President Barack Obama should go outside the United Nations to lead a multilateral military response to the violence in Syria, Senator John McCain said.
Obama should follow the approach that President Bill Clinton, a fellow Democrat, took to intervene in Kosovo in 1999, McCain said today. At the time, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombed Serbia until then-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic withdrew troops from the Kosovo region, where they were attempting to crush an independence movement.
“We should refuse to give Russia and China a veto over our actions” in Syria and create a “coalition of willing states” to intervene,’’ McCain of Arizona, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
In the UN Security Council, veto-wielding Russia and China have blocked efforts by the U.S. and allies to impose international sanctions and take other actions against Syria.
The UN suspended its observer mission in Syria on June 16, citing “significant risks” to its unarmed staff. More than 10,000 Syrians have been killed since the start of an uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, according to the UN.
McCain, who ran against Obama as the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, said he envisions an operation that involves no U.S. “boots on the ground.” Instead, the U.S. should aid opposition groups by establishing “safe havens” in Syria using U.S. air power.
“Once Assad’s forces see that they, their tanks, their artillery, their helicopters and their other aircraft will pay an awful price if they try to threaten these opposition safe havens, I suspect they will quickly lose their appetite for it,” he said.
U.S. officials have said Syria has substantial air defenses that would have to be destroyed for any sustained air operation, such as establishing a protected area. The U.S. is also uncertain about the leaders and attitudes of elements of the fragmented opposition.
In addition to backing diplomatic moves to pressure Assad to give up power, the U.S. is providing non-lethal aid, such as communications equipment, to the opposition, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said.
Major General Robert Mood, head of the UN mission, said UN observers won’t conduct further patrols and will stay in their locations “until further notice.” He said the UN intends to restart its observation work when possible, and will review the suspension “on a daily basis.”
The UN has 291 unarmed military observers and 89 civilian monitors in Syria to oversee a cease-fire plan crafted by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. The UN Security Council established the observer mission in April. Mood is scheduled to brief the Security Council tomorrow.
McCain today reiterated his criticism that the Obama administration isn’t doing enough to stem the violence and build relationships with leaders of an opposition that might one day lead Syria.
“When it comes to the administration’s policy in Syria, to say they are ‘leading from behind’ is too generous,” he said. “That suggests they are leading. They are just behind.”
As the violence continues, tensions are rising between the U.S. and Russia, Syria’s main Mideast ally. Last week, Clinton said Syria is “spiraling toward civil war” and that Russia is aiding the violence by continuing to arm Assad’s regime.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has rejected U.S. accusations that it’s sending arms for use against Syrian civilians and said his country is simply fulfilling its contractual obligations.
McCain said today that Russia’s backing of Assad stems partly for a longing for the “old Russian empire” and concern that the Arab spring will move beyond the Middle East.