McCain, Graham call for US to arm Syrian rebels

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 McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain to produce 'Don't Sweat the Small Stuff' Lifetime movie starring Heather Locklear An August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done Meghan McCain on Pelosi, McCarthy fight: 'I think they're all bad' MORE (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham, Cuellar press Biden to name border czar Trump takes two punches from GOP The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands MORE (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.


“Breaking Syria apart from Iran could be as important to containing a nuclear Iran as sanctions,” Graham said at a press conference in Kabul, according to the New York Times. “If the Syrian regime is replaced with another form of government that doesn’t tie its future to the Iranians, the world is a better place.”

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 LevinCarl Milton LevinOvernight Defense: First group of Afghan evacuees arrives in Virginia | Biden signs Capitol security funding bill, reimbursing Guard | Pentagon raises health protection level weeks after lowering it Biden pays tribute to late Sen. Levin: 'Embodied the best of who we are' Former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm dead at 85 MORE (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."