Arizona Republican Senator John McCain is pushing for the United States to get more involved in the Syrian conflict, arguing that the Obama administration is demonstrating a lack of leadership.
“When it comes to the administration’s policy towards Syria, to say they are leading from behind is too generous. That suggests they are leading. They’re just behind. In its desperation, the administration now appears to be placing its hopes in the Russian government to push Assad from power in a Yemen-like transition,” McCain said in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute on Monday.
“This is the same Russian government that continues to provide heavy weapons and moral support to [Bashar al-] Assad, that refuses to authorize U.N. sanctions on the regime and even blamed Assad’s recent slaughter of civilians in Houla on the opposition and foreign powers. The more basic problem with this approach is that the administration has already tried it, and Moscow rejected it and shut down the U.N. Security Council.”
To effectively handle the conflict, McCain said Obama could learn from former President Bill Clinton.
“What the president does not seem to realize is what President Bill Clinton came to understand in Bosnia, that a diplomatic resolution in conflicts like these is not possible until the military balance of power changes on the ground. As long as a murderous dictator, be it Slobodan Milosevic or Bashar al-Assad, believes he is winning on the battlefield, he has no incentive to stop fighting and negotiate,” said McCain.
“The same is true for the regime’s foreign supporters, for whatever the reasons and despite destroying Russia’s reputation in the Arab world, the Russian government has stuck with Assad for 15 months. What makes us think that President Putin will change course now when Assad is still the dominant power on the ground?”
McCain said he envisions a “multilateral” approach where America works closely with its Arab and European allies.
“As in Libya, there would be no boots on the ground, and we would only intervene at the request of legitimate representatives of the Syrian people,” said McCain. “Our goal would be to help the opposition change the military balance of power on the ground, thereby creating conditions for an end to the violence, the departure of Assad and his cronies and a negotiated transition as soon as possible.”
McCain said more involvement in Syria is in America’s national security interest.
“Our lack of involvement in Syria is not preventing the militarization of the conflict or lessening the risk of sectarian violence or countering the appeal of extremist groups. All of these events are just happening without us and without our ability to influence them,” McCain said.
“The main reason the United States needs to get more involved in Syria is to help the opposition in the conflict sooner, while they can still secure an outcome that is consistent with their goals and ours. We should do so not simply for humanitarian reasons but because it is our national security interest. In the words of General James Mattis, the commander of U.S. Central Command, the fall of Assad would be the biggest blow to Iran in 25 years.”
However, the former GOP nominee for president acknowledges that “there are risks” to greater involvement in Syria.
“The opposition is still struggling to get organized. al-Qaida and other extremists are working to hijack the revolution. And there are already reports of reprisal killings of Alawites. These risks are real and serious. But the risks of continuing to do nothing are worse,” McCain said.
“If we fail to act, the consequences are clear. Syria will become a failed state in the heart of the Middle East, threatening both our ally Israel and our NATO ally Turkey. With or without Assad, the country will develop into a full-scale civil war, with areas of ungoverned space that al-Qaida and its allies will occupy.”