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Senator McCain calls for war in Syria

Senator John McCain took to the senate floor and made an impassioned plea for a US-led war effort. He's probably not going to get what he's asking for.

By Staff writer / March 5, 2012

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, on March 5, after making an appeal on the floor of the Senate for the US to lead an 'international effort' involving air strikes on Syria's military forces.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Senator John McCain urged the US to move towards war with Syria today. McCain also demanded that President Barack Obama commit himself to using force.

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"The President must state unequivocally that under no circumstances will Assad be allowed to finish what he has started, that there is no future in which Assad and his lieutenants will remain in control of Syria, and that the United States is prepared to use the full weight of our airpower to make it so."

There is certainly reason for alarm from a humanitarian and moral point of view. As McCain said: "The kinds of mass atrocities that NATO intervened in Libya to prevent in Benghazi are now a reality in Homs," Senator McCain said. "Indeed, Syria today is the scene of some of the worst state-sponsored violence since Milosevic’s war crimes in the Balkans, or Russia’s annihilation of the Chechen city of Grozny." 

That's pretty much right. Weeks of shelling of Homs, particularly the Baba Amr neighborhood of that city that was a stronghold for anti-Assad insurgents and the activists working with them, have killed scores. Satellite images purchased and analyzed by Human Rights Watch show mortar and rocket strikes on well over 100 buildings in the densely packed neighborhood. And reports from activists have claimed that since the opposition Free Syrian Army was routed from the city last week, opposition supporters have been massacred in the streets and tortured in detention centers.

I was in Benghazi the morning last year that French planes, later joined by British, US, and other NATO airpower, stopped Muammar Qaddafi's march on the city cold and began the process of turning the tide in favor of his opponents. Everything I've read and seen coming out of Homs in recent weeks jibes with what I expected would have been Benghazi's fate if NATO had not come to the Libyan rebellion's aid.

But unfortunately for Syria's opposition, the international cavalry is not coming any time soon. Nearly a year into the war to oust Assad, the Syrian army remains largely intact. In the case of Libya, there were mass defections from Qaddafi's forces within days of protests breaking out against his rule. And the Libyan army of Qaddafi was far less capable than Syria's army under Assad. Its forces were not as well-trained, as well-led, or as well-armed.

If air power were to be used against Assad's regime as it was used to overthrow Qaddafi's, then the venture will take longer than the six months it took in Libya. The price in Syrian blood, on both sides will be higher, and the geography of the country -- without the vast stretches of desert between towns that were turned into shooting galleries when Qaddafi tried to move his forces -- would guarantee more civilian casualties from NATO bombs than occurred in Libya.

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