McCain Calls President’s Speech Disappointing, Questions Kerry’s trip to Geneva

BY Gwen Ifill  September 11, 2013 at 1:01 PM EST

 Sen. John McCain at a June campaign stop in Mesa, Ariz.; Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has consistently pushed President Barack Obama’s administration to intervene in the Syrian civil war, said today the president’s speech to the nation was ill-timed and disappointing.

“The president was arguing for action and at the same time arguing for a pause,” McCain said. He also said the president should have urged Americans to support the Syrian rebels in their effort to oust President Bashar al Assad. The rebels, he said, are beginning to feel the U.S. has abandoned them by not providing direct military support.

He also said the president lost the opportunity to broaden his argument by highlighting the negative spillover effect the Syrian conflict is having in the region — including In Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Israel. “This is no longer a civil conflict,” he said. “It’s a proxy war.”

Meeting with reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Wall Street Journal, McCain suggested he has little faith in a diplomatic alternative he described as a “stalling tactic” — placing Syrian chemical weapons under Russian-led international control. “Put me down as extremely skeptical,” he said.

“Why does John Kerry need to go to Geneva to negotiate with [Russian Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov over something we know needs to happen?” he said. He added that Kerry was “nuts” to suggest a limited, “unbelievably small” attack would be enough.

But, he added, if Russia rejects a proposal that allows for follow-up military action — as the French have proposed — the “Russian rejection could strengthen the president’s hand” when he returns to Congress for a delayed war authorization vote.

McCain conceded that it would still be an uphill fight to win approval in the Senate until diplomatic options have been exhausted.

“He’s in a very difficult situation,” McCain said of the president. “And I do have some sympathy for him … but he didn’t have to put himself in that box.”

Photo by Getty Images