PHOENIX – Sen. John McCain told a town hall meeting Thursday that the U.S. has to act “in some way” in response to Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons, though he said no one is considering sending troops into Syria.
“I want to assure you that there is no contemplation of having American boots on the ground,” McCain told 200 people at the Burton Barr Central Library. “The American people wouldn’t stand for it.”
However, McCain said the U.S. faces a “very, very serious situation.”
“That is that it’s very clear – and I have seen the information and the American people will see the information – that Bashar Assad did use chemical weapons, and it killed well over a thousand people, many of them children,” he said.
McCain and fellow Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, as members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, voted Wednesday for a resolution allowing President Barack Obama to take “limited and specific” action against Syria.
McCain told the audience Thursday that the decision to act in Syria is “a very tough call.”
“There’s risks; there’s no good option here,” he said. “The risk, I think, is of doing nothing, and the Iranians continue to develop nuclear weapons, which, as we know, they have dedicated themselves to. The North Koreans are encouraged.”
Many in the audience applauded others’ comments objecting to U.S. action against Syria, while a smaller number applauded those who spoke in favor of intervention.
“When we ignore the events around the world that take place, they sooner or later come home to take roost at the doorstep,” McCain said. “That has been the history of the 20th century. This is a very small world that we live in.”
McCain called Assad “a merciless butcher.”
“We ought to be helping those who are struggling for freedom, which is what we’ve done throughout our history,” he said.
Michael Roy said afterward that he disagrees with McCain, comparing the situation in Syria to that in Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion.
“We’re going to hurt nobody but civilians,” he said. “As soon as [Assad] knows we’re going to bomb, he’s going to put civilians in harm’s way and then they’re going to use the propaganda against the United States.”
Wearing a scarf used by Syrian rebels, Steve Arkawi said he supports U.S. intervention.
“If these people were Jews, not Syrian, do you know what the world would do? They would never say, ‘No, it’s OK,’” Arkawi said. “So why the Syrians? They are human beings just like everybody else.”