WASHINGTON -- Sen. John McCain said Wednesday he worries that the cause of rebels fighting Syria's President Bashar Assad has been obscured in the rapid-fire military and diplomatic events following a chemical weapons attack near Damascus.
"I feel very badly for my friends in the Free Syrian Army today," McCain said.
The Arizona Republican said that he is not against negotiating to defuse the chemical weapons issue, but he also said, "There's nothing that will drive Syrians more into the hands of extremists than to feel they have been abandoned by the West."
One of the persistent questions about U.S. policy in war-ravaged Syria is to what extent the terrorist network al-Qaida is involved in the efforts to end Assad's rule. McCain said President Barack Obama should have acted more forcefully against Assad many months ago.
McCain said he is concerned that the Russian plan for securing Syria's chemical weapons could be a "rope-a-dope" delaying tactic. But he added that it should take only a few days for the U.S. to determine whether the proposal is serious and workable.
"Put me down as extremely skeptical" about the Russian plan, he said, although McCain said Washington should not reject it out of hand.
The GOP's 2008 presidential candidate also said that should the Russian proposal fall apart, it could actually help Obama's struggle to win congressional support for a limited military strike against Syria. He said that's because the failure of diplomacy could bolster Obama's argument that a U.S. attack was a necessary course of action.
McCain spoke at a breakfast sponsored by The Wall Street Journal, the morning after Obama used a nationally broadcast speech to seek public support for military action.