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John McCain knocks President Obama on foreign policy, says US should arm Syrian rebels

Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona blasted President Obama on foreign policy Sunday, accusing him of mishandling relationships with countries throughout the Middle East.

McCain said the United States should arm rebels in Syria to help them fight against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

“Absolutely. It’s an unfair fight,” McCain said on ABC’S “This Week. “The Russians are supplying arms. The Iranians are on the ground. How could we not stand up for these people? How could we sit by and watch this slaughter go on, while the president of the United States is totally silent?”

McCain, who ran against Obama in 2008, criticized the president’s announcement of an Atrocities Prevention Board during a speech at the Holocaust Museum last month. The board is insufficient, McCain argued, citing author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, who seemed to call Obama to be firmer when he introduced the president at the museum in April.

“How is it that Assad is still in power?” Wiesel said. “How is it that the Holocaust’s number one denier, [Iran’s Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, is still a president? He who threatens to use nuclear weapons to destroy the Jewish state. Have we not learned? We must. We must know that when evil has power, it is almost too late.”


McCain downplayed the risk of arming a group of Syrian rebels whose long-term mission is uncertain.

“I heard this same story in Libya. I heard it in Tunisia. I heard it in Egypt,” McCain said. “There’s always, ‘We don’t know who they are.’ I’ll tell you who they are. They’re a direct repudiation of Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda believes in acts of terror to change governments. These people believe in peaceful demonstration.”

McCain also took aim at Obama administration policies in neighboring countries.

“Iraq is unraveling,” McCain said.” “We all know that there should have been a residual force there, and now the whole situation is unraveling. In the words of General [John M.] Keane, the architect of the surge, we won the war and are losing the peace, thanks to the president’s commitment to get completely out.”


US troops withdrew from Iraq in December, fulfilling Obama’s pledge to exit the country by the end of 2011. Keane made the statement referenced by McCain in October; it was not an appraisal of the post-withdrawal state of Iraq.

McCain said Obama has been silent about protests in Iran and cited the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, a 26-year-old woman shot to death in the streets of Tehran in 2009. “[Obama] didn’t say a word,” McCain said. “That’s one of the most shameful episodes, in my view, of our history.”

Obama did address Agha-Soltan’s death during a news conference that year after a video of her bleeding to death circulated widely on the Internet.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Obama said at the time. “And I think that anybody who sees it knows that there’s something fundamentally unjust about that.”

Callum Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.