John McCain Beats the Drum of War

On March 5 Republican Senator John McCain urged the United States to launch airstrikes against Syria to force the government out of power. The Senator called for military intervention without further delay. McCain, the Republican presidential nominee in 2008 and the GOP’s senior member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the U.S. should start arming Syria’s rebels and spearhead military efforts to support them. “The only realistic way to do so is with foreign airpower,” as the Senator emphasized.

John McCain stated the USA needs no UN resolution to launch the attack. He said the historic precedent is more important than a mandate and adduced the example of NATO’s military action in Kosovo in 1999 without formal U.N. authorization. According to his view the Arab League, or NATO, or a leading coalition within the Friends of Syria contact group, or all of them, could provide a similar international mandate for military measures. He made a conclusion that some kind of intervention is inevitable with or without the USA and made precise that: “The real question for U.S. policy is whether we will participate in this next phase of the conflict in Syria, and thereby increase our ability to shape an outcome that is beneficial to the Syrian people, and to us”. McCain finds it expedient to lead an international effort to protect key population centers in Syria, especially in the north, through airstrikes on government forces. He stressed that this will require the United States to suppress enemy air defenses in at least part of the country.

The Senator says the goal of air strikes is “to establish and defend safe havens in Syria, especially in the north, in which opposition forces can organize and plan their political and military activities against Assad”. And they should 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. McCain is an expert in military matters, he knows better than others that the establishment of such beachheads for further offensive would require US to have their servicemen on the ground: special operations teams, management personnel, reconnaissance units, personnel to provide guidance for precision air strikes. That is the engagement will inevitably lead to the US military presence on foreign soil. Like in Libya and lots of other instances before. The US rich military intervention experience shows it’s easy to start and easy to get bogged down. There is always a chain reaction leading to deeper involvement. It’s extremely hard to withdraw. Like in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. But some people ignore the evident things. Even if they have military background and learn the hard way the horrors wars bring (Senator McCain was a war prisoner in Vietnam). John McCain was an early advocate of taking military action in Libya, where he called for imposing a no-flight zone to protect the population. This position enjoyed overwhelming support in the Senate. The reports of NATO special operations teams on the Libyan soil appeared soon after the zones were established.

A very important thing was said about the actual goal of the proposed intervention. Beyond the humanitarian and moral imperatives to act in Syria, he said, were core national security interests. He cited Syria’s close ties to Iran. So an air attack against Syria is actually a part of a much wider scenario aimed at toppling the regime in Iran. If the Syrian government is toppled thanks to the efforts spearheaded by the USA than there is a big chance the country becomes a beachhead for an attack against it. Even if the attack is not launched, Iran becomes weakened due to its vulnerability to a potential strike. The Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has already called for Congress to authorize the use of force against Iran. But you got to strike Syria first, these are the links of the same chain.

John McCain is calling for arming the Syrian rebels, even though it’s not clear who these rebels are, who they get support from, or what is their vision of the country’s future and its relationships with other countries. He is calling (that is exerting pressure) on the administration to start an unprovoked war against a United Nations member that poses no whatsoever threat to the United States or its allies. With sad Libyan experience in mind Russia and China will leave no chance for the UN Security Council’s resolution to get through. The UNSCR 1973 has no chance to be repeated. So this would be a wholly unilateral unsanctioned action by the United States (possible NATO allies support will not give it any legitimacy).


Senator McCain is a Republican heavyweight, he’s a Vietnam war hero, a retired navy Captain, his father and grand father both were four star admirals. His personality is appealing, he’s well known and enjoys wide public support. He ran for the Republican nomination in 2000 and surprised US politics experts by his strong start. He made a go of it in 2008 winning the nomination. No doubt he expresses the views of a large segment of US political establishment. McCain’s opinion is a typical neo-con conservative mindset of foreign intervention to topple a government out of favor. His comments underscore the tendency on the part of many US politicians and planners to jump headlong into military action. The call was immediately supported by other very influential heavyweights. Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, a former well known Democrat, now Independent from Connecticut and Senator. Lindsey Graham, a Republican heavyweight from South Carolina. That’s what is important about it. A well known Independent Senator who enjoys significant public support joins the Republican establishment in a call for a new war. Joe Lieberman showed McCain’s views have significant support outside the Republican ranks.

Though not saying directly the USA should immediately go to war the Republican presidential hopefuls take a tough stand on Syria too. On February 22 US Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich lent their support to the idea of arming the Syrian opposition in its fight to topple President Bashar Assad. Speaking at a CNN debate in Mesa, Arizona, Romney said the United States needed to team up with allies to help the rebels. “We need to work with Saudi Arabia and with Turkey to say, “You guys provide the kind of weaponry that’s needed to help the rebels inside Syria,” the former Massachusetts governor said. “If we can turn Syria and Lebanon away from Iran, we’ll finally have the capacity to get Iran to pull back,” Romney said. Newt Gingrich supported the view. On March 5 the Times magazine published an article called Rick Santorum ”I Would Consider” Air Strikes in Syria. The Senator said he did not reject the notion of bombing Assad’s army. “I would say that would certainly be one of the things I would consider,” he told the magazine. With Ron Paul lagging far behind, all leading Republican hopefuls “may consider” the action John McCain is calling for. The US administration’s stance is known – no option in Syria has been taken off the table. There is no one among those who take decisions or exert real influence in the US political establishment who says no, we cannot violate international law. On March 7 the Foreign Policy magazine quoted Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey saying the Pentagon had planned for several possible military actions in Syria, including delivering humanitarian relief, imposing a no-fly zone, conducting maritime interdiction, establishing humanitarian corridors, and executing limited air strikes. He said the planning was at a “commander’s estimate level of detail,” and that there had been briefing to the National Security Council staff. By the end of February the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, Admiral James Stavridis, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that providing arms to opposition forces in Syria could help them shift the balance of power against Assad.

We can clearly see a push of US right wing politicians and military for greater American involvement. Somehow, with a national debt nearing $20 trillion, Senator McCain and his supporters appear to be unscathed by the cost of a new war.


McCain’s initiative will likely divide American lawmakers, many of whom opposed a similar operation in Libya last year. If it were put forward by the Obama administration it would divide US allies who may be unwilling to support another military operation in the times of financial difficulties. It would complicate, to put it mildly, the relations with Russia and China as well as some other world actors.

Unlike the Libya campaign last year, the action would lack the U.N. Security Council support and would be difficult to justify under international law. it would also contradict the Obama’s proclaimed policy stressing international collaboration on the use of military force.

The operation will require establishing “no-fly zones” and knocking out air defense sites. The clashes between Free Syrian Army and government forces take place in urban areas, there are no clear division lines. There are no rebel formations requiring the terrain be cleared with the help of friendly aviation. So the strikes will have to be delivered against targets in densely populated areas leading to “significant” collateral damage” or civilian casualties to be more exact.

It’s impossible to predict who’d come to power in Syria in case the Assad’s government is toppled, but it’s quiet possible to predict who would be blamed if things go the wrong way in case the Senator’s proposal is met. What about unresolved ethnic conflicts to be inevitably sparked in case the USA achieves its goal? There is a plethora of things that may go wrong all becoming the responsibility of the USA in case it strikes Syria.


In his pre-election article titled Russia and the Changing World Russian now President elect Vladimir Putin warned that foreign actors on the geopolitical stage may be “tempted to solve their problems at someone else’s cost by means of force.” The phrase comes to mind in connection with the Senator John McCain speech. On February 10 the Russian State Duma (the parliament’s lower house) adopted a statement on the situation in Syria. The statement says that Russia is concerned by the escalation of tension both in and around the country. It calls on the UN Security Council to be impartial and not take sides in the Syrian conflict. The Russian lawmakers believe that a UN resolution on Syria must rule out any foreign interference in the country neither should it call for a forced regime change. McCain’s statement on the Senate floor creates a certain environment as the U.S. and European governments called on the Russia’s leadership to rethink its anti-interventionist stance on Syria.

The statement in question is a probe to see the reaction inside and outside the USA. It also is a start of campaign launched by a very influential segment of the US elite to exert pressure on the Obama administration to make it become more resolute on the issue. The reality of the US facing deep financial crisis is not taken into account. Normally an air launched high precision munition is much more expensive than a target hit and destroyed. The warmongers brush aside any talk about the consequences, chain reaction of conflict, unpredictability of the way the situation in Syria and the region would unfold, who would come to power in Syria and which way the country would turn, They don’t bother about civil casualties to be inflicted, they don’t make any estimations how much American taxpayers are going to pay for the adventure, they ignore the fact the USA is not very “popular” (I put it as mildly as I can) in the world for its constant “lecturing” on what’s good and what’s bad combined with the insistence on the right to resort to unilateral military actions in brazen violation of human rights. The Iraqi war made a significant contribution to make the financial bubbles burst and plunge the country into the quagmire of economic crisis, making the government reduce the previously planned military expenditure. The international standing is going down, the USA is seen as an aggressive state prone to double policy standards The hawkish stance on Syria would hardly improve the relations with Russia, the county crucial to maintaining international security as former State Secretary Condoleezza Rice said many times before after the 9/11. The aggressive foreign policy weakens the USA and doesn’t serve the interests of grassroots Americans. The warmongers go on with undermining international security and their position and influence in the USA is very strong. That’s where the threat to international  peace comes from. The problem is that the warmongers never learn.

Source: Strategic Culture Foundation 


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  1. michael_annap

    The author masterfully assessed the things. He showed the statement was a link of a chain, something confirmed by the way the events did unfold. And the support of a coming strike was wide spread among the US influentials. Andrei Akulov hit the nail right on the head as he usually does.

  2. They seem indeed to never learn, no matter the destruction they keep bringing about. Putin in that marathon interview – more than 4 hours answering questions…- said something about Летучие мыши в колокольне… bats in the belfry… a propos McCain.Isn`t there some real truth therein? There is some kind o frenzy going on. First they started it all and then as things didn`t go according to expectations you just bomb it in order to finish off. Some sort of general frenzy, no doubt.

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