With the United States and Russia still deadlocked at the United Nations over the best way to stem the violence in Syria, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) stepped into the void again today, saying it's time for the United States to bypass the U.N. Security Council and assemble a coalition of military powers to confront Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and end the killing of thousands of Syrians.
The Obama administration has been reluctant to commit to intervening militarily in Syria, preferring to support a U.N-brokered peace effort led by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. But Annan's mediation effort stalled this week as an upsurge of violence forced a team of U.N. monitors to suspend their operations. The Security Council will meet tomorrow afternoon to consider next step from a slim menu of options.
Efforts by the United States and its European partners, meanwhile, to impose sanctions against Assad have run into opposition from Russia, which is reportedly sending a contingent of marines to the Russian-controlled port of Tartus in Syria.
McCain said it is unconscionable to allow Russia to veto concerted action against Assad, and recalled that President Bill Clinton overcame previous efforts by Russia to check American power, leading a NATO coalition against Yugoslavia in 1999 to end "ethnic cleansing" of the Kosovars by Serbian security forces.
"Rather than insisting that we cannot act militarily without a U.N. Security Council resolution ... we should follow President Clinton's example from Kosovo: we should refuse to give Russia and China veto power over our actions," McCain said in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute.
McCain said that "many of our allies are willing to do much more but only if the United States is with them," he said. "We should make U.S. airpower available along with that of our allies as part of an international effort." It remains unclear whether many of America's allies would indeed be prepared to intervene militarily in Syria with or without a U.N. Security Council mandate.
McCain resurrected a proposal, previously floated by French and Turkish diplomats, to establish a series of safe havens along the border with Syria to channel humanitarian assistance to distressed Syrians. But those initiatives seemed half-hearted, and were subsequently withdrawn.
"These safe havens could become platforms for increased deliveries of food and medicine, communications equipment, doctors to treat the wounded, and other non lethal assistance; they could also serve as staging areas for armed opposition groups to receive battlefield intelligence, body armor and weapons -- from small arms and ammunition to antitank rockets -- and to train and organize themselves more effectively perhaps with foreign assistance."
There may be some support for such an initiative from countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who have already been supplying the rebels with weapons. But Russia has made it clear that anyone considering mounting a serious attack against the Syrian government may be playing with fire.
Anatoly Isaykin, the general director of Rosoboronexport, the state arms export agency, told the New York Times that it has supplied Syria with an advanced missile defense system that could shoot down planes or sink ships."This is not a threat, but whoever is planning an attack should think about this," he said.
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Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.