By Justin Sink
Two prominent Republican U.S. senators urged that the United States arm opposition forces in Syria Sunday as the government of Bashar al-Assad continued a bloody crackdown on the protests that have engulfed the nation.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who both serve on the Senate Armed Services committee, argued that arming rebel fighters in the country could help beat back a Syrian government with close ties to Iran.
Graham and McCain were in Afghanistan as part of a larger tour through the Middle East. The former GOP presidential candidate said that Syrian rebels needed help to defend themselves.
“I believe there are ways to get weapons to the opposition without direct United States involvement,” McCain said. “The Iranians and the Russians are providing Bashar Assad with weapons. People that are being massacred deserve to have the ability to defend themselves.”
“So I am not only not opposed, but I am in favor of weapons being obtained by the opposition,” McCain added.
The senator's comments largely echoed a statement they issued with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) earlier this week. In that release, the senators said the United States should "consider" arming Syrian opposition forces.
“The bloodshed must be stopped, and we should rule out no option that could help to save lives. We must consider, among other actions, providing opposition groups inside Syria, both political and military, with better means to organize their activities, to care for the wounded and find safe haven, to communicate securely, to defend themselves, and to fight back against Assad’s forces," the statement said.
McCain also sent a letter Monday to Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) calling for a hearing on military options in the country.
President Obama has decried the violence in Syria, but stopped short of pushing for American military intervention like the NATO campaign in Libya to overthrow Moammar Gaddafi.
"I think it is very important for us to try to resolve this without recourse to outside military intervention. I think that's possible," Obama told NBC earlier this month. "The Assad regime is feeling the noose tightening around them. This is not going to be a matter of if, it's going to be a matter of when."
The president has said that the situation in Syria is more complicated because the international community is not unified on whether to intervene. China and Russia blocked a vote in the United Nations Security Council earlier this month calling on Assad to step down.
"I said at the time with respect to Libya that we would be making these decisions on a case by case basis based on how unified the international community was, what our capacities were," Obama said.
"But we have been relentless in sending a message that it is time for Assad to go, that the kind of violence we've seen exercised against his own people over this weekend and over the past several months is inexcusable. But not every situation is going to allow for the kind of military solution we saw with respect to Libya."