Press Releases

Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today submitted to the Congressional Record the following statement on the situation in Syria, General Dempsey’s recent letter on military options, and a new study by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) assessing the requirements for a limited military strike on the Syrian regime’s air force.

In the statement, Senator McCain specifically addresses General Dempsey’s July 19, 2013 letter regarding military options in Syria and the new ISW study on limited strikes: 

“In a letter dated July 19, 2013 to the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee and myself, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, described the requirements to conduct various military options in Syria. He spoke of scenarios that would demand hundreds of military assets and thousands of special forces to resource military options that no one is seriously considering. 

“Now, in my many years, I have seen a lot of military commanders overstate what is needed to conduct military action for one reason or another. But rarely have I seen an effort as disingenuous and exaggerated as what General Dempsey proposed. 

“The option that many of us have proposed is limited stand-off strikes to degrade Assad’s air power and ballistic missile capability. But here is General Dempsey’s description of what would be needed to conduct, quote, ‘limited stand-off strikes’: 

‘Potential targets include high-value regime air defense, air, ground, missile, and naval forces as well as the supporting military facilities and command nodes. Stand-off air and missile systems could be used to strike hundreds of targets at a tempo of our choosing. Force requirements would include hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines, and other enablers. Depending on duration, the costs would be in the billions.’

“This is a completely disingenuous description of both the problem and the solution. No one is seriously talking about striking Assad’s naval forces as part of a limited campaign. And no one seriously thinks that degrading Assad’s air power would require hundreds of American military assets. The whole thing is completely misleading to the Congress and the American people, and it is shameful.

“For a serious accounting of a realistic limited military option in Syria, I would strongly recommend a new study that is being released today by the Institute for the Study of War, or ISW, which was overseen by General Jack Keane, the author of the surge strategy that enabled us to turn around the war in Iraq. This new study confirms what I and many others have long argued: That it is militarily feasible for the United States and our friends and allies to significantly degrade Assad’s air power at relatively low cost, low risk to our personnel, and in very short order.

“Specifically, the ISW study reports that Assad’s forces are only flying a maximum of 100 operational strike aircraft at present, an estimate that ISW concedes is likely very generous to the Assad regime. The real figure, they maintain, is more likely around 50. What’s more, these aircraft are only being flown out of 6 primary airfields, with an additional 12 secondary airfields playing a supporting role. What this means is that the real-world military problem of how to significantly degrade Assad’s air power is very manageable – again, as I and others have maintained.

“ISW calculates that U.S. and allied forces could significantly degrade Assad’s air power using stand-off weapons that would not require one of our pilots to enter Syrian airspace or confront one Syrian air defense system. With a limited number of these precision strikes against each of the Assad’s eight primary airfields, we could crater their runways, destroy their fuel and maintenance capabilities, knock out key command and control, and destroy a significant portion of their aircraft on the ground. The ISW study estimates that this limited intervention could be achieved in one day and would involve a total of 3 Navy surface ships and 24 strike aircraft, each deploying a limited number of precision guided munitions – all fired from outside of Syria, without ever confronting Syrian air defenses.”

FULL STATEMENT BY SENATOR JOHN McCAIN:

“Mr. President: As we prepare to head out for the August recess, I have returned to the floor today to speak, once again, about the horrific and worsening situation in Syria – a conflict that, we learned this week, has now claimed 100,000 lives.

“I would like to take a few minutes to read from a remarkable statement that was delivered on Monday by Mr. Paulo Pinheiro, the Chair of the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria. The excerpts I wish to read are long, but they are shocking, and worth quoting in full.

“Here is the assessment Mr. Pinheiro gave to the UN, and I quote:

‘Syria is in free-fall. Relentless shelling has killed thousands of civilians and displaced the populations of entire towns. An untold number of men and women have disappeared while passing through the ubiquitous checkpoints. Those freed from detention are living with the physical and mental scars of torture. Hospitals have been bombarded, leaving the sick and wounded to languish without care. With the destruction of thousands of schools, a generation of children now struggle to obtain an education. The country has become a battlefield. Its civilians are repeatedly victims of acts of terror.

‘4.5 million people have been internally displaced. … The estimated cost of the conflict to Syria’s economy is between 60 to 80 billion dollars, a third of its pre-war GDP. Over 2.5 million Syrians are now unemployed and struggling to survive. …

‘Syria’s porous borders have facilitated the involvement of regional armed actors, increasingly along sectarian lines. The conflict is extending beyond Syria’s borders, igniting tensions in the whole region.’

“Mr. Pinheiro concludes with this powerful plea for action:

‘That civilians should come under such sustained unlawful attacks should shock your conscience and spur you to action. But it has not. As the conflict drags on, you – and the world – have become accustomed to levels of violence that were previously unthinkable. The absence of decisive action, by the community of States as a whole, has nourished the culture of impunity that has developed inside Syria today.

‘This war is a chronicle of missed opportunities on the part of influential states and the international community. …

‘It is time for the international community to act decisively. There are no easy choices. To evade choice, however, is to countenance the continuation of this war and its many violations. … The world must hear the cry of the people – stop the violence, put an end to this carnage, halt the destruction of the great country of Syria!’

“Again, this is not my assessment; it is that of a senior United Nations leader. And I applaud Mr. Pinhiero for his moral leadership on behalf of the Syrian people. At the same time, I say with the utmost respect that I disagree with Mr. Pinhiero’s counsel for what is required to achieve the goal we share, which is to create conditions that favor a negotiated end to the conflict in Syria. I continue to believe that, while there is not a purely military solution to the conflict in Syria, I find it difficult to avoid the conclusion that military intervention by the United States and our allies must be a critical part of the solution we seek. Indeed it’s unrealistic to think we can arrive at a diplomatic solution otherwise.

“Let’s be absolutely clear about the realities in Syria today and where this conflict is headed. Assad is never going to negotiate himself out of power or seek to end the conflict diplomatically so long as he believes he is winning on the battlefield, and right now, he clearly has the advantage on the ground. This is thanks, in critical part, to his air power, which not only allows Assad to pound opposition military positions and civilian populations – including with chemical weapons, which nearly everyone believes he has used and will use again – but also to move his troops and supplies around the battlefield in ways that he cannot do on the ground.

“Assad’s growing military advantage is also thanks to the influx of thousands of Hezbollah fighters who are leading offensives in key parts of the country … Iranian special forces who are training and advising Assad’s troops and private militias … Shia militants from Iraq and Lebanon … as well as a steady and decisive flow of weapons and other assistance from Iran and Russia, which is being brought into Syria with impunity, including through over-flights of Iraq.

“The consequences of this onslaught for Syria are bad enough: The strategically vital city of Homs is expected to fall imminently, which would be a major victory for Assad that would strengthen his position immeasurably. The consequences for the region, however, are arguably worse. Syria’s main export today is its civilian population, which is flooding into Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, by the hundreds of thousands. Indeed, 15 percent of Jordan’s population is now Syrian refugees, and the fourth largest city in the country is now a Syria refugee camp.

“At the same time, Syria’s primary import today seems to be foreign extremists from all across the region and indeed the world. It is well known from estimates in published reports that as many as several thousand people from all across the Middle East have moved into Syria to fight with Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups. But in addition, the New York Times reported this week that Western counterterrorism and intelligence officials now believe that hundreds of Muslims from Western countries have joined the fight in Syria, including 140 French, 75 Spaniards, 60 Germans, a few dozen Canadians and Australians, as well as fighters from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands. As many as a dozen Americans are believed to be among them. It is difficult to conclude that Al-Qaeda does not enjoy safe haven in Syria today, and no one should believe that it won’t be used eventually to launch attacks against us.

“Make no mistake, this is where we are headed. Syria is becoming a failed state in the heart of the Middle East and a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and its allies. It is becoming a regional and sectarian conflict that threatens the national security interests of the United States. And it is becoming the decisive battleground on which Iran and its allies are defying the United States and our allies and prevailing in a test of wills, which is fundamentally undermining America’s credibility among both our friends and enemies throughout the region, and the world.

“Some may see this as an acceptable outcome. I do not.

“I know Americans are war-weary. I know the situation in Syria is complex, and there are no easy answers. That said, all of us must ask ourselves one basic question: Are the costs, and risks, and potential benefits associated with our current course of action better or worse than those associated with America becoming more involved militarily in Syria? I believe our current course of action is worse, because it virtually guarantees all of the bad outcomes that are unfolding before our eyes and getting worse and worse the longer this conflict grinds on.

“Now, some would have us believe that military action of even a limited nature is too cost-intensive, too high-risk, and too marginal in its potential impact in Syria. In a letter dated July 19, 2013 to the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee and myself, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, described the requirements to conduct various military options in Syria. He spoke of scenarios that would demand hundreds of military assets and thousands of special forces to resource military options that no one is seriously considering.

“Now, in my many years, I have seen a lot of military commanders overstate what is needed to conduct military action for one reason or another. But rarely have I seen an effort as disingenuous and exaggerated as what General Dempsey proposed.

“The option that many of us have proposed is limited stand-off strikes to degrade Assad’s air power and ballistic missile capability. But here is General Dempsey’s description of what would be needed to conduct, quote, ‘limited stand-off strikes’:

‘Potential targets include high-value regime air defense, air, ground, missile, and naval forces as well as the supporting military facilities and command nodes. Stand-off air and missile systems could be used to strike hundreds of targets at a tempo of our choosing. Force requirements would include hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines, and other enablers. Depending on duration, the costs would be in the billions.’

“This is a completely disingenuous description of both the problem and the solution. No one is seriously talking about striking Assad’s naval forces as part of a limited campaign. And no one seriously thinks that degrading Assad’s air power would require hundreds of American military assets. The whole thing is completely misleading to the Congress and the American people, and it is shameful.

“For a serious accounting of a realistic limited military option in Syria, I would strongly recommend a new study that is being released today by the Institute for the Study of War, or ISW, which was overseen by General Jack Keane, the author of the surge strategy that enabled us to turn around the war in Iraq. This new study confirms what I and many others have long argued: That it is militarily feasible for the United States and our friends and allies to significantly degrade Assad’s air power at relatively low cost, low risk to our personnel, and in very short order.

“Specifically, the ISW study reports that Assad’s forces are only flying a maximum of 100 operational strike aircraft at present, an estimate that ISW concedes is likely very generous to the Assad regime. The real figure, they maintain, is more likely around 50. What’s more, these aircraft are only being flown out of 6 primary airfields, with an additional 12 secondary airfields playing a supporting role. What this means is that the real-world military problem of how to significantly degrade Assad’s air power is very manageable – again, as I and others have maintained.

“ISW calculates that U.S. and allied forces could significantly degrade Assad’s air power using stand-off weapons that would not require one of our pilots to enter Syrian airspace or confront one Syrian air defense system. With a limited number of these precision strikes against each of the Assad’s eight primary airfields, we could crater their runways, destroy their fuel and maintenance capabilities, knock out key command and control, and destroy a significant portion of their aircraft on the ground. The ISW study estimates that this limited intervention could be achieved in one day and would involve a total of 3 Navy surface ships and 24 strike aircraft, each deploying a limited number of precision guided munitions – all fired from outside of Syria, without ever confronting Syrian air defenses.

“This should not come as a surprise: After all, hitting static targets from a distance is what the U.S. military does best. And hitting static targets in Syria, without ever confronting Syrian air defenses inside of Syrian airspace, is something that our Israeli allies now seem to have done on several occasions. Surely we can too.

“There are other things we should do in conjunction with targeted strikes against Assad’s air power. We could expand the list of targets to include Assad’s ballistic missiles, as well as key regime command and control sites. This would be an equally minimal number of targets that could be hit with the same stand-off weapons. We should also stand up a far larger train and equip operation than what published reports suggest has been authorized to date. What all of the Syrian opposition leaders have told me their forces need most of all is anti-tank weapons that can destroy Assad’s artillery and armor, which would remain a major threat even if we significantly degrade Assad’s air power. We should give the Syrian opposition these kinds of capabilities to level the playing field themselves.

“If we were to do all of these things – degrade Assad’s air power and ballistic missiles and train, equip and advise the opposition on a large scale – it probably would not end the conflict in Syria immediately. But it could turn the tide of battle against Assad’s forces and in favor of the opposition, and begin to create conditions on the ground that could make a negotiated end to the conflict possible.

“Mr. President, we cannot afford to lose the moral dimension from our foreign policy. If ever a case should remind us of this, it is Syria. Leon Wieseltier captured this point powerfully in The New Republic last month. His words are as true today as they were then, and I quote: 

‘The slaughter is unceasing. But the debate about American intervention is increasingly conducted in ‘realist’ terms: the threat to American interests posed by jihadism in Syria, the intrigues of Iran and Hezbollah, the rattling of Israel, the ruination of Jordan and Lebanon and Iraq. Those are all good reasons for the president of the United States to act like the president of the United States. But wouldn’t the prevention of ethnic cleansing and genocidal war be reason enough? Is the death of scores and even hundreds of thousands, and the displacement of millions, less significant for American policy, and less quickening? The moral dimension must be restored to our deliberations, the moral sting, or else Obama, for all his talk about conscience, will have presided over a terrible mutilation of American discourse: the severance of conscience from action.’

“We have had these debates before. In Bosnia, and later in Kosovo, we heard many arguments against military intervention that we now hear about Syria. It was said that there was no international consensus for action, that the situation on the ground was messy and confused, that it was not clear who we would actually be helping, and that our involvement could actually make matters worse. Fortunately, we had a President who led – who explained to the American people what the stakes were in the Balkans, and why we needed to rise to the role that only America could play. Here is how President Bill Clinton described Bosnia in 1995:

‘There are times and places where our leadership can mean the difference between peace and war, and where we can defend our fundamental values as a people and serve our most basic, strategic interests. [T]here are still times when America and America alone can and should make the difference for peace.’

“Nearly two decades ago, I worked with both my Democratic and Republican colleagues in Congress to support President Clinton as he led America to do the right thing in stopping mass atrocities in Bosnia. The question for another President today, and for all of my colleagues in this body, indeed for all Americans, is whether we will once again answer the desperate pleas for rescue that are made uniquely to us, as the United States of America.”

 

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