In a booming speech from the Senate floor, Sen. John McCain today called for the United States to start airstrikes in Syria.
“Time is running out. Assad’s forces are on the march,” McCain said on the Senate floor. “Providing military assistance to the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups is necessary, but at this late hour, that alone will not be sufficient to stop the slaughter and save innocent lives. The only realistic way to do so is with foreign air power.”
Comparing the situation in Syria today to Milosevic’s war crimes in the Balkans, or Russia’s annihilation of the Chechen city of Grozny, the Republican from Arizona called on President Obama to put the nation’s “full weight of our air power” to make sure that Assad will not be allowed to finish what he started.
“At the request of the Syrian National Council, the Free Syrian Army, and Local Coordinating Committees inside the country, the United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centers in Syria, especially in the north, through airstrikes on Assad’s forces,” he said. “To be clear: This will require the United States to suppress enemy air defenses in at least part of the country.”
Saying that the international response to Assad’s “atrocities” is being overtaken by events on the ground in Syria, McCain chastised the Obama administration for what he says is “hedging its bets,” hoping the situation will improve rather than strategizing while the bloodletting continues despite a year’s worth of diplomacy.
“Foreign capitals across the world are looking to the United States to lead, especially now that the situation in Syria has become an armed conflict,” he said. “But what they see is an administration still hedging its bets — on the one hand, insisting that Assad’s fall is inevitable, but on the other, unwilling even to threaten more assertive actions that could make it so.”
McCain says it is understandable that the Obama administration is reluctant to move beyond diplomacy and sanctions, but he says the stakes are higher for United States in Syria that they were during the uprising in Libya.
“We have a clear national security interest in his defeat,” he said. “And that alone should incline us to tolerate a large degree of risk in order to see that this goal is achieved.”
McCain called for arming the opposition and for the United States to also help them organize into a “cohesive and effective force.”
“These people are our allies,” he said. “They want many of the same things we do. They have expanded the boundaries of what everyone thought was possible in Syria. They have earned our respect, and now they need our support to finish what they started. The Syrian people deserve to succeed, and shame on us if we fail to help them.”
Saying there are no ideal options, McCain admitted that there are dangers, risks and uncertainties to his call for airstrikes. But those should not keep the United States from acting.
“The benefit for the United States in helping to lead this effort directly is that it would allow us to better empower those Syrian groups that share our interests — those groups that reject al Qaeda and the Iranian regime, and commit to the goal of an inclusive democratic transition, as called for by the Syrian National Council,” he said. “If we stand on the sidelines, others will try to pick winners, and this will not always be to our liking or in our interest.”
McCain said the United States should seek the “active involvement” of key Arab partners such as Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Jordan, and Qatar, and in the E.U. and NATO.