Sens. Levin, McCain push Obama to take military action in Syria

Senate Armed Services Committee chief Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) joined with Senate Republicans on Thursday to demand that President Obama take military action to end the Syrian civil war.

Levin and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) sent a letter to the White House urging Obama to consider “limited military options,” including airstrikes, to topple the regime of embattled Syrian president Bashar Assad.

“We believe there are credible options at your disposal, including limited military options, that would require neither putting U.S. troops on the ground nor acting unilaterally,” the lawmakers wrote.

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Specifically, Levin and McCain pressed the Obama administration to establish a “safe zone” along the Turkey-Syria border for refugees looking to escape the carnage.

That safe zone, lawmakers said, should be defended by the battery of Patriot missiles that the Pentagon sent to Turkey last year.

The White House should also order American and allied warplanes to conduct “precision airstrikes” against Assad's network of anti-aircraft defenses in Syria, Levin and McCain argued.

Finally, the lawmakers recommended that the administration provide more "tactical intelligence" to rebel forces in Syria, as well as more medical and humanitarian supplies.

Levin’s call for military action is a major shift. Previously, the influential Democrat had backed the administration’s strategy of using sanctions and diplomacy to end the conflict.  

Fissures between Levin and the White House on Syria began to emerge Monday, when Levin said publicly he "would go further than the president" in taking action on Syria.

Syrian rebels have battled government forces loyal to Assad to a bloody stalemate since the beginning of the conflict in 2011.

But with recent report that Assad's forces have allegedly begun using chemical weapons against rebel positions inside Syria, a growing number of lawmakers say it is time to take decisive action in the country.

"The Syrian state is disintegrating ... the longer the conflict in Syria goes on, the worse its consequences are becoming,"  Levin and McCain wrote.

"The potential use of chemical weapons only makes the case for greater action more compelling and urgent," they added.

The reported use of chemical weapons against rebel forces near the Syrian city of Aleppo on Tuesday, which ended with 12 dead, stoked accusations from both sides as to who had pulled the trigger on those weapons.

In response, Obama reiterated his past statement that the use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” for the United States.

“I have made clear that the use of chemical weapons is a game-changer,” Obama said Wednesday during a speech in Israel. “And I won’t make an announcement today about next steps because I think we have to gather the facts.”

But recent reports by U.S. intelligence officials indicate there is no hard evidence the Assad regime carried out chemical attacks against rebel forces.

"The intelligence community has not made an assessment at this point," an intelligence official told Reuters on Thursday. "The information has not pushed us far enough in one direction for us to make an assessment yet."