Senator John McCain urged military air strikes on Syria Thursday, saying the U.S. can’t afford to be “standing by, watching a massacre.”
While opposing the use of U.S. ground troops, the Arizona senator said the U.S. should give weapons to the Syrian rebels and establish “sanctuaries” in the war-torn country that would be protected by allied air power.
“For the United States to stand by and for the president of the United States not to say a word on behalf of these people is shameful,” McCain said at a Bloomberg Government conference in Washington on defense strategy.
With Iran aiding the Syrian government and Russia providing weapons to the regime, “it’s not a fair fight,” McCain, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said. “Here we are, standing by, watching a massacre go on.”
More than 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which has flared for months as rebels seek to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. A Syrian air force colonel flew a fighter jet into neighboring Jordan today and was granted political asylum, according to U.S. and Jordanian officials.
Other lawmakers at the forum urged a more cautious approach.
Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the Democratic chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said military action risks triggering a wider conflict in Syria.
“Assuming the bad guys win, what do we do then?” Levin said. “Up the ante?”
He said he favors exploring establishment of a “safe zone” along the Turkish-Syrian border with NATO support.
“There’s some interest and possibility of going into Syria along the border, creating a safe zone of 20 miles by 20 miles, and for NATO to support that action,” Levin said. “So far, NATO has not supported it.”
Beyond that, “people are very, very cautious because of the uncertainties that exist there,” Levin said.
Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House intelligence committee, said he isn’t prepared to support arming the rebels.
“We really are not in a good position today to fully identify all the groups and all factions, who’s winning the leadership fight and who’s not winning that fight,” Rogers, a Michigan Republican, said in an interview after he spoke at the conference.
“There’s a lot of work to be done, I argue, before the introduction of weapons,” he said. “I don’t have the comfort level today that we could be involved in that.”
Rogers also expressed concern about what would happen to Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile in a change of regime.
“This will make Libya look like an antique gun show if those weapons start spreading across the Middle East or al- Qaeda,” he said.
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