Posted by on June 07, 2013 in Blog

By Abdulaziz Al-Alami

AAI Summer Legal Fellow

After returning last week from a surprise trip to Syria to meet with members of the Syrian opposition, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said at the Brookings Institution yesterday that he was now more concerned than any time since the darkest days of the war in Iraq that the Middle East is descending into sectarian conflict.

While in Syria, McCain met with Chief of Staff of the Supreme Military Council, General Salem Idriss and Syrians from different areas of the country.

He expressed the importance of the Middle East to the United States, saying “The Middle East has always been more important than oil. It still is.”

The Senator described the United States’ inability or unwillingness to act on its own stated red lines with regards to Syria’s chemicals weapons. “It will demoralize our friends, embolden our enemies, and make our world a far more dangerous place for us,” McCain argued about the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. He explained that Bashar Assad’s forces are receiving weapons and ammunition and so are Jabhat al-Nusra, while the moderates, like General Idriss’ forces, are undersupplied.

McCain focused on the vacuum effect in the region, submitting that someone else would step in to wield regional power if the United States does not. McCain called on President Obama to take the lead.

The Syria Transition Support Act of 2013, which would authorize the president to extend lethal and non-lethal support to vetted members of the opposition as well provide monetary support in the amount of $250,000,000 each year until 2015, passed the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in May and is headed for a full vote on the Senate floor.

A similar bill in the House, The Free Syria Act of 2013, was introduced in March. The bill calls for increased humanitarian and economic support to Syria, as well as for the containment of weapons of mass destruction.

Neither of the bills has been put to a full vote as of this writing.

The Arizona Senator did not discuss the possibility of when or if the United States would go through the Chapters 6 and 7 of the United Nations charter, Peacemaking and Peacekeeping, respectively, to introduce lethal or non-lethal support.

You can read Senator McCain’s speech here.

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