McCain: U.S. is "raising a generation of Jihadists" in Syria

Republican Sen. John McCain, from Arizona, pauses during a press conference in Mexico City, Friday, Feb. 22, 2013.
AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini

(CBS News) On Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry extended non-lethal aid to Syrian rebels, promising food and medical supplies to rebels in the first offer of direct aid since the Syrian conflict erupted two years ago.

Kerry said the aid is directed at helping rebel fighters in their efforts to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad in a conflict that is estimated to have claimed the lives of up to 70,000 Syrians.

Senator John McCain, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Friday and said while he "appreciates John Kerry's efforts ... to say that we are really going to change the equation with non-lethal aid isn't going to do it."

McCain explained that in his view, the aid is not enough to combat the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's involvement on the ground in Syria or to stem the tide of weapons "flowing in from Russia and from Iran."

The senator added that "surrounding countries are being destabilized" as a result of the conflict and that U.S. policy towards Syria amounts to a "shameful chapter in American history."

McCain also offered a grim prediction for the long-term ramifications of U.S. inaction in Syria. "I was in a refugee camp ... a woman was there, she said, 'These children in this refugee camp, they will take revenge on those who refuse to help them.' We are raising a generation of Jihadists in these refugee camps," the senator said.

McCain also disputed the notion that if the U.S. decided to arm the rebels, it would be unable to protect against the weapons falling into the wrong hands.

"If we had a safe zone, we could control that," he said. "And right now, weapons are flowing into the wrong people ... and they're flowing in from, frankly, some of our friends in the Gulf States, including some wealthy Saudis."

"Everything they said would happen if we intervened has happened because we didn't intervene and it's shameful," he added.

Senator McCain also addressed the expected sequester and said the looming across-the-board budget cuts "are disproportionate on defense." He stood by his Senate colleague, Sen. Lindsey Graham, who invoked former President Reagan on Thursday and called the sequestration debate the "low point of my time in the United States Congress."

"Lindsey is exactly right," McCain said. "Ronald Reagan would be appalled at our Republicans who are saying, 'Well let's just give the president flexibility.'"

Still, McCain accepted part of the blame for the impending cuts, saying, "the administration and Congress designed them that way. I put a lot of blame on the administration but also, we went along with them."

For more from McCain on the Congressional budget battle and effects on military operations, watch his appearance on "CBS This Morning," above.