Update – Our Senate Senior Producer Ted Barrett caught up with Sen. McCain after his floor speech:
CNN'S TED BARRETT: You are talking about U.S. pilots flying over Syria….
SEN. MCCAIN: “Sure”
CNN'S TED BARRETT: Shooting at air defense systems?
SEN. MCCAIN: “I think we’d have to take out air defense systems. We’re the only ones who can do that. The war in Libya, we should have learned something from Libya. It would have been over a lot earlier and thousands of casualties could have been prevented if the United States used the full weight of its air power. Instead we decided to lead from behind, the conflict was extended unnecessarily, and thousands of Libyans were killed or wounded because of that. Because of America’s failure to lead.”
CNN'S TED BARRETT: What are your thoughts about a war-wary public, coming off Iraq, coming off Afghanistan, to get behind yet another conflict.
SEN. MCCAIN: “I think the Americans are justifiably and understandably war-wary. But it has been a long tradition of the United States of America to help those who are having their basic human rights violated. We did that in Bosnia; we did it in Kosovo in the nineties under a Democrat president, Bill Clinton. There were some of us who fought very hard for that on the floor of the Senate and there was strong resistance to it. We have an obligation, and that is not to stand by and watch bloodletting and massacre if there are steps we can take to prevent it.”
Update: A senior Pentagon official tells Barbara Starr: "The Secretary is interested in exploring options that could help end the brutal violence in Syria, but he also recognizes that this is an extremely complex crisis. Intervention at this time could very well exacerbate problems inside the country."
Original post: Sen. John McCain is calling for the United States to begin airstrikes in Syria to "establish and defend" safe havens inside Syria where opposition forces could plan and organize their operations against the government forces of President Bashar al-Assad.
The established safe havens would also allow for the flow of humanitarian aid into the country McCain said.
From Senator McCain's prepared remarks for delivery on the Senate floor–
... the time has come for a new policy. As we continue to isolate Assad
diplomatically and economically, we should work with our closest friends
and allies to support opposition groups inside Syria, both political and
military, to help them organize themselves into a more cohesive and
effective force that can put an end to the bloodshed and force Assad and
his loyalists to leave power. Rather than closing off the prospects for
some kind of a negotiated transition that is acceptable to the Syrian
opposition, foreign military intervention is now the necessary factor to
reinforce this option. Assad needs to know that he will not win.
What opposition groups in Syria need most urgently is relief from
Assad's tank and artillery sieges in the many cities that are still
contested. Homs is lost for now, but Idlib, and Hama, and Qusayr, and
Deraa, and other cities in Syria could still be saved. But time is
running out. Assad's forces are on the march. Providing military
assistance to the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups is
necessary, but at this late hour, that alone will not be sufficient to
stop the slaughter and save innocent lives. The only realistic way to do
so is with foreign airpower.
Therefore, at the request of the Syrian National Council, the Free
Syrian Army, and Local Coordinating Committees inside the country, the
United States should lead an international effort to protect key
population centers in Syria, especially in the north, through airstrikes
on Assad's forces. To be clear: This will require the United States to
suppress enemy air defenses in at least part of the country.
The ultimate goal of airstrikes should be to establish and defend safe
havens in Syria, especially in the north, in which opposition forces can
organize and plan their political and military activities against Assad.
These safe havens could serve as platforms for the delivery of
humanitarian and military assistance – including weapons and ammunition,
body armor and other personal protective equipment, tactical
intelligence, secure communications equipment, food and water, and
medical supplies. These safe havens could also help the Free Syrian Army
and other armed groups in Syria to train and organize themselves into
more cohesive and effective military forces, likely with the assistance
of foreign partners.