Levin, McCain Urge Obama to Step Up Syria Effort, Including Airstrikes
While on his tour of the Middle East, President Obama received a bipartisan call to become more engaged in Syria and take steps to help stop the never-ending bloodshed there.
"While we are particularly disturbed by reports that chemical weapons have been used in Syria, the larger tragedy is that more than 70,000 people have already been killed in Syria. More than 1 million Syrians are living as refugees. The Syrian state is disintegrating. In short, the longer the conflict in Syria goes on, the worse its consequences are becoming. The potential use of chemical weapons only makes the case for greater action more compelling and urgent," wrote Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich. ) and senior member John McCain (R-Ariz.).
"We believe there are credible options at your disposal, including limited military options, that would require neither putting U.S. troops on the ground nor acting unilaterally."
Levin and McCain asked Obama to lead an effort "to degrade the Assad regime’s airpower" and back Turkey if attempts to establish a safe zone along Syria's northern border. Patriot missile batteries have already been deployed to the Turkish side of the border and "could be positioned – again, with Turkey’s consent – to protect the safe zone, and doing so would be a powerful disincentive for the Assad regime’s pilots to fly in that area." The Patriots could also help defend civilians in that region from Assad's SCUD missile attacks, they argued.
"Second, General James Mattis, the Commander of U.S. Central Command, testified last week to the Senate Armed Services Committee that 'a fair amount' of Assad’s aircraft could be destroyed on the ground using precision airstrikes," the senators continued. "Such a mission could also include Assad’s SCUD missile batteries and would not require American or allied pilots to fly into the reach of Syria’s air defenses. We urge you to work with our friends and allies, as well as regional organizations, to consider this limited option."
Levin and McCain also asked Obama for "more robust assistance directly to vetted opposition groups."
"We believe such assistance should include tactical intelligence and increased deliveries of food and medicine, fuel, communications equipment, medical care for the wounded, and other humanitarian assistance. To this end, establishing a safe haven inside Syria would also serve the important goal of delivering humanitarian assistance more effectively," they wrote.
"Over the past two years that the horrific conflict in Syria has pressed on, both Syrians on the ground and key allies across the region have made clear their hope for stronger American support. We urge you to take steps to ease the suffering of the Syrian people and protect U.S. national security interests."