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Mounting Syrian Death Toll Prompts Intervention Calls in US

  • Michael Bowman

A mounting death toll in Syria is prompting calls for stronger international action to oust President Bashar al-Assad. While the Obama administration is backing diplomacy, sanctions, and non-lethal aid to promote change, a U.S. lawmaker is demanding stronger measures.

The near-daily slaughter in Syria is provoking widespread condemnation of the Assad government.

For months, Republican Senator John McCain has pressed the Obama administration to consider air strikes against Syrian forces and to arm government opponents.

"This administration has a feckless foreign policy which abandons American leadership," said McCain.

The Obama administration says the United States will not act unilaterally in Syria, and that a firm but cautious approach is warranted.

"From every angle, the situation in Syria is enormously complex. There is no silver bullet," said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Last year, NATO air strikes helped unseat another dictator, Libya's Moammar Gadhafi. But Syria's high population density would make a similar air campaign far more challenging, according to Middle East analyst Aram Nerguizian.

"There is a very real risk of collateral damage, fatalities that would run in the thousands, deepening an already severe internally-displaced persons crisis," noted Nerguizian.

Nerguizan adds that arming anti-Assad fighters carries risks, as well.

"We do not know whether these are players that can reliably be armed so that these weapons do not become a proliferation risk," Nerguizian explained. "You have enormous risks of these weapons falling into the hands of players that are anything but favorable to U.S. interests in the region."

But with a mounting death toll in Syria, calls for a more-assertive international response are growing.

"How many more have to die? 10,000 more, 20,000 more? How many more," asked McCain.

For now, U.S. officials will only say that military options are being developed.

"The Defense Department - as we always do - is reviewing and is continuing to review plans for a wide variety of possible scenarios should the president determine that further steps are necessary," Panetta explained.

And analyst Aram Nerguizian approves of the current U.S. approach.

"There needs to be some degree of patience," Nerguizian added.

Meanwhile, the international community's patience is being tested as the slaughter in Syria continues.