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Statement by Senators McCain, Lieberman and Graham on the Situation in Syria

Statement

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) today released the following statement on the situation in Syria:

"After a year of bloodshed, the crisis in Syria has reached a decisive moment.

"The United Nations has declared that Syrian security forces are guilty of crimes against humanity and that more than 7,500 lives have been lost. The kinds of mass atrocities that NATO intervened in Libya to prevent in Benghazi are now a reality in Homs and other cities across the country. Syria today is the scene of some of the worst state-sponsored violence since Milosevic's war crimes in the Balkans. And the bloodshed continues, with no end in sight.

"What is all the more astonishing is that Assad's killing spree has continued despite severe and escalating international pressure against him. This has been an impressive international effort, and the Obama Administration deserves credit for helping to orchestrate it.

"Unfortunately, this policy is increasingly disconnected from the dire situation on the ground in Syria, which has become a full-blown state of armed conflict. Despite a year's worth of diplomacy backed by sanctions, Assad and his lieutenants show no signs of giving up. To the contrary, they appear to accelerating their fight to the finish. Unfortunately, with each passing day, the international response to Assad's atrocities is being overtaken by events on the ground in Syria.

"Some countries are beginning to confront this reality, as well as its implications. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are calling for arming opposition forces in Syria. The newly-elected Kuwaiti parliament has called on their government to do the same. Most importantly, Syrians themselves are increasingly calling for international intervention, including military assistance. The opposition Syrian National Council recently announced that it is establishing a military bureau to channel weapons and other assistance to the Free Syrian Army and armed groups inside the country.

"To be sure, there are legitimate questions about the efficacy of intervention in Syria, and equally legitimate concerns about its risks and uncertainties. It is understandable that the Administration is reluctant to move beyond diplomacy and sanctions. But our current policy is not succeeding, and the current course is no longer strategically or morally sustainable.

"For this reason, the time has come for a new policy. As we continue to isolate Assad diplomatically and economically, we should work with our closest friends and allies to support opposition groups inside Syria, both political and military, to help them organize themselves into a more cohesive and effective force that can put an end to the bloodshed and force Assad and his loyalists to leave power, which has been the goal of United States policy since August 2011.

"What opposition groups in Syria need most urgently is relief from Assad's tank and artillery sieges in many cities that are still contested. Providing military assistance to the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups is necessary, but as Assad continues to intensify his assault, that alone will not be sufficient to stop the slaughter and save innocent lives. The only realistic way to do so is with foreign airpower.

"Therefore, if requested by the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army, the United States should help organize an international effort to protect civilian population centers in Syria through airstrikes on Assad's forces. To be clear: This will first require the United States and our partners to suppress the Syrian regime's air defenses in at least part of the country.

"This should not mean the United States must act alone. Any intervention should include Arab partners such as Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Jordan, and Qatar, and willing allies in the E.U. and NATO, the most important of which in this case is Turkey.

"The ultimate goal of airstrikes should be to protect civilian population centers from Assad's killing machine and establish safe havens in which opposition forces can organize, rest, refit, and plan their political and military activities against Assad. These safe havens could serve as platforms for the delivery of humanitarian and military assistance -- including weapons and ammunition, body armor and other personal protective equipment, tactical intelligence, secure communications equipment, food and water, and medical supplies. These safe havens could also help the Free Syrian Army and other armed groups in Syria to train and organize themselves into more cohesive and effective military forces, likely with the assistance of foreign partners, and provide political space for the Syrian National Council to organize on Syrian soil.

"The benefit for the United States in helping to lead this effort directly is that it would allow us to better empower those Syrian groups that share our interests -- those groups that reject Al-Qaeda and the Iranian regime, and commit to the goal of an inclusive democratic transition, as called for by the Syrian National Council. If we stand on the sidelines, others will try to pick winners, and this will not always be to our liking or in our interest.

"There will be no UN Security Council mandate for such an operation. Russia and China took that option off the table long ago. But let's not forget: NATO took military action to save Kosovo in 1999 without formal U.N. authorization. There is no reason why the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), or NATO, or a leading coalition within the Friends of Syria contact group, or all of them speaking in unison, could not provide international legitimacy for military measures to save Syria today.

"Are there dangers, and risks, and uncertainties in this approach? Absolutely. There are no ideal options in Syria. All of them contain significant risk. Many people will be quick to raise concerns about the course of action we are proposing. Many of these concerns have merit, but none so much that they should keep us from acting.

"For example, it is often said that we should not assist the opposition in Syria militarily because we don't know who these people are, or that by doing so, we could end up benefiting Al-Qaeda or Hamas. In fact, the surest way for Al-Qaeda to gain a foothold in Syria is for us to turn our backs on those brave Syrians who are fighting for their lives.

"Another objection to intervention is that the conflict has become a sectarian civil war, and our involvement would enable the Sunni majority to take revenge against the Alawite minority. This is a serious and legitimate concern, but it is only growing worse the longer the conflict goes on. Furthermore, the risks of sectarian conflict will exist in Syria whether we get more involved or not. If we work to assist the armed opposition now, we will at least have some ability to try to mitigate these risks. Engagement with these groups is the best way to understand them better, to seek to establish trust and influence with them, because we took their side when they needed it most.

"We should not overstate the potential influence we could gain with the armed opposition in Syria, but it will only diminish the longer we wait to offer meaningful support, and what we can say for certain is that we will have no influence whatsoever with these people if they feel we abandoned them.

"We also hear it said that we should not contribute to the militarization of the conflict. If only Russia and Iran shared that sentiment. Instead, they are shamelessly aiding Assad's killing machine. We need to deal with reality as it is, not as we wish it to be -- and the reality in Syria today is a one-sided fight where the aggressors are hardly lacking for military means thanks to the intervention of foreign powers.

"There are always plenty of reasons not to do something, and we can list them clearly in the case of Syria. We know there are divisions in the opposition and among the armed resistance inside the country. We know that some elements of the opposition may sympathize with violent extremist ideologies or harbor dark thoughts of sectarian revenge. We know that many of Syria's immediate neighbors remain cautious about taking overly provocative actions to undermine Assad. And we know the American people are weary of conflict -- justifiably so -- and would rather focus on domestic problems.

"These are realities, but while we are compelled to acknowledge them, we are not condemned to accept them forever. With resolve, principled leadership, and wise policy, we can shape better realities. That is what the Syrian people have done.

"By no rational calculation should this uprising against Assad still be going on. The Syrian people are outmatched. They are outgunned. They are lacking for food, and water, and other basic needs. They are confronting a regime whose disregard for human dignity and capacity for sheer savagery is limitless. For an entire year, the Syrian people have faced death, and those unspeakable things worse than death, and still they have not given up. Still they take to the streets to protest peacefully for justice. Still they carry on their fight. And they do so on behalf of many of the same universal values we share, and many of the same interests as well.

"The people who are fighting for freedom in Syria are natural allies. They have expanded the boundaries of what everyone thought was possible in Syria. They have earned our respect, and now they need our support to finish what they started. The Syrian people deserve a chance at freedom, and shame on us if we fail to help them now in their moment of greatest need."


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