Sen. John McCain says the world may be on "on the precipice" of "the most horrendous act" of this century, as it waits to see if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will use chemical weapons against his own people.
"I think there's so much overwhelming [intelligence], including human intelligence [about Assad loading chemicals into bombs] that I think we are on the precipice of one of the more horrendous acts, or the most horrendous act, certainly, of the 21st century," the Arizona Republican told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren Thursday night.
McCain said, unfortunately, there was little the United States or the international community could do to stop it if Assad decides to order the use of his chemical arsenal, which would likely kill thousands. But he warned that the U.S. should be prepared to commit troops if necessary, not to fight, but to locate and contain any chemical weapons when the Assad regime falls.
"Suppose that Assad falls, he leaves, goes to Russia, or is assassinated. You've still got now these stores of chemical and biological weapons all over the country," said McCain, the ranking GOP member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"This is a serious crisis, and we have to be prepared," he continued. "We have to be prepared to put Americans troops, not to fight, not to be on the ground and fight, but perhaps American troops to secure these weapons storage areas.
"No one wants American boots on the ground anywhere in the Middle East anymore, but this is a matter of securing weapons of mass destruction, which we know are there and we know where a lot of them are.
Despite their public battles over foreign policy and other issues, McCain also said he and other members of Congress would stand behind President Barack Obama should he decide to take military steps against Assad to prevent the Syrian civil war from turning into a broader regional or even world crisis.
"I hope that President Assad appreciates this time the president of the United States is serious," said McCain, who in the past has criticized Obama for not engaging more with the opposition forces fighting to overthrow the Assad regime.
"And if the president feels he has to act, I know that every single member of Congress will support that action," he added.
The immediate problem for now, McCain said, is that "no one knows what Bashar al-Assad is thinking."
He said "one faint hope we have" is that Russia, a long-time ally of Syria, will intervene and offer Assad a place. Assad has to be convince, McCain added, that using chemical weapons would be like "committing suicide with horrific consequences."
Back in July, the senator described U.S. policy toward Syria as "feckless," and warned that Assad might try to provide chemical weapons to Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. He accused the Obama administration of "doing nothing" to prevent the possible transfer of weapons or the "massacre" of thousands in the Syrian conflict.
Asked by Van Susteren if he stood by those comments, McCain went further, saying the United States have to bear the blame if chemical weapons are unleashed.
"I think we would be directly responsible," he said. "All of those who argued against intervention warned us that if we intervene these terrible things would happen. Well, we didn't intervene, and all these terrible things [happened], and the consequences have been huge as we sat by and watched these 40,000 people massacred."
"Now, we've reached the ultimate," he continued. "And I cannot overemphasize, and you cannot either, the consequences of one of these attacks is horrendous.
"I do not think that now that these weapons have been put together, that we would have sufficient intelligence to know whether Bashar al-Assad ordered their use, or not, in time. I wish we did, but I can't say we do."
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