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GOP keeps up heat over Syria

| Sunday, April 28, 2013, 9:09 p.m.
REUTERS
A Free Syrian Army fighter holds his position on Sunday, April 28, 2013, in Aleppo's Salaheddine neighborhood.
REUTERS
Men survey a damaged street on Sunday, April 28, 2013, in the besieged area of Homs, Syria.

WASHINGTON — Republican senators on Sunday pressed President Obama to intervene in Syria's civil war but said the United States should not send in ground troops.

Pressure is mounting on the White House to do more to help Syrian rebels fighting against the government of President Bashar Assad, which the Obama administration last week said had probably used chemical arms in the conflict.

“The president has laid down the line, and it can't be a dotted line,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., told ABC's “This Week.” “It can't be anything other than a red line.”

Neutralizing the government forces' air advantage over the rebels “could turn the tide of battle pretty quickly,” Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told CBS' “Face the Nation.”

“One way you can stop the Syrian air force from flying is to bomb the Syrian air bases with cruise missiles,” he said.

Graham said international action was needed to bring the conflict to a close but “You don't need boots on the ground from the U.S. point of view.”

More than 70,000 people have died in Syria's 2-year-old civil war. So far, the United States has limited its involvement to providing non-lethal aid to rebels.

Rep. Keith Ellison, D.-Minn., said: “I believe the United States could play a greater role in dealing with the humanitarian crisis. … I don't think the world's greatest superpower, the United States, can stand by and not do anything.”

Obama has taken a cautious stance on American intervention in Syria since the release on Thursday to Congress of the intelligence assessment on Syria. It concluded with “varying degrees of confidence” that Syrian security forces used small amounts of sarin gas, a nerve agent, against rebels and civilians in recent months.

Obama said on Friday that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a “game changer” for the United States but made clear he was in no rush to intervene on the basis of evidence he said was still preliminary.

The United States fears that anti-Assad Islamist rebels affiliated to al-Qaida could seize the chemical weapons, and Washington and its allies have discussed scenarios where tens of thousands of ground troops go into Syria if Assad's government falls.

“The day after Assad (leaves) is the day that these chemical weapons could be at risk,” Chicago Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky told ABC. “We could be in bigger, even bigger trouble.”

Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate in 2008, said the United States should step up its support for Syrian rebels even if it turns out that Assad's forces have not used poison gas in the conflict.

“We could use Patriot (missile) batteries and cruise missiles,” the Arizona lawmaker, an influential voice on military issues in the Senate, said on NBC's “Meet The Press.”

McCain said an “international force” should be readied to go into Syria to secure stocks of chemical weapons.

“There are number of caches of these chemical weapons. They cannot fall into the hands of the jihadists,” he said.

At the same time, McCain said it would be a mistake for American ground troops to enter Syria because that “would turn the people against us.”

The Pentagon is wary of U.S. involvement in Syria. The president's top uniformed military adviser, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said last month he could not see a U.S. military option with an “understandable outcome” there.

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