Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) called for “real American leadership” in Syria this afternoon at the American Enterprise Institute.
Delivering a somber speech, he noted early on that the conflict in Syria has led to 12,000 casualties. The senator spoke about his recent visit to Syria, saying that he feels haunted by the suffering he witnessed. From there, the senator called out the Obama Administration for sitting on the sidelines and failing to even “lead from behind.”
“To say they are leading from behind is too generous. They aren’t leading. They’re just behind.”
After laying out his vision for future leadership, McCain called for American air support for the Syrian opposition, but “no boots on the ground.” This would be done multilaterally, with Turkey and other allies also providing aerial support. Ideally, the multilateral air support would create safe havens for the Syrian opposition. This would allow the opposition to better organize on a national level and treat their wounded with better quality.
Right now, President Bashar al-Assad has the upper hand militarily and no incentive to engage in diplomacy. Noting that the Syrian opposition is well-organized and “supportable”, McCain pushed for American support to force Assad out of power.
Quoting President Bill Clinton, he said: “’There are times when America, and America alone, can and should make the difference for peace.’”
Coupling humanitarian and national security benefits, American support for the Syrian opposition would also result in a strategic blow to Iran and Hezbollah, according to McCain. However, if Assad remains in power, McCain warned the end result would be Syria becoming a failed state and increased sectarian violence in the region.