Graham: U.S. should act if Syria fails to oust terrorists
BY TYLER BRIDGES
Wednesday, April 16, 2003
SAN FRANCISCO - U.S. Sen. Bob Graham is calling for potential cruise
missile strikes against terrorist camps in Syria and Syrian-controlled
Lebanon if the Syrian government does not eliminate the terrorist
activities housed there.
In an interview while campaigning for president, Graham said that he
would first present evidence to the Syrian government of the terrorist
presence and then demand action.
''We ought to give the Syrian government time to clean up its house,'' he
said. ''If the government of Syria does not deal with terrorist groups
that have used it as a sanctuary and training group, then the United
States, hopefully with a broad coalition, should take steps necessary to
eliminate the training grounds. Cruise missiles happen to be an example
of what we did in similar circumstances'' in Afghanistan during the
Graham added that he does not support following up the invasion of Iraq
with a similar invasion of Syria to root out terrorism, as some
neoconservatives favor. ''My position is that we ought not to be trying
to remove the regime,'' he said. ``We should be trying to remove the
cancer of terrorism being tolerated in that specific country and the
Syrian-controlled areas of Lebanon.''
Graham's views are significant not only because he served as the chairman
of the Senate Intelligence Committee in the immediate post-9/11 era but
also because none of the other Democratic presidential candidates -- or
even President Bush -- is calling for a similar potential military action
Syria has become a focal point in the Middle East now that the U.S.-led
invasion of Syria is winding down.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer has called Syria a ''rogue nation''
and Secretary of State Colin Powell threatened economic and political
penalties, but neither was willing to go as far as Graham. The Bush
administration is also concerned that Syria is offering a safe haven to
Iraqi leaders and possesses chemical weapons.
Graham said the terrorist group Hezbollah, which he said is headquartered
in southern Beirut, presents a far greater terrorist threat than Saddam
Hussein's Iraq. Graham said that is why he voted against the
congressional resolution authorizing war against Iraq.
The other major candidates in Congress who are running for president
voted for it, which has led some to suggest that Graham, like former
Vermont Governor Howard Dean, is anti-war. But Dean opposed the war
because he disapproved of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, saying Bush should
have given diplomacy more time.
Graham, for his part, said he opposed the war resolution ''because it
didn't go far enough'' and had misplaced priorities. ''I thought that
before we took any action against Iraq, we had to be bringing to
completion the war on terrorism in Afghanistan, Yemen, Indonesia'' and
Syria, Graham said.
Matthew Levine, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East
Policy who favored the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, agrees with Graham that
terrorists in Syria pose a problem: ``The Syrian regime is involved in
state-sponsored terrorism. Since Sept. 11, they have been providing
weapons directly to Hezbollah.''
Graham's views on Iraq and Syria differs from that of the other major
Democratic candidates angling to unseat Bush.
Graham describes himself as ''to the right'' of them on these issues,
even though he did not support the war resolution, and notes that
conservative columnist George Will wrote approvingly of his views in
Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, for example, believes that the
successful completion of the Iraq war ''gives us the leverage to urge
countries like Syria who have harbored terrorists to stop and talk to
them aggressively about doing so,'' said his press secretary, Jano
How Democratic primary voters will respond to Graham's views is
''If Sen. Graham can make the case that there are terrorist camps
operating in Syria, many Iowa Democrats would support an action like
that,'' said Gordon Fischer, chairman of the Democratic Party in Iowa,
where Graham will visit in about two weeks. 'The questions he would face
are: `Can you make the case? Is the intelligence good enough?' Everybody
is concerned about terrorism.''