WASHINGTON -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) ratcheted up the pressure on the Obama administration Thursday over the growing crisis in Iraq, calling for air strikes and special forces on the ground to arrest the advance of Sunni insurgents.
McCain is one of many Republicans who have been critical of President Barack Obama for, as they see it, allowing Iraq to fall into chaos. But he became one of the few to suggest a course of action in a Senate floor speech.
"So what do we need to do?" McCain said, remarking that the first step is to oust the current leader of Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite who has been criticized for failing to include Sunnis in government.
"Of course Maliki has to be transitioned out," McCain said, although the Obama administration has said it is not interested in meddling with the leadership of Iraq. "But the only way that's going to happen is for us to assure Iraqis that we will be there to assist. And let me make it clear: no one that I know wants to send combat troops on the ground, but airstrikes are an important factor, psychologically and many other ways, and that may require some forward air controllers and some special forces."
McCain and several GOP colleagues who joined him on the floor to berate Obama's foreign policy also argued that the al Qaeda-affiliated group behind the offensive, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, is gaining ground because Obama failed to cut an agreement with Iraq to keep U.S. forces there.
Now the United States faces nothing but bad options in the region, McCain said, and it's time to strike, both in Iraq and Syria.
"We cannot afford to allow a Syria-Iraq enclave that will pose a direct threat to the United States of America, and if we act, we are going to have to act in Syria as well," McCain said.
Obama was expected to address the unfolding crisis later Thursday. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) suggested Democrats might not be interested in using special forces, saying in her weekly news conference, "You have to be careful sending special forces because it's a number that has a tendency to grow."
She didn't rule out air strikes, and left the decision to Obama, saying he has the authority he needs to take action.
Sabrina Siddiqui contributed reporting.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.