Sen. McCain calls for airstrikes against Syria

Sen. John McCain is calling for the U.S. military to use airstrikes in Syria.

McCain, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is the first senator to call for the United States to bomb Syria, as violence there continues to escalate with President Bashar al-Assad’s troops shelling opposition forces.

In a speech on the Senate floor, McCain said that the crisis in Syria has “reached a decisive moment.”

“The time has come for a new policy,” McCain said, according to excerpts of a prepared speech. “Rather than closing off the prospects for some kind of a negotiated transition that is acceptable to the Syrian opposition, foreign military intervention is now the necessary factor to reinforce this option. Assad needs to know that he will not win.”

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McCain said that it’s “understandable” for the administration to resist military options in Syria, but that it’s increasingly disconnected from the “dire conditions on the ground in Syria.”

The Obama administration has opposed supplying arms to the rebels or getting involved militarily, and has instead pushed for a political solution that removes Assad from power.

McCain said the United States should lead an international effort to protect population centers in Syria. Such an effort would include airstrikes to suppress enemy air defenses.

“The ultimate goal of air strikes should be 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,” McCain said.

McCain, who lost to President Obama in the 2008 presidential election, has been among the most vocal proponents for getting involved in Syria since violence there escalated last month.

He was among the first to urge the administration to arm the rebels, and he asked Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) for a hearing on Syria. On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey will testify before the committee.

McCain has compared the situation in Syria to Libya, where NATO forces used airstrikes to help the rebels there oust Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

“The kinds of mass atrocities that NATO intervened in Libya to prevent in Benghazi are now a reality in Homs,” McCain will say Monday.

But Obama administration officials have warned that Syria is not like Libya. They have said that the situation is more complicated on the ground militarily, and there are broader regional concerns in Syria — including its close alliance with Iran.

McCain said the stakes are far higher in Syria because Syria is a base for Iranian operations.