WASHINGTON -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Monday knocked the Obama administration for being too passive in its response to Syrian violence and called for U.S.-led airstrikes on President Bashar al-Assad's military forces.
"The time has come for a new policy," McCain said during remarks on the Senate floor. "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. To be clear: This will require the United States to suppress enemy air defenses in at least part of the country."
McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the goal of airstrikes should be to create safe havens in the country for opposition forces to plan their own political and military attacks against Assad. The benefit of the United States leading the military effort, he said, is that it would allow the U.S. to better empower Syrian groups that support U.S. interests to move toward a democratic transition.
"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," he said.
McCain is the first U.S. senator to publicly call for a military attack on Assad's regime. During his floor remarks, he said more than 7,500 lives have been lost in Syria amid the uprising and that the United Nations has declared Syrian security forces guilty of crimes against humanity.
For weeks, McCain has been ratcheting up calls for a U.S. military intervention in Syria. He said in early February that the U.S. should begin thinking of arming the opposition, though he also warned of the risks of doing so. By mid-February, he said the U.S. should consider sending diplomatic and military resources to the groups. The State Department has resisted doing so, though it has been planning ways to get humanitarian aid to the rebels.
During his Senate remarks, McCain noted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton argued just last week that the U.S. continues to oppose providing military assistance because the identities of the rebels are unclear and U.S. aid could end up aiding terrorist groups like al Qaeda or Hamas. But in the meantime, McCain said, the U.S. has made "not much" of an effort to meet and engage directly with the rebels.
He cited other concerns by the administration that providing military assistance could enable a "bloody and indiscriminate" sectarian civil war. "This is a serious and legitimate concern, and it is only growing worse the longer the conflict goes on," McCain said, which means the U.S. needs to step in to end the fighting sooner than later. “Furthermore, the risks of sectarian conflict will exist in Syria whether we get more involved or not."
McCain said he knows there are plenty of reasons not to get involved in the Syrian conflict, the least of which being war fatigue among Americans who would rather focus on domestic problems than another costly overseas military operation. But the bottom line, he said, is that the Syrian people are being massacred by Assad in their fight for peace and democracy.
"These people are our allies. They want many of the same things we do," McCain said. "The Syrian people deserve to succeed, and shame on us if we fail to help them.”
BEFORE YOU GO
07/13/2012 1:00 PM EDT
Car Bomb In Damascus
Syrian policemen inspect the site of a car bomb explosion on Mazzeh highway in the capital Damascus on July 13, 2012. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/GettyImages)
07/13/2012 12:00 PM EDT
Susan Rice Condemns Killings
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
@ AmbassadorRice :
#Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.
07/13/2012 11:58 AM EDT
Russia Condemns Massacre
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
07/13/2012 11:55 AM EDT
Footage Of Massacre Aftermath (WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS DISTURBING IMAGES)
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
07/13/2012 9:34 AM EDT
How Do Syrian Fighters Get Their Arms?
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say.
Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
07/13/2012 9:10 AM EDT
Activists Report New Massacre (WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a victim wounded by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. The accounts, some of which claim more than 200 people were killed in the violence Thursday, could not be independently confirmed, but would mark the latest in a string of brutal offensives by Syrian forces attempting to crush the rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
07/12/2012 6:50 PM EDT
Hama Revolutionary Council: More Than 220 Killed
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
07/12/2012 6:17 PM EDT
Syrian State TV: 'Large Numbers Of Terrorists Killed'
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
@ AlexanderPageSY :
Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria
07/12/2012 5:36 PM EDT
Update: Death Toll In New Massacre Reportedly More Than 200
@ Reuters :
UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS