The E-Ring

Levin presses Obama for U.S. military intervention in Syria

Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, of Michigan, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, broke ranks from President Obama on Thursday and sided with Republicans by calling for direct U.S. military intervention in Syria on behalf of the rebels. “We believe there are credible options at your disposal, including limited military options, that would require neither ...

BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images
BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images

Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, of Michigan, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, broke ranks from President Obama on Thursday and sided with Republicans by calling for direct U.S. military intervention in Syria on behalf of the rebels.

“We believe there are credible options at your disposal, including limited military options, that would require neither putting U.S. troops on the ground nor acting unilaterally,” Levin wrote the president, on Thursday, in a letter co-signed by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who was the committee’s ranking member until this year.

The letter comes just days after Levin told The Cable’s Josh Rogin he supported the establishment of a no-fly zone over Syria, following a hearing with Adm. James Stavridis, NATO’s supreme allied commander.

In a March 2012 hearing about Syria, Levin asked for military options from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, even as the administration and Hill Democrats remained skeptical of intervention, unsure of exactly who the rebels were.

On Tuesday, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Dempsey said his advice was to “proceed cautiously” with the idea of U.S. military intervention into Syria’s conflict. “About six months ago, we had a very opaque understanding of the opposition and now I would say it’s even more opaque."

“I don’t think at this point I can see a military option that would create an understandable outcome,” he said.

But Levin has flipped, joining McCain and urging Obama to consider striking Syrian anti-aircraft batteries to help establish a no-fly zone in Syria’s north, where rebels and civilians have sought refuge. The zone would fall under the additional cover of Patriot missile batteries deployed along NATO’s southern border, in Turkey, Levin claimed. NATO Supreme Allied Commander Adm. James Stavridis said in Senate testimony this week that the Patriots should deter Syrian pilots, Levin said.

Levin also called on the commander-in-chief to destroy Syrian fighter jets where they sit on the ground.

“Such a mission could also include Assad’s SCUD missile batteries and would not require American or allied pilots to fly into the reach of Syria’s air defenses. We urge you to work with our friends and allies, as well as regional organizations, to consider this limited option.”

Finally, the senators asked Obama to increase humanitarian aid.

“We urge you to take steps to ease the suffering of the Syrian people and protect U.S. national security interests,” they wrote.

Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge. Twitter: @FPBaron