McCain backs Clinton’s call for a no-fly zone in Syria

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, recommended that President Obama establish a no-fly zone in Syria to protect refugees and those the U.S. have trained and are supporting against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). 

“I would say as Hillary Clinton has recommended and David Petraeus before the Senate Armed Services Committee recommended, and that is we establish a no-fly zone. And we have a buffer zone,” he said in an interview on PBS’s “Charlie Rose” that aired Monday night.

{mosads}Clinton, Obama’s former secretary of State and the 2016 Democratic presidential front-runner, made the recommendation last Tuesday during the first Democratic debate, setting herself apart from other less hawkish candidates.

She said she supported the establishment of such zones to gain leverage on Russian President Vladimir Putin, who began an airstrike campaign in Syria last month to shore up ally President Bashir Assad. 

U.S. defense officials say the majority of Russian airstrikes have been directed at rebel groups that oppose Assad, versus ISIS as Moscow claimed it would target. 

Clinton is one of several Obama cabinet officials who have recently recommended establishing no-fly zones in Syria. 

Obama’s former defense secretary, Robert Gates, also said last week that some sort of safe zone was “achievable.”  

“The only way you can staunch the humanitarian flow, the humanitarian disaster, is through some kind of a safe haven, and I think that’s achievable,” he said last Thursday on Fox News. 

And Obama’s former CIA director, retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee last month — albeit before the Russian campaign began — that he would recommend creating a safe zone. 

Gates is scheduled to testify in front of the commitee on Wednesday, where he will likely be asked about his views. 

McCain said if a Russian plane entered the zone, whether it would be shot down would depend on Moscow’s intentions. He added he would bet money that the Russians would not violate the zone if they thought there would be a response. 

He also said there would need to be some U.S. advisers on the ground in Syria to help enforce the no-fly zone and safe zone, to call in airstrikes and train rebels. 

“That would be perfectly legitimate to me. But also we need a lot more in Iraq itself,” he said. 

He acknowledged having more U.S. troops in Iraq and on the ground in Syria risked a wider war but said the current path would lead to the continued growth of ISIS and Russia’s influence in the region. 

Without mentioning Donald Trump explicitly, he criticized the view on Syria held by the 2016 Republican front-runner. 

“We have people who argue also … ‘Let the Russians fall on their own sword’ … and it’ll end up the same way Afghanistan ended up for them, when they went home,” he said.  

“I might remind you,” he said, “We supported Mujahideen [against Russia].” 

He also characterized the Obama administration’s openness to working with Russia to remove Assad from power as naive and criticized its argument that Putin will find himself in a quagmire in Syria. 

“Well, I certainly hope that they are correct. In the meantime, how many thousands, innocent Syrians have to die while he finds himself, in a, quote, quagmire?” 

“How many people are we prepared to watch — how many men, women and children are we willing to watch being slaughtered by the Russians and Bashar al-Assad and drive millions of refugees into Europe and then eventually the United States?” 

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