go after Assad. That’s how he’s taken out by his own people with our efforts. And you tell the Russians, ‘If you continue to bomb the people we trained, we’ll shoot you down.'”
Todd asked if the South Carolina senator thought it was realistic the president would escalate U.S. involvement in the conflict.
“Well, OK. Do you think President Trump is ready to take that advice?” Todd asked Graham. “I mean, you’re calling for troops to be sent in.”
As a candidate for president, Trump encouraged less foreign entanglement in the Middle East as he promoted “America-first” policies. Graham noted American troops are already in the country “helping to destroy ISIL.”
“If you don’t like the thousand American troops that are helping to destroy ISIL, cut off funding. Be consistent here,” Graham said. “I want more American troops, five or six thousand, like we have in Iraq, to help destroy ISIL. That means that we’ll accelerate the demise of ISIL. I want to train opposition forces to take Assad down. He’s a threat to the United States because he’s a proxy of Iran. He used chemical weapons. He violated a treaty that he signed. I think it’s up to us to enforce that treaty.”
Saying that he was “glad Trump did this,” Graham said that Trump “is no longer Obama in the eyes of our enemies.”
“But he needs to do more to close the deal. There’s a new sheriff in town,” Graham said, adding that Assad’s refusal to back down sends this message to Trump: “‘F’ you.”
“And I think [Assad’s] making a serious mistake, because if you’re an adversary of the United States and you don’t worry about what Trump may do on any given day, then you’re crazy,” Graham said.
Todd seemed surprised by Graham’s excitement.
“Wow. I have to say, you used the initials, but I think that’s a first for ‘Meet the Press,’ Senator Graham,” Todd responded. “And you even got — we had a few people watching, it raised a lot of eyebrows.”
Graham giddily continued, insisting Trump “abandoned a position that was not working, which is leaving Assad alone.”
“Obama said [Assad] has to go in name only,” Graham noted. “This president is setting in motion an actual strategy to get rid of Assad.”