Sen. John McCain accused the Obama administration of inadvertently giving embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a “green light” to use “anything" but chemical weapons on his people.
“The president drew red lines about chemical weapons — thereby giving a green light to Bashar Assad to do anything short of that, including Scud missiles, and helicopter gunships, and air strikes — and mass executions and atrocities on a scale that we have not seen in a long, long time,” said the Arizona Republican on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
The White House has cautiously acknowledged in recent days that the Syrian government most likely alreadh has used chemical weapons — and probably the agent sarin, in the two-year civil war that has killed more than 70,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more.
"This is not an airtight case," said White House spokesman Jay Carney. "We do have some evidence, but we need to build on that."
McCain disagreed with the White House assessment and said that the use of chemical weapons shouldn’t be the determining factor for U.S. action.
“It may not be airtight. The Israelis and the British are far more affirmative in their assessment of it,” said McCain of the case that Syria used chemical weapons. “But . . . our actions should not be dictated by whether Bashar Assad used chemical weapons or not. First of all, he most likely would in order to maintain his hold on power.”
The 2008 Republican presidential nominee called for a no-fly zone, which would not necessarily involve putting any manned U.S. aircraft in harms way.
“We can use Patriot batteries and Cruise missiles to take out their air and to supply the resistance with weapons,” he said. “As you know, a flood of weapons is coming in from Russia and Iran.
“Iranians are on the ground in Syria and it’s an unfair fight,” McCain added. “And unless we change this balance of power by not using incrementalism, there’s every risk of a stalemate that can go on for months and months while the jihadists flood in, while the sorting out the situation after he (Assad) leaves becomes more and more complicated.”
The senator also said that Assad might even withdrawal from his palace to the Syrian coast, leading to a more protracted fight with rebels.
Pressed by host David Gregory, McCain acknowledged that the American people would be leery of another military commitment after more than a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But McCain draws a distinction between the intelligence that proved wrong with respect to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the current situation.
“In this case there is significant evidence — physical evidence — of the use of chemical weapons,” McCain said. “And by the way the administration has said ‘well they want the U.N. to investigate.’
“The only problem with that is Bashar won’t let the U.N. in, so it’s a bit ludicrous.”
He said that the U.S. should help arm the rebel fighters in Syria, while preparing to go into the country as part of an international force, to secure stocks of chemical — and perhaps biological — weapons now under the control of the Syrian government.
“There are a number of caches of these chemical weapons,” he said. “They cannot fall into the hands of the jihadists, otherwise we will end up seeing those weapons used in other places in the Middle East.”
McCain acknowledged that the American public does not have an appetite for U.S. military personnel to be on the ground in Syria.
“They don’t want boots on the ground,” he said. “I don’t want boots on the ground. I do want to give them the assistance which would give them a dramatic shift in the balance of power in Syria.”
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