One of the U.S. Republican Party's leading voices on foreign affairs says the civil war in Syria and the flow of migrants into Europe constitute one of the most serious crises the West has faced in the last 70 years.
Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican who was the party's presidential nominee in 2008 and is now chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told VOA's Serbian service that Europe's migrant crisis is a direct result of what he called the "failure" of U.S. policy in the Middle East.
"The United States' failure in Syria and Iraq has had a significant impact on the cause of the flow of refugees," he said. "If the United States had gotten rid of [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad and kept Iraq under control, we wouldn't be experiencing the refugee crisis that we are today."
VOA Serbian service broadcaster Milena Djurdjic interviews Senator John McCain, Feb. 8, 2016.
The U.S. began pulling its military forces out of Iraq in December 2007, completing the withdrawal by December 2011. Since August 2014, the U.S. has carried out more than 8,000 airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.
McCain said he agreed with NATO's supreme military commander, General Philip Breedlove, who told the Armed Services Committee this month that Russia and the Assad government were "deliberately weaponizing migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve." Russia's air force began bombing Syrian rebels last September on behalf of the Assad government.
"The United States of America, by our failure to lead, allowed Russia into a position of influence, at least for the first time since 1973, when [then Egyptian President] Anwar Sadat threw the Russians out of Egypt," McCain said. "So the predominant influence now in Syria is Russia, Hezbollah, Iran and various other factions that are now dominating and establishing themselves in a way that it is very unlikely that Bashar Assad will leave anytime soon. This is one of the most serious crises that Europe and the United States have seen since the end of World War II."
Cessation of hostilities
While 250,000 people have been killed and millions of civilians have been displaced in Syria's five-year civil war, the violence there has diminished since a partial cessation of hostilities went into effect late last month. In addition, the United Nations is hosting talks between the Syrian government and the opposition, with the aim of achieving a political transition.
Asked about the crisis in Ukraine, McCain said the Ukrainian government had not taken sufficient steps to crack down on endemic corruption, and that this was contributing to political instability.
"There has not been the elimination or even strong efforts to eliminate corruption, which is making the people very dissatisfied," the senator said.
Still, McCain said it was "shameful" that the United States has not given Ukrainians "even weapons with which to defend themselves," while Russian President Vladimir Putin "continues to ratchet up" pressure on eastern Ukraine.
According to the U.N., more than 9,000 people have been killed and more than 20,000 wounded since Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine began fighting the central government in early 2014.