WASHINGTON -- Top senators said Tuesday that the United States should begin thinking of arming the opposition in Syria, even as one suggested that military options might not be the best way forward.
"It should not be ruled out when [Syrian president] Bashar Assad is massacring his own people," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), of the prospect of providing weapons or other military assistance to Syrian resistance forces.
But McCain also cautioned that the various military options being discussed, including no-fly zones or the creation of protected enclaves, might not be the most productive way to aid the opposition.
"The question is how do you do it, if you do it in a viable fashion -- that the arms get to the right people, that it's used effectively," McCain said. "It's much more complicated in many respects than it was in Libya."
"All of the options have got to be considered, maybe a no movement zone, maybe a sanctuary zone," he added. "But the key to them is not whether you do them, but whether you do them and have the desired effect. And that's not clear to me what the efficacy of all these options are."
The Syrian regime has recently appeared to escalate its military assaults against selected cities that have fallen largely into the control of opposition forces. In the northern city of Homs, dozens people have been killed in four days of sustained attacks, local activists have reported.
President Barack Obama said earlier in the week that the Syrian crisis should be resolved without resorting to outside military activity.
But in the past few days, after China and Russia vetoed an Arab League-sponsored United Nations resolution condemning the Syrian regime, the U.S. and France raised the prospect of creating a coalition of "friends of Syria" to organize support for the opposition.
"Diplomacy is pretty well exhausted," McCain said, dismissing ongoing efforts to try to bring a peaceable resolution to the crisis, including an attempt by Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who met with Assad in Damascus on Tuesday. "There's no doubt in my mind that Assad is going, it's just a question of when, and how many innocent people are killed between now and then."
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) joined McCain on Tuesday in telling reporters that the proposed alliance should not rule out any form of assistance to the rebel forces.
"One of the best things they could do is to begin to give assistance to the Syrian free army -- training, perhaps intelligence," Lieberman said. "And I'd leave the door open to lethal weapons, just because that's what Assad's troops are turning on the Syrian people."
He added, of the prospective alliance, "They call it a contact group, but it's really a coalition of the willing, and it's got to do anything it can to bring an end to the Assad murderous regime."