Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and… (Chip Somodevilla / Getty…)
Republican Sen. John McCain said the United States should lead a military air assault on government forces in Syria, arguing the Obama administration's continued efforts at diplomacy and sanctions against the Assad regime are "starting to look more like a hope than strategy."
The influential GOP senator becomes the highest ranking member of Congress to call directly for U.S.-led airstrikes to support the Syrian Free Army and other opposition sources battling President Bashar al-Assad's military attacks on civilians.
"The president must state unequivocally that under no circumstances will Assad be allowed to finish what he has started, that there is no future in which Assad and his lieutenants will remain in control of Syria, and that the United States is prepared to use the full weight of our airpower to make it so," McCain said in a speech Monday in the Senate. "The Syrian people deserve to succeed, and shame on us if we fail to help them."
Defense hawks in Congress have previously suggested the United States could play a "junior role" in an international effort to support the Syrian resistance with military and logistical aid as lawmakers seek more information about the various groups and alliances fighting the regime. A United Nations resolution calling on Assad to step down failed last month as two key members of the Security Council, Russia and China, objected.
McCain, who is the top Republican on the Armed Services committee, framed the U.S. role as a moral and national security imperative, and suggested modeling a U.S.-led effort on action taken by the international community in the Balkans.
Saying the city of Homs, where Syrian government troops have been pummeling the city, "is lost," McCain said military intervention now could establish "safe havens" in other parts of the country that could be used by opposition forces for organizing.
"The United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centers in Syria, especially in the north, through airstrikes on Assad's forces," the Arizona senator said. "Are there dangers, and risks, and uncertainties in this approach? Absolutely."
The GOP senator drew on the example of other U.S. support for other uprisings stemming from the Arab spring, particularly Libya where the United States led an international effort.
It is unclear whether McCain's efforts would gain traction in Congress, as lawmakers have been reluctant to engage in military campaigns abroad. A Senate committee this week is expected to discuss a resolution of sanctions on Syria.