Senator John McCain (R–AZ) yesterday called for a U.S. military intervention in Syria that would include air strikes on Syrian government forces to protect the Syrian people. McCain said that “Providing military assistance to the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups is necessary, but at this late hour, that alone will not be sufficient to stop the slaughter and save innocent lives.”
McCain acknowledged that his proposal is a risky move that could embroil the United States in an open-ended civil war on the side of a disorganized opposition coalition, but he maintained that “There are no ideal options in Syria.”
McCain compared the situation in Syria to Libya, where a NATO-led coalition intervened last year to halt the regime of Muammar Qadhafi from attacking opposition forces. But NATO allies currently are opposed to military involvement in Syria, as is the Obama Administration. Moreover, Russia has pledged to veto any U.N. Security Council resolutions that would authorize a military intervention.
A military intervention would be much riskier and more expensive against Syria’s military forces, which are far larger, better equipped, and more effective than Qadhafi’s ragtag army. General James Mattis, head of the U.S. Central Command, today assessed that it would take a significant U.S. military commitment to overcome the advanced air defense weapons that Russia has supplied to Syria. General Mattis also said that Syria has a “substantial” chemical and biological weapons arsenal and that Iran was likely to use surrogate groups to resist any foreign intervention in Syria.
There are alternatives that could address the humanitarian crisis in Syria and promote the cause of freedom without direct U.S. military intervention. Furthermore, the U.S. must be concerned with the chemical weapons and other potentially hazardous materials in the regime’s possession and make appropriate contingency plans to minimize the likelihood that these materials fall into the hands of terrorists or create a risk to civilian populations, if the regime falls.