McCain and Graham: We Need to Overthrow Assad

Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham never miss an opportunity to harmonize on what’s best for the country. While it’s important that Republicans in Congress offer advice to the president, one can’t help but occasionally question the motives of these two. McCain has earned a lifetime’s worth of respect for his time in the service – much of which was spent in a POW camp – but that doesn’t make him an expert on all things war.

Nonetheless, McCain and his partner-in-crime Graham have once again taken to the op-ed pages to lay out their strategy for success in the Middle East. Overthrowing Syrian President Bashar Assad, they say, is a necessary step if we want to eradicate ISIS. In the Wall Street Journal, the two say that we risk bolstering the Assad regime by going after ISIS first:

Mr. Assad all but created Islamic State through his slaughter of nearly 200,000 Syrians, and he has knowingly allowed the group to grow and operate with impunity inside the country when it suits his purposes. Until we confront this reality, we can continue to degrade Islamic State in Syria, but Mr. Assad’s barbarism will continue to empower it.

In the article, they also repeat their call for troops on the ground. Lest anyone forget, this is a turnaround for both senators. Each of them, at various times earlier in the year, have agreed that we can defeat ISIS with airstrikes and coalition forces alone. That’s changed in the last month or so. Now they say that we need to put boots on the ground to make sure that our airstrikes are getting the job done.

In their continual calls for greater and more complex military action, McCain and Graham find themselves out of step with the rest of the GOP, out of step with the administration, and out of step with the American people. They are two war hawks out on a wire, trying their damnedest to drag America into another prolonged conflict with Islamic terrorists. To be certain, they aren’t wrong when they criticize the president for his weak approach to the fight. They certainly aren’t wrong when they take him to task for backing down from Assad over chemical weapons.

When it comes to their ideas about an expanded military intervention, though, they would do well to take a seat. It’s still early days in the fight against the Islamic State. While military experts both within and outside of the administration have admitted that airstrikes aren’t going as well as one might have hoped, this is not the time to push for all-out war. If it is that time, then the case needs to be made, by the president, to the American people and Congress. Since we know that’s not going to happen before the midterms, maybe it’s time to relax a bit. Stop chomping at the bit to send our troops into harm’s way for the sake of some good old fashioned war-mongering.

It may well be that we have to take Assad out on our way to defeating ISIS. Weakening our focus when we’re already fighting as distantly as we can, though, makes no sense at all. This is exactly what got us in trouble in Iraq. That McCain and Graham can’t learn the most basic lessons of history shows that they don’t deserve an audience today. It’s perhaps inevitable that a conflict like this become politicized, but if it has to happen, this is the GOP’s chance to demonstrate a superior form of leadership. That shouldn’t be difficult, given what we have in the White House. Wild strategies involving overthrown regimes and ground troops, though, only serve to prove the opposite.

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