Levin: Start planning for strikes in Syria

Levin’s speech came after he and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) last week visited Jordan and Turkey, which have taken in hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. Upon returning, the two senators called for an international summit that could be used to start making military plans in Syria to help the Syrian opposition.

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Levin made his case Wednesday that taking serious steps toward military intervention could help tip the balance both politically and militarily. He said that the plans should include “limited, targeted strikes” at Assad’s airpower and artillery forces.

“Even the announcement of a coordinated planning process for increased support to the Syrian opposition would show Assad and his Russian allies the serious purpose of a broad international coalition, boost the morale of the Free Syrian Army and advance our limited goal of bringing about a political solution,” Levin said Wednesday.

The Armed Services chairman has been one of the most vocal Democrats in recent months calling for more action from the Obama administration in Syria’s two-year civil war. He has aligned himself with defense hawks like Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) who have been among the biggest critics of President Obama’s foreign policy.

Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, have aligned themselves with libertarian-leaning Republicans to fight against any U.S. involvement in Syria, including providing arms to the opposition.

Levin said Wednesday that he supports the Obama administration’s efforts to provide arms to the Syrian rebels — and wants them expanded — even as the Intelligence Committees voted last month to block the aid over fears the arms will fall into the hands of Islamist militant groups.

Levin noted that no one yet has proposed putting U.S. boots on the ground, and he acknowledged there are risks with even limited military action. But he argued that the risk of doing nothing in Syria is greater.

“More Syrian towns and neighborhoods will be destroyed. Hundreds of thousands more families will be forced from their homes. Another 100,000 or more innocent people may be killed. The conflict could spread through the region, and Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations could gain safe havens from which to operate against us in the future,” he said. “These are the likely costs of inaction, and I believe they are too high.”