McCain: Obama dropping ball over Syrian crisis
By CASSANDRA NOVICK
Talk Radio News Service
WASHINGTON – Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Monday that President Obama should use former President Bill Clinton’s handling of the conflict in Bosnia as a model for how to deal with the ongoing turmoil in Syria that has claimed over 10,000 lives in the past 15 months.
“What the president does not seem to realize, is what President Bill Clinton came to understand in Bosnia – that a diplomatic resolution in conflicts like these is not possible until the military balance of power changes on the ground,” McCain said during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington,.
McCain accused Obama of waiting for other nations — particularly Russia — to dictate global policy toward Syrian leader Bashar Assad, who has unleashed a violent crackdown against opposition forces for well over a year.
“When it comes to the administration’s policy toward Syria, to say they are ‘leading from behind’ is too generous. That suggests they are leading. They are just behind.”
The senior lawmaker from Arizona, who challenged Obama for the presidency in 2008, expressed doubt that Russia will “change its course” in the Syrian conflict, and called for “ironclad intervention” from the U.S.
“The Russian government has stuck with Assad for 15 months. What makes us think that President Putin will change course now, when Assad is still the dominant power on the ground?”
McCain also doubled down on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s suggestion last week that Russia has been aiding the Syrian regime to quell demonstrations by its own people.
“Clearly, this is not a fair fight,” he said.
Though he did not explicitly use the term “no-fly zone” McCain seemed to endorse a military campaign similar to the one used last year by the U.S. and its NATO allies that brought down Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi.
“The U.S. action I envision would not be unilateral,” he said. “It would be multilateral. We would work closely with Arab and European allies, especially Turkey and our partners in the Gulf. As in Libya, there would be no boots on the ground. And we would only intervene at the request of legitimate representatives of the Syrian people. Our goal would be to help the opposition change the military balance of power on the ground, thereby creating conditions for an end to the violence, the departure of Assad and his cronies, and a negotiated transition as soon as possible.”
McCain argued that absent U.S. action, Syria risks becoming a “failed state in the heart of the Middle East, threatening both our ally Israel and our NATO ally Turkey.” The top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee said he was fearful that terrorists could set up shop in Syria should the country spiral into a full-fledged civil war. To that end, he called on U.S. policymakers to prepare contingency plans for a post-Assad Syria.
McCain also argued that removing Assad from power would represent a serious blow to the Iranian government, an ardent supporter of Damascus.
“We must be thinking about how we could capitalize on the fall of the Assad regime in Syria…to counter Iran’s subversive hegemonic ambitions in the region.”
Not everyone in attendance agreed with McCain’s viewpoint, however.
Counterterrorism expert Brian Fishman, who spoke as part of a panel following McCain, argued that comparing Libya and Bosnia to Syria is like comparing apples and oranges. Rather than a strict air campaign, Fishman called for putting boots on the ground, if not in Syria, then in Turkey to train the Free Syrian Army (FSA), recognized internationally as the country’s opposition force.
Fishman, a research fellow at the New America Foundation, also argued that a no-fly zone alone would be ineffective at preventing Syrian troops from slaughtering civilians and rebels on the ground, and would cause unnecessary collateral damage.
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