McCain: Boots on the ground in Syria ‘the worst thing the United States could do’

Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) used appearances on the Sunday news shows to push for an intervention in Syria now that the government of President Bashar al-Assad is believed to have used chemical weapons on a small scale. But the lawmakers differ on some of the particulars.

Syria is "going to become a failed state by the end of the year" if we don't intervene, Graham said on CBS's "Face the Nation." He warned that "we're going to start a war with Iran because Iran's going to take our inaction in Syria as meaning we're not serious about their nuclear weapons program.... The whole region is going to fall into chaos."

2012-12-19-Syria-intervention-support
The American public's views on U.S. intervention in Syria based on a Washington Post-ABC News poll in December 2012.

Graham told Foreign Policy last week, "Absolutely, you've got to get on the ground" to secure the chemical weapons as soon as possible.

McCain also called for U.S. involvement, but he stressed repeatedly that he does not want "boots on the ground" in the country.

"The American people are weary. They don’t want boots on the ground. I don’t want boots on the ground,” McCain said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "The worst thing the United States could do right now is put boots on the ground in Syria" because it would turn public opinion in the country against us, he said.

But, McCain argued, the United States should be arming the rebels, using airstrikes to attack Assad’s forces and create a safe haven for refugees.

And "an international force" must be prepared to "secure those stocks of chemical weapons" should Assad fall, McCain said.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) concurred with Graham that bringing in troops in might be necessary. "I don't think you want to ever rule it out," she said on CBS. During an appearance on the same program, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) also called for some form of intervention. “For America to sit on the sidelines and do nothing is a huge mistake," he said.

According to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), classified information "strengthens the case that in fact some small amount of chemical weapons have been used over the course of the last two years."

"So I think the options aren't huge, but some action needs to be taken," he argued on ABC's "This Week." The red line against chemical weapons, he said, "can't be a dotted line." Like Graham, he argued that Iran -- and North Korea -- would be watching the U.S. response.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said on the same program that she appreciates President Obama's "deliberative approach" and that the erroneous reports of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq should be a reminder to act with caution.

The Obama administration has described its "red line" in Syria in various ways. Obama's March 21 declaration, "We will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people, or the transfer of those weapons to terrorists," sums up his position. WorldViews explains what that means in the context of recent events.

Rachel Weiner covers cops and courts in Arlington and Alexandria.
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