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McCain urges White House to consider a 'necessary military component' to end Syrian war


Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain

The Hill, Oct. 5, 2016 - Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Wednesday urged the administration to consider a more forceful military component in its approach to ending the Syrian civil war.
"The Obama administration’s approach to Syria has failed miserably. Now is the time for a new strategy—including the necessary military component—that can achieve this more realistic objective," McCain said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.
The call comes as White House Cabinet officials prepare to meet on Wednesday to discuss new options to end the civil war in Syria, after U.S.-Russia talks to cooperate in Syria were officially suspended on Monday.
A National Security Council meeting, which could include the president, could be convened as early as this weekend, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
McCain said he believed Congress would back a more forceful approach against the Syrian regime, despite a seeming lack of support for U.S. airstrikes after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad conducted a chemical weapons attack in 2013 in defiance of President Obama's "red line" against doing so.
"The administration likes to pretend that Congress is not prepared to support a more forceful approach because of its lack of support for military action to enforce President Obama’s red line in 2013. This is a myth," McCain said.
"What many in Congress opposed was granting a reluctant president authority to conduct what Secretary of State John Kerry promised would be 'unbelievably small' airstrikes in the absence of a broader strategy to achieve U.S. national interests in Syria," he said.
McCain laid out several military options against Assad, including grounding his air force, implementing safe zones and providing more weapons to vetted anti-regime groups.
"The U.S. and its coalition partners must issue an ultimatum to Mr. Assad—stop flying or lose your aircraft—and be prepared to follow through," he said.
As far as Russian aircraft — which have been flying strikes against rebel groups in support of Assad since September 2015, McCain said the U.S. should threaten to strike their aircraft, too.
"If Russia continues its indiscriminate bombing, we should make clear that we will take steps to hold its aircraft at greater risk," he said.
"And we must create safe zones for Syrian civilians and do what is necessary to protect them against violations by Mr. Assad, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and extremist forces," he said.
"At the same time, we must provide more robust military assistance to the vetted Syrian opposition groups that are fighting the regime. The only way to isolate and target extremists on the battlefield is to make moderate groups more capable of fighting successfully on their own," he added.
The Obama administration has so far tried to avoid sparking a war with Syria or Russia and has focused its military effort in Syria against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, except for a CIA program to provide some vetted opposition groups with weapons and training.
It has also avoided arming the rebels with advanced weaponry, such as anti-aircraft missile systems, out of concern they could be used against U.S. civilian aircraft.
McCain argued an alternative plan would not come without "costs and uncertainties."
"This will undoubtedly entail greater costs. But the alternative is far from cost-free: It is the continuation, for years and years, of terror, tragedy, slaughter, refugees, and a war in the heart of the Middle East that will continue to threaten the U.S. and destabilize the world," he said.