McCain calls for air strikes on Syria

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

As the bloodshed intensifies in Syria, Senate Armed Services ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., on Monday became the first senator to call publicly for Washington to launch air strikes on President Bashar al-Assad's forces to protect the Syrian people in their fight to overthrow the longtime leader.

The crisis in Syria has reached a decisive moment, McCain said on the Senate floor. "The United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centers in Syria, especially in the north, through air strikes on Assad’s forces. To be clear: This will require the United States to suppress enemy air defenses in at least part of the country."

The air strikes' ultimate goal should be to establish and defend safe havens in Syria, McCain said, to allow opposition forces to organize and plan their political and military activities against Assad. These safe havens, he said, could serve as platforms for the delivery of humanitarian and military assistance, which could include weapons and ammunition, body armor and other personal protective equipment, tactical intelligence, secure communications equipment, food and water, and medical supplies.

“The benefit for the United States in helping to lead this effort directly is that it would allow us to better empower those Syrian groups that share our interests -- those groups that reject al-Qaida and the Iranian regime, and commit to the goal of an inclusive democratic transition, as called for by the Syrian National Council," McCain said. "If we stand on the sidelines, others will try to pick winners, and this will not always be to our liking or in our interest." 

Washington shouldn't strike Syria on its own, McCain said, calling for the active involvement of key Arab partners like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Qatar, along with willing allies in the European Union and NATO.

"The kinds of mass atrocities that NATO intervened in Libya to prevent in Benghazi are now a reality in Homs. Indeed, Syria today is the scene of some of the worst state-sponsored violence since [Slobodan] Milosevic’s war crimes in the Balkans, or Russia’s annihilation of the Chechen city of Grozny," McCain said. ".... Some kind of intervention will happen, with us or without us. So the real question for U.S. policy is whether we will participate in this next phase of the conflict in Syria and thereby increase our ability to shape an outcome that is beneficial to the Syrian people and to us. I believe we must."

McCain said his call for U.S.-led air strikes was based on requests by the Syrian National Council opposition group and the Free Syrian Army, the most potent armed rebel group in Syria. Last week, as Assad's forces prepared to move into Homs, the Syrian National Council called upon the international community, in particular Muslim and Arab states, "to intervene immediately" to prevent a potential massacre.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton cautioned last week about the differing military assessments of aiding the opposition in Syria versus the effort in Libya. "Syria's one of the most militarized countries in the world. Libya didn't even have an army," Clinton said at a hearing. ".... Syria has a formidable army, extremely well equipped by the Russians, the Iranians, and others. It has one of the most highly developed air defense systems in the world. So we're facing a very different military assessment."

McCain, along with Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., have previously called for the U.S. to provide the Syrian opposition with access to weapons and tactical intelligence. But other key voices, like Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., and ranking member Richard Lugar, R-Ind.,  have urged lawmakers to be careful about unequivocally supporting the loosely organized opposition force of armed military defectors. 

“It is critical that we proceed with extreme caution and with our eyes wide open. There are serious questions to be answered about the Free Syrian Army,” Kerry said at a hearing last week. Lugar added that lawmakers should be "extremely skeptical" about actions that could commit the United States to a military intervention in Syria.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.