McCain: Obama neglected Syrian rebels in speech

September 11, 2013

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) criticized President Obama on Wednesday for not embracing the Syrian rebels in his speech to the nation on Tuesday night.

"I was very disappointed that the president did not mention the Free Syrian Army and our moral and material assistance for them, which is required," McCain said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "I think they do feel that they're being abandoned.

"I feel very badly for my friends in the Free Syrian Army today."

Later, at a Wall Street Journal media breakfast in Washington, McCain said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "feels he has a free  pass for awhile" to escalate an assault on the rebels while the talks unfold.

"I worry a great deal that we kind of have a game of rope-a-dope for awhile, and the slaughter goes on," McCain said.

McCain also said it was a bad idea to send Secretary of State John Kerry to negotiate  with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva over how to get Syria to turn over its chemical weapons.

"Why don't we introduce a resolution with the British and French today in the U.N. Security Council that calls for immediate inspectors, immediate location of these chemical weapons caches and bringing them under international control?" McCain asked. "What's the point in going to Geneva and meeting with Lavrov over it?

McCain also questioned Wednesday whether Obama should have paused the drive for congressional approval to test "this so-called breakthrough" with Russia, but said he does not reject the diplomatic prospect out of hand.

"Put me down as extremely skeptical," McCain said.

His skepticism extends both to Russian sincerity and the chances that a chemical weapons disarmament deal could be implemented, McCain said. He said the White House should put a very short deadline on negotiations with Russia -- perhaps 48 or 72 hours.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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Aaron Blake · September 11, 2013