John McCain confers with Charles Schumer. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File.)
John McCain, who seems never to have met a country he didn’t want to bomb, now appears never to have seen a peace conference he didn’t want to wreck.
Speaking about the current plans to convene a conference on Syria involving both the government of President Assad and the rebels, and co-sponsored by the United States and Russia, McCain had this comment:
It’s fine with me to have meeting or gathering or conference or whatever it is. But the only way that the Russians are going to be cooperative on this effort is if they believe that Assad is losing. That’s why we should act before any conference takes place…. That means a no-fly zone, that means [giving] heavy weapons to the resistance.
Leave aside the snarky comment “or whatever it is.” (It’s a peace conference, and it’s a desperate, last-ditch effort to prevent catastrophic bloodshed and a regional crisis, Senator McCain.) By proposing to provide heavy weapons to the “resistance,” which includes Islamists of all stripes, some of whom are allied to Al Qaeda, McCain is essentially suggesting to sabotage the conference itself.
In a hopeful sign, Assad has provided Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a list of attendees for the conference. So far, at least, the rebels have not done the same, but Secretary of State Kerry is diligently working on the Syrian Free Army and the other Syrian groups to attend. Kerry warned Assad that if his side doesn’t take part in the conference, to be held sometime in the next few weeks, the United States will increase its aid to the rebel side and “unfortunately the violence will not end.” But that seems like a needless threat when, thus far, it’s the rebel side that hasn’t agreed to negotiate.
Let’s not underestimate the huge difficulties that stand in the way, with extremists and sectarian killers on both sides of the fight and a path to a settlement that is far from clear. It would probably start with a cease-fire, a suspension of arms deliveries to both sides, the provision of humanitarian aid across Syria, and a decision to negotiate indefinitely on what a transitional government might look like. That, at least, is what I see as the right way to go.