While the U.N. launches its investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria's Aleppo province, top senators in the Senate Armed Services committee began banging the war drum a little louder Thursday. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) wrote to the president expressing concern about the recent report (use by Assad's regime of chemical weapons has for some months been the U.S.'s purported "red-line" for military intervention. The senators advocated the use of "limited military options," such as air strikes, working with Turkish forces and boosting aid to Syrian opposition groups. HuffPo's Michael McAuliff reprinted in full the three steps recommended in the letter that Levin and McCain want the president to take:
First, we urge you to lead an effort, together with our friends and allies, to degrade the Assad regime’s airpower and to support Turkey if they are willing to establish a safe zone inside of Syria’s northern border. As the Commander of U.S. European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Admiral James Stavridis, testified this week to the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Patriot missile batteries that have already been deployed to southern Turkey could be positioned – again, with Turkey’s consent – to protect the safe zone, and doing so would be a powerful disincentive for the Assad regime’s pilots to fly in that area. Moreover, the Patriots could be used to defend against the Assad regime’s increasingly frequent use of SCUD missiles -- weapons that the regime has used to indiscriminately kill hundreds of people in northern Syria, and that can also be used as delivery vehicles for chemical weapons -- should they be directed against the safe zone.
Second, General James Mattis, the Commander of U.S. Central Command, testified last week to the Senate Armed Services Committee that "a fair amount" of Assad’s aircraft could be destroyed on the ground using precision airstrikes. Such a mission could also include Assad’s SCUD missile batteries and would not require American or allied pilots to fly into the reach of Syria’s air defenses. We urge you to work with our friends and allies, as well as regional organizations, to consider this limited option.
Finally, we urge you to provide more robust assistance directly to vetted opposition groups. We believe such assistance should include tactical intelligence and increased deliveries of food and medicine, fuel, communications equipment, medical care for the wounded, and other humanitarian assistance. To this end, establishing a safe haven inside Syria would also serve the important goal of delivering humanitarian assistance more effectively.