Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on Monday downplayed atrocities being committed by Syrian rebel forces and suggested that he would be willing to tolerate extremists taking over Syria because they would most likely not be allied with Iran.
McCain has been a forceful advocate of U.S. military intervention in Syria and has spent months in television and other media interviews trying to make his case. The Arizona Republican continued that campaign last night during an interview with Charlie Rose on PBS, highlighting the war crimes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have committed to justify more U.S. intervention. When Rose noted that rebels are also committing war crimes, McCain brushed them off:
ROSE: But at the same time you do hear about atrocities on the other side as well. You know, wherever it’s coming from within the other side you do see not only stories but video?
MCCAIN: But you know, Charlie, you see that as isolated incidents of people who have just gotten so battle-hardened and angry and this happens in warfare. What you’re seeing from the other side is orchestrated training and tactics to intimidate and cow the population from the Bashar al-Assad side. So it’s — it’s dramatically, mind you, different. Horrible things are happening on both sides but with Bashar al-Assad’s forces it is a tactic that they use to intimidate and cow the population.
Rose later challenged the idea of greater U.S. involvement in Syria’s civil war, noting that — because many of the forces battling Assad have strong ties to al-Qaeda — there’s a chance that those who take over in the event Assad would fall would be no friend to the United States. But McCain dismissed that concern as well, suggesting — most likely correctly — that any Sunni al-Qeada affiliated group won’t be allied with Shiite dominated Iran:
MCCAIN: So if Bashar al-Assad wins the connection to Hezbollah remains, Iranians mischief throughout the region continues. […]
ROSE: Notwithstanding that Syria might become a failed state and might be ruled by, you know, a group of people who have no interest in good relationships with the United States?
MCCAIN: But not an ally of Iran, seeking to facilitate their efforts to create mischief throughout the Middle East. I mean I’m not saying it will be a Jeffersonian democracy and it may be long and difficult. But there is no doubt of the relationship between Bashar al-Assad and Iran and Hezbollah, that’s why Hezbollah is in, because if they lose Bashar al-Assad Hezbollah loses their lifeline.
A report released on Tuesday by an independent United Nations panel — which the New York Times said “is seen by diplomats as providing the most factual and authoritative record of developments in Syria” — found that not only are Assad’s forces committing atrocities and war crimes on a mass scale, but so are forces fighting Assad’s military.
“Anti-Government armed groups have also committed war crimes, including murder, sentencing and execution without due process, torture, hostage-taking and pillage,” the report says, adding that “[t]hey continue to endanger the civilian population by positioning military objectives in civilian areas.”
During his interview with Rose, McCain said the U.S. should give these rebels shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. “These resistance forces need to have MANPADS. They’re shoulder fired anti-air missiles,” he said.
It appears that McCain will overlook pretty much any consequence — rebel atrocities and extremists taking over — to get what he wants in Syria. He is even abandoning his usual prerequisite that the U.S. government should support and implement whatever military commanders want in any potential or ongoing conflict. “Our military with all respect, some of their leaders are told how hard it’s going to be, one thing I love and respect our military, but if they don’t want to do something they can find reasons not to do it,” McCain told Rose, referring to the U.S. implementing a no-fly zone in Syria. “I guarantee you there are many military people who are not in that chain of command who would say that this is eminently doable.”