This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill said Sunday that she would not rule out the possibility of U.S. troops in Syria, but cautioned that such an option should be considered only if deemed "absolutely necessary."
Appearing on CBS’ "Face the Nation," McCaskill, D-Mo., also said she had not yet seen “a conclusive chain of evidence” to prove who exactly ordered the use of sarin gas in the Syrian civil war. But another guest on the program, U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said he believes U.S. intelligence knows who ordered the chemical-weapon use.
The Missouri senator’s comments came on a day when U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on NBC’s "Meet the Press" that this country should start arming some Syrian rebels and take steps to help establish a “safe zone” in that country. However, he added, “the worst thing the United States could do right now is put boots on the ground in Syria.”
McCaskill, a member of both the Senate Armed Services and Homeland Security committees, made it clear that she would prefer more “surgical” options for the time being. She said the situation in Syria – although it has “really deteriorated” – is “not really at a tipping point.”
Asked about the possibility of eventual U.S. troop involvement in Syria, McCaskill said: “I don’t think you want to ever rule it out,” in part because of the message such a statement would telegraph. “I don’t think you ever want to say ‘absolutely not.’ But obviously we don’t want to do that unless it’s absolutely necessary,” she said.
But while not supporting any U.S. troop involvement, Chambliss said he worried about the deterioration of the situation in Syria, where rebel troops – including some Islamist-inspired insurgents – have been battling government forces.
“The world is watching,” said Chambliss. “We’ve got 70,000 dead people in that part of the world as a result of [Syrian leader] Bashar al-Assad. We as Americans have never let something like that happen before.”
McCaskill defended the administration of President Barack Obama from charges by Republicans that he had waited too long to take significant action in Syria. McCain alleged that Obama, by drawing a “red line” at the Syrian regime’s deployment of chemical weapons, of giving Assad a “green light . . . to do anything short of that.”
While evidence emerged last week that sarin gas had been used in Syria, McCaskill cautioned against taking action until the details of that deployment were clear. “Was this a rogue guy that decided to do this, or was this truly a decision by the government in Syria” to deploy a chemical weapon, McCaskill asked. “That’s why I think we’ve got to make sure we know before we base our actions just on that.”
But Chambliss, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, disagreed with McCaskill on the question of who ordered that deployment. “We know where the order came from” to use the sarin gas, he said. “We had another general defect, just in the last couple of days, who again has validated where the order came from.”
Appearing on the same talk show, U.S Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., suggested that this country should move militarily against the Syrian regime without committing U.S. troops. “One way you can stop the Syrian Air Force from flying is to bomb Syrian air bases with missiles,” he said. “You don't need to go deep into Syria to do that.”
McCaskill sounded a more cautious note. “I think the president, along with our military leadership, is working very hard right now to figure out the best way to keep Syria from becoming the fragmented state that could be a home and haven for terrorists.”
Suggesting that the U.S. step up humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees, McCaskill said that – stopping short of providing weaponry – this country should be “working with our friends in the area that may be providing more assistance to some of the ‘good guys’” who are fighting government forces. “It’s a matter of resources and it’s a matter of having contingency plans and making sure that we are ready, if we need to, take some kind of military action.”
She said Secretary of State John Kerry is talking with “all of our allies in the area, trying to get help in figuring out what we can do surgically that will get the result we want without making the problems even worse.” One goal is to try to convince Russia, which has been a key ally of Assad, to put pressure on the Syrian government.