In the face of new reports alleging chemical weapons use in Syria, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called Tuesday for the United States to put American troops inside Syria to secure the WMD sites there.
The Syrian regime and the Syrian rebels have each accused the other of using chemical weapons in a rocket attack in Aleppo province that killed at least 25 people. A Reuters photographer at a hospital receiving victims of the attack relayed that victims "said that people were suffocating in the streets and the air smelt strongly of chlorine." The Russian Foreign Ministry immediately backed the regime's claim that the rebels had used chemical weapons.
Graham told The Cable in an interview Tuesday that whether or not the attack can be confirmed as the first use of chemical weapons in the 24-month Syrian civil war, the United States must devise and implement a plan to secure Syrian chemical weapons sites and deploy U.S. troops to do it if necessary.
"My biggest fear beyond an Iranian nuclear weapons capability is the chemical weapons in Syria falling in the hands of extremists and Americans need to lead on this issue. We need to come up with a plan to secure these weapons sites, either in conjunction with our partners [or] if nothing else by ourselves," Graham said.
Asked if he would support sending U.S. troops inside Syria for the mission, Graham said yes.
"Absolutely, you've got to get on the ground. There is no substitute for securing these weapons," he said. "I don't care what it takes. We need partners in the region. But I'm here to say, if the choice is to send in troops to secure the weapons sites versus allowing chemical weapons to get in the hands of some of the most violent people in the world, I vote to cut this off before it becomes a problem."
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday that the U.S. government is still evaluating the intelligence from Syria, but downplayed the regime's accusation.
"We have no evidence to substantiate the charge that the opposition has used chemical weapons. We are deeply skeptical of a regime that has lost all credibility. And we would also warn the regime against making these kinds of charges as any kind of pretext or cover for its use of chemical weapons," Carney said.
"We are evaluating the charges that are being made and the allegations, consulting closely with our partners, in the region and in the international community," he added.
President Barack Obama has said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a red line for the United States, but Carney refused to say what the administration would do if the use of chemical weapons was confirmed.
"I wouldn't care to speculate about what consequences would take place if it were to be found that the regime had used chemical weapons," Carney said. "But on the general principle, the president made very clear that the use of chemical weapons, and I quote, ‘is and would be totally unacceptable.' And he warned the Syrian regime in particular that ‘there will be consequences, and you will be held accountable.'"
Graham said that regardless of whether chemicals weapons use in Syria can be confirmed, the United States needs to step up its contingency planning for such an event and proactively implement a strategy to secure the sites now.
"I can confirm the fact that the chemical weapons are all over Syria and if somebody doesn't plan how to secure these weapons they are going to work their way back to the U.S. and around the world, that I can promise you," he said. "If there was a chemical weapons attack today, that is a change in the conducting of the war and it should remind us what's available in Syria and what would we risk as a nation if these weapons fall into the wrong hands. And they are going to and somebody has to do something about it and that somebody has to be us."
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.