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Screengrab via Meet The Press with Chuck Todd

Neoconservative Trump critics McCain, Graham warm up to the president after Syria strike

McCain still doesn't trust Russia.


Chris Tognotti


Posted on Apr 9, 2017   Updated on May 24, 2021, 6:05 pm CDT

Republican senators and staunch neoconservative interventionists John McCain and Lindsey Graham appear to have gone from two of President Donald Trump’s biggest establishment Republican critics to a pair of cautiously optimistic cheerleaders, with both of them offering praise for Trump’s Syria strike. Graham, for his part, said he’d “never been more encouraged by the Trump administration” then he was in the aftermath of the air strikes.

Graham opened Sunday’s Meet The Press interview with a World War II analogy, suggesting that “ISIS should be Germany, and Assad should be Japan,” placing the threat posed by ISIS as higher priority than the Syrian government under president/dictator Bashar al-Assad. He noted that ISIS “is a direct threat to the homeland” in a way that Assad is not, and he hailed the Trump administration for moving toward embracing regime change in Syria.

“You need more American troops to accelerate the demise of ISIL, we’re relying too much on the Kurds,” Graham said. “More American forces, five or six thousand, would attract more regional fighters to destroy ISIL. You need a safe haven quickly, so people can regroup inside of 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 train, we’ll shoot you down.”

Graham also urged Trump to take broader military action, insisting that the Assad government continuing to launch jets from the stricken air field was essentially a “fuck you” to the president.

“Here’s what I think Assad’s telling Trump by flying from this base: ‘F you,'” Graham said. “And I think he’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.”

McCain, on the other hand, offered praise to Trump on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, hailing him for prioritizing the advice of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly over his anti-interventionist aides (and plenty of his own supporters, too).

McCain also condemned the Russian government in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, calling it “just as bad” as the rule of Assad and calling Vladimir Putin “certainly complicit” in atrocities within Syria.

“[Russia] are the ones that used the precision weapons against hospitals in Aleppo,” McCain said. “Look, they’re as bad as Bashar Assad, come on. They helped them out with the barrel bombs, they bailed them out time after time. Especially again, it was Russian aircraft with precision weapons that specifically targeted hospitals.”

In the early months of Trump’s presidency—and dating back to the presidential campaign—both Graham and McCain had been highly critical of Trump’s outward affinity for Putin, as well as his outright refusal to consider deeper U.S. military involvement in Syria. After Trump’s sudden change of heart, however—which sources close to the president reportedly attributed to his watching the gut-wrenching images out of Syria—it seems he has two of the Senate’s most vociferous neoconservative hawks in his corner.

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*First Published: Apr 9, 2017, 12:11 pm CDT