McCain and Graham on Syria: Obama's "red line" has been crossed, so it's time to take action

And so the effort by the Senate’s super-hawks to mainstream Rand Paul’s isolationism by contrast continues apace.

“We are extremely disturbed by reports that chemical weapons have been used today in Syria. President Obama has said that the use of weapons of mass destruction by Bashar Assad is a ‘red line’ for him that ‘will have consequences.’ If today’s reports are substantiated, the President’s red line has been crossed, and we would urge him to take immediate action to impose the consequences he has promised. That should include the provision of arms to vetted Syrian opposition groups, targeted strikes against Assad’s aircraft and SCUD missile batteries on the ground, and the establishment of safe zones inside Syria to protect civilians and opposition groups. If today’s reports are substantiated, the tragic irony will be that these are the exact same actions that could have prevented the use of weapons of mass destruction in Syria.”

Leave it to McCain and Graham to choose the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq to call for deeper intervention into a Baathist-run country over dubious claims involving WMD. Quick question: Leaving aside the fact that no one has yet substantiated that chemical weapons were in fact used — on the contrary, there’s reason for doubt — does it matter at all that each side is accusing the other of having used the weapons? It’s likelier that Assad is the culprit if this even happened but it’s possible that it came from the rebels themselves. In fact, the whole argument for intervening in Syria is that Assad’s chemical weapons might fall into the wrong hands eventually and be used against innocents. Well, in the near term the hands they’re most likely to fall into are … the rebels’, and there are enough jihadis among them to leave it an open question about who’s really behind yesterday’s massacre. Yet here are McCain and Graham insisting that Assad’s crossed the “red line” and therefore it’s time to start arming the same opposition that stands accused of the attack. There are monsters on both sides in Syria, which is why even many hawks are reluctant to intervene. But Maverick has a habit of viewing groups like this through rose-colored glasses, so go figure that he’d grasp at a reason to push the U.S. in a bit further.

None of that’s surprising. This is a little surprising, though. Calls for a no-fly zone over Syria from … Carl Levin?

Levin chaired a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday morning during which he asked Adm. James Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, if NATO was discussing attacking Assad’s air defenses. Stavridis acknowledged the idea was under discussion but said there was no unified NATO position on the issue…

“I believe there should be the next ratcheting up of military effort and that would include going after some of Syria’s air defenses,” Levin said [after the hearing].

Regarding the establishment of a no-fly zone inside Syria, Levin said that would help both protect innocent civilians and speed the end of the conflict.

“You could protect that kind of a zone with these Patriot missiles, leaving the missiles in Turkey but having the zone inside the Syrian border,” he said. “It is a way without putting boots on the ground and in a way that would be fairly cautious, that would put additional pressure on Assad and also create a zone where Syrian people who are looking for protection and safety could come without crossing the border and becoming refugees.”

That makes me wonder if the chemical-attack story is more credible than we think. Maybe Levin — and McCain, and Graham — have heard from U.S. intelligence that it looks legit and this is his way of getting out in front of the debate that’s coming this week about what Obama should do. Just as I’m writing this, in fact, CNN’s running a chyron claiming that there’s a “high probability” chemical arms were used yesterday in Syria and citing the chairs of the House and Senate Intel Committees as their sources. Graham has already suggested putting American boots on the ground (of course) to secure the weapons, which, in fairness, would probably be an option considered by O. There have been rumors for ages about U.S. Special Ops training to enter Pakistan and grab their nukes if necessary. Hard to believe there aren’t similar teams tasked with grabbing Assad’s chemical weapons, although of course the Pentagon will deny it.

Exit question: What if Assad hasn’t in fact (yet) used WMD and O declares anyway that it’s time for the U.S. to act? What’s Assad’s incentive at that point to keep holding back?

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