John McCain calls US diplomacy 'toothless' and advocates for military intervention in Syria

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Sen. John McCain called on Wednesday for increased military action in Syria to stop authoritarian leader Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has massacred hundreds of thousands of civilians and caused a global refugee crisis.

In an editorial for The Wall Street Journal, McCain, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, made the case for US intervention in Syria.

The Obama administration has been reluctant to get more involved, and over the past five years, the conflict has escalated. Russia is now involved, running airstrikes in support of Assad, and Iran is also bolstering the regime.

Emergency workers in Syria

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White Helmets of Syria
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White Helmets of Syria
Civil defence members carry a casualty after an airstrike at a field hospital in the rebel held area of al-Sukari district of Aleppo, Syria April 27, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail
Civil defense members search for survivors under the rubble at a site hit by airstrikes in the rebel-controlled town of Ariha in Idlib province, Syria July 13, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
Civil defence members rescue a girl from under the rubble after airstrikes by pro-Syrian government forces in the rebel held al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria February 14, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail 
Members of the Civil Defence rescue children after what activists said was an air strike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo June 2, 2014. REUTERS/Sultan Kitaz 
Civil Defence members with blood on their shirts stand after double airstrikes on the rebel held Bab al-Nairab neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, August 27, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail
Omar Alwan, 21, a civil defence member, poses for a photograph in Idlib, Syria March 8, 2016. "Before the truce I wouldn't go out from the civil defence building because of my constant fear of the war planes. The first two days of the truce I had the same fear, but it began declining. I am expecting that the peace talks are serious this time," said Omar. "The war will not end in Syria until Bashar Al-Assad leaves." As peace talks are set to get under way in Geneva next week, residents in Syria from nurses to street vendors voice little optimism over the United Nations-backed negotiations' chance of success. The Geneva talks will coincide with the fifth anniversary of a conflict that began with protests against President Bashar al-Assad before descending into a multi-sided war that has drawn in foreign governments and allowed the growth of Islamic State. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi 
A Civil defence member looks for survivors at a site hit by what activists said were two barrel bombs dropped by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo July 27, 2014. REUTERS/Hamid Khatib 
Civil defense members mourn the death of their comrade, who died during what activists said were airstrikes carried out by the Russian air force, during his funeral in Ehsim town in the south of Idlib province, Syria, October 3, 2015. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Civil defence members hold a demonstration to children during a war safety awareness class in Deraa Governorate, Syria March 5, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Faqir
A Civil Defence member reacts in a damaged site near the frame of a burnt vehicle after an airstrike on al-Jalaa street in the rebel held city of Idlib, Syria August 10, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
Residents and civil defense members look for survivors at a damaged site after what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Al-Shaar nighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria September 17, 2015. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail
Civil defence members search for survivors after an airstrike at a field hospital in the rebel held area of al-Sukari district of Aleppo, Syria April 27, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail
Smoke rises over a damaged site as Civil Defence members try to put out a fire after an airstrike on al-Jalaa street in the rebel held city of Idlib, Syria August 10, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
Civil defence members rest amid rubble of damaged buildings after an airstrike on the rebel-held Tariq al-Bab neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria April 23, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail Y
 A civil defence member carries a dead child in a site hit by what activists said were airstrikes carried out by the Russian air force in the rebel-controlled area of Maaret al-Numan town in Idlib province, Syria January 9, 2016. At least 70 people died in what activists said where four vacuum bombs dropped by the Russian air force in the town of Maaret al-Numan; other air strikes where also carried out in the towns of Saraqib, Khan Sheikhoun and Maar Dabseh, in Idlib. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi 
Civilians, with the help of Civil Defence members, position sanitation pipes as barricades to provide protection from snipers loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad who are stationed in Aleppo's historic citadel October 12, 2014. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail 
A civil defence member carries an injured girl at a site hit by airstrikes in the rebel-controlled area of Maaret al-Numan town in Idlib province, Syria June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi 
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"As bad as this conflict is now, it can get much worse — and likely will," McCain wrote. "It will produce millions more refugees, undermining regional stability and straining the social fabric of Western nations. It will strengthen an anti-American alliance of Russia and Iran. US credibility with our closest security partners in the Middle East will further erode. And it will provide ISIS, or its successor groups, fertile ground to radicalize Muslims, recruit and inspire them to fight, and provide them with dangerous battlefield experience."

He continued: "This is where the conflict in Syria is headed, and the administration still has no strategy to do anything about it. Its diplomacy is toothless. And there appears to be no Plan B."

President Barack Obama has been often criticized for backing down on his "red line" in 2013 when he declined to strike Assad regime facilities after evidence emerged of regime forces using chemical weapons against civilians. Instead of a military strike, the Obama administration brokered a deal with the help of Russia that was supposed to see the removal of Assad's chemical weapons.

Photos of devastation in Aleppo

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Children affected by conflict in Aleppo
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Children affected by conflict in Aleppo
TOPSHOT - EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Syrian civil defence volunteers, known as the White Helmets, retrieve bodies from under the rubble of a building following a reported airstrike on September 23, 2016, on the al-Muasalat area in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Missiles rained down on rebel-held areas of Syria's Aleppo, causing widespread destruction that overwhelmed rescue teams, as the army prepared a ground offensive to retake the city. / AFP / THAER MOHAMMED (Photo credit should read THAER MOHAMMED/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian boy awaits treatment at a make-shift hospital following air strikes on rebel-held eastern areas of Aleppo on September 24, 2016. Heavy Syrian and Russian air strikes on rebel-held eastern areas of Aleppo city killed at least 25 civilians on Saturday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, overwhelming doctors and rescue workers. / AFP / KARAM AL-MASRI (Photo credit should read KARAM AL-MASRI/AFP/Getty Images)
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Syrian civil defence volunteers, known as the White Helmets, retrieve bodies from under the rubble of a building following a reported airstrike on September 23, 2016, on the al-Muasalat area in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Missiles rained down on rebel-held areas of Syria's Aleppo, causing widespread destruction that overwhelmed rescue teams, as the army prepared a ground offensive to retake the city. / AFP / THAER MOHAMMED (Photo credit should read THAER MOHAMMED/AFP/Getty Images)
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Syrian civil defence volunteers, known as the White Helmets, retrieve bodies from under the rubble of a building following a reported airstrike on September 23, 2016, on the al-Muasalat area in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Missiles rained down on rebel-held areas of Syria's Aleppo, causing widespread destruction that overwhelmed rescue teams, as the army prepared a ground offensive to retake the city. / AFP / THAER MOHAMMED (Photo credit should read THAER MOHAMMED/AFP/Getty Images)
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUALS COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY A civil defence member transports an injured girl into an ambulance after an airstrike in the rebel-controlled city of Idlib, Syria June 15, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah TEMPLATE OUT
Men inspect the damage after an airstrike on the rebel held al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria September 25, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail
ALEPPO, SYRIA - SEPTEMBER 26: A wounded kid is seen after Syrian and Russian army carried out an airstrike on residential area at Maadi town of Aleppo, Syria on September 26, 2016. (Photo by Jawad al Rifai/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A Syrian man carries the body of an infant retrieved from under the rubble of a building following a reported airstrike on September 23, 2016, on the al-Muasalat area in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Missiles rained down on rebel-held areas of Syria's Aleppo, causing widespread destruction that overwhelmed rescue teams, as the army prepared a ground offensive to retake the city. / AFP / THAER MOHAMMED (Photo credit should read THAER MOHAMMED/AFP/Getty Images)
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A Syrian woman carries the body of her infant after he was retrieved from under the rubble of a building following a reported airstrike on September 23, 2016, on the al-Muasalat area in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Missiles rained down on rebel-held areas of Syria's Aleppo, causing widespread destruction that overwhelmed rescue teams, as the army prepared a ground offensive to retake the city. / AFP / THAER MOHAMMED (Photo credit should read THAER MOHAMMED/AFP/Getty Images)
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Obama points to this now as a success.

"It continues to puzzle me, the degree to which people seem to forget that we actually got the chemical weapons out of Syria," he told New York Magazine in an interview published this month. "The notion seems to be that, 'Well, you should have blown something up, even if that didn't mean that you got chemical weapons out.' There continues to be, I think, a lack of examination of the fact that my decision was not to let Assad do whatever he wanted."

The president continued: "My decision was to see if we could broker a deal without a strike to get those chemical weapons out, and to go to Congress to ask for authorization, because nowhere has Congress been more incoherent than when it comes to the powers I have."

Obama sought approval from Congress for wider military action in Syria at the time, but support for the plan was low.

But McCain wrote that the idea that Congress wouldn't approve broader military action now is false.

"The administration likes to pretend that Congress is not prepared to support a more forceful approach because of its lack of support for military action to enforce President Obama's red line in 2013," McCain wrote. "This is a myth. What many in Congress opposed was granting a reluctant president authority to conduct what Secretary of State John Kerry promised would be 'unbelievably small' airstrikes in the absence of a broader strategy to achieve US national interests in Syria. The US needs that broader strategy now."

McCain outlined what that "broader strategy" would look like:

"Any alternative approach must begin with grounding Mr. Assad's air power. It is a strategic advantage that enables the Assad regime to perpetuate the conflict through the wanton slaughter of innocent Syrians. The US and its coalition partners must issue an ultimatum to Mr. Assad — stop flying or lose your aircraft — and be prepared to follow through. If Russia continues its indiscriminate bombing, we should make clear that we will take steps to hold its aircraft at greater risk. And we must create safe zones for Syrian civilians and do what is necessary to protect them against violations by Mr. Assad, Mr. Putin and extremist forces."

The Arizona senator also advocated for providing more assistance to moderate rebels fighting Assad in Syria, noting that it's the "only way to isolate and target extremists on the battlefield."

If left as it is now, the conflict in Syria will "continue to threaten the US and destabilize the world," McCain concluded.

The war in Syria has been raging on for more than five years. Rebels who oppose Assad's oppressive rule have been trying to force him from power, and extremist groups have sprung up to take advantage of the chaos.

Experts and former defense officials have argued that backing down on the red line hurt US credibility in Syria, making it more difficult to help solve the conflict now.

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