The Cable

Syrian no-fly zone has Joe-mentum

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) became the first senator to publicly call for an internationally imposed no-fly zone over parts of Syria, in an exclusive interview on Tuesday with The Cable.

"I'd like to see us begin to consider some safe zones inside Syria, particularly along the Turkish and Jordanian borders," Lieberman said in the basement of the Capitol, while waiting for a subway car to take him to his Senate offices. When asked if he meant there should be a no-fly zone over parts of Syria, he said. "I'd be in favor of that, yes."

Lieberman's comments come amid increasing calls for international military intervention from protesters inside Syria. The Wall Street Journal reported on Sept. 29 that a coalition of leading opposition groups inside the country have begun calling for a no-fly zone, along with an international arms embargo and a U.N. monitoring mission to put a stop to the violence of President Bashar al-Assad's government.

Radwan Ziadeh, a Washington-based Syrian activist who is a member of the new Syrian National Council, told The Cable  that the Syrian opposition is split over the idea of foreign military intervention.

"The people inside Syria are calling for a no-fly zone and an intervention, but not the activists outside Syria. We on the outside know that the international community is not there yet. But the people inside are very frustrated with the international community," he said.

Every Friday, protesters in various Syrian cities raise banners calling for the no-fly zone, Ziadeh said, with those cities suffering the greatest violence being most in favor of the move. There's also a recognition that a no-fly zone would have to include attacks on Syrian military assets, as was the case in Libya.

"We would need to destroy all the rockets, all the communications systems," he said. "Syrian society is divided on that, from one city to another."

Lieberman's position represents growing frustration on Capitol Hill with the Obama administration's inactivity on Syria -- despite the bravery of Ambassador Robert Ford, who has been meeting with activists and who was confirmed Monday as the U.S. envoy to Damascus.

For example, Senate Foreign Relations Middle East subcommittee chairman Robert Casey (D-PA), while not endorsing the idea of a no-fly zone specifically, told The Cable today that the administration needs to step up the pressure on the Syrian government.

"We've got to be much more determined in our efforts to put increasing pressure on the Syrian government," he said. "I realize the sanctions have been in place for years but because of the nature of this slaughter, we have to consider stronger action.... It's clear that sanctions alone aren't working."

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

The Cable

Levin and McCain: Let’s not attack Pakistan just yet

Two leading U.S. senators are not on board with the Obama administration's new diplomatic strategy toward Pakistan, dubbed "coercive diplomacy," and are warning that increased military action in Pakistan could backfire on the United States..

In the high-stakes poker game between Washington and Islamabad, "the new chip on the table is the fear in Pakistan that the U.S. could move beyond drone strikes" and start a wider air or land campaign to strike a blow against the Haqqani network, a senior official close to the issue told The Cable last week.

"We're not going to allow these types of attacks to continue," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Sept. 16, after the Haqqani network was implicated in the armed assault on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

But bipartisan congressional support for more a more aggressive military approach to Pakistan wasn't apparent in several interviews on Tuesday with leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ) told The Cable that increased attacks inside Pakistan were not wise and that the focus should be on using aid as leverage with the Pakistani government.

"We need to be straight and direct with them regarding their refusal to deal with the Haqqani issue," Levin said, adding that then Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen's claim that the Haqqani network was a "veritable arm" of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate was approved by the National Security Council in advance. "The Pakistani government won't even talk about the Haqqani network in public."

"But I don't think we should put any boots on the ground," Levin emphasized. He said that the United States should use economic aid as leverage and condition it on the Pakistani government's willingness to sever ties with Haqqani, but that increased military action was not the answer.

Aren't U.S. Special Forces already conducting raids inside Pakistan, The Cable asked?  "If I had that knowledge I would never tell you," Levin shot back.

McCain agreed with Levin that increased military action inside Pakistan was not the right approach at this time.

"I think we should condition the aid on their severing their direct connection [with the Haqqani network]," he said. "I think if you escalated attacks that included U.S. air attacks and ground troops you would have to have a great national discussion first. Right now I don't think we should do that."

Sen. Lindsey Graham has appeared closer to the administration's views on the issue of Pakistan. On Sept. 25, he said on Fox News Sunday that "the sovereign nation of Pakistan is engaging in hostile acts against the United States and our ally Afghanistan that must cease ... if the experts believe that we need to elevate our response, they will have a lot of bipartisan support on Capitol Hill."

Graham expanded and clarified his remarks on attacking Pakistan in a Tuesday interview with The Cable.

"Sovereignty is no defense when it comes to aligning with terrorism," he said. "If Adm. Mullen is correct that the Pakistani government as a strategy has aligned with terrorists, that's something we should consider in a response to Pakistan, not just aid but otherwise."

"There will come a point where I can't go home and say that all the IEDs that are killing Americans, 80 percent are coming from Pakistan and we're not doing a damn thing about it," he said. "We're not going to be able to sustain that, and that's what the Pakistanis need to know."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN) reacted negatively to Graham's remarks and said that raising the specter of increased military strikes might do more harm than good.

"I would think that would be unwise. We better be thinking very carefully and diplomatically about our relationship," Lugar told The Cable. "Threats of military action are not a very responsible course."