Leaders Ask House Panel to Vote for Syria Strike
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2013 President Barack Obama believes the threat of a U.S. attack was the driving force behind a possible diplomatic solution to controlling Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said here today as he and top defense officials asked a House panel to authorize Obama’s proposal to use military force there.
Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey testified this morning before the House Armed Services Committee on the president’s proposal, and on a new proposal offered by Kerry himself.
Yesterday, Kerry said, the United States challenged the Syrian regime to turn its chemical weapons over to the secure control of the international community for destruction, and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s chief benefactor, the Russians, said they would develop such a proposal.
“We have made it clear to them -- in several conversations with [Russian] Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov -- that this cannot be a process of delay,” Kerry said. “We're waiting for that proposal. But we're not waiting for long.”
Obama will take a hard look at the proposal, the secretary added, and if the United Nations Security Council wants to help to make the proposal happen, that process must not interject delays.
“It's the credible threat of force that has been on the table for these last weeks that has, for the first time, brought this regime to even acknowledge that they have a chemical weapons arsenal,” Kerry told the panel. “And it is the threat of this force and our determination to hold Assad accountable that has motivated others to even talk about a real and credible international action that might have an impact.”
Kerry said that to maintain the same kind of pressure, the United States must continue to show Syria, Russia and the world that the nation will not fall for stalling tactics.
“If the challenge we laid down is going to have the potential to become a real proposal,” the secretary said, “it is only because of the threat of force that we are discussing today. And that threat is more compelling if Congress stands with the commander in chief.”
In his remarks to the panel, Hagel said, “All of us are hopeful that this option might be a real solution to this crisis. Yet, we must be very clear-eyed and ensure it is not a stalling tactic by Syria and its Russian patrons.”
The diplomatic option will have a chance of succeeding, he added, if a real, credible threat of U.S. military action continues.
“It was the president's determination to hold Assad accountable, and the fact that he put military action on the table that enabled this new, diplomatic track to maybe gain some momentum and credibility,” Hagel observed.
Congressional support for holding Assad accountable “will give even more energy and more urgency to these efforts,” he added, so Congress has a responsibility to continue this important debate on authorizing the use of force against the Syrian regime.
Hagel said a refusal to act on Syria’s breach of the chemical weapons ban would undermine the credibility of the United States.
“The word of the United States must mean something,” he said. “It is vital currency in foreign relations and international and allied commitments. Every witness here today -- Secretary Kerry, General Dempsey and myself -- have served in uniform, fought in war, and we've seen its ugly realities up close, like many of you.”
A country faces few decisions as grave as using military force, the defense secretary added, but America must protect its people and its national interests, not just today but for the future.
“That is our highest responsibility,” Hagel said.
In his testimony, Dempsey told the panel why the president determined that it is in the national interest to respond to Assad’s use of chemical weapons with limited military force.
“We've reached the point at which Assad views chemical weapons as just another military tool in his arsenal, a tool he's willing to use indiscriminately,” Dempsey explained. “And that's what makes this so dangerous -- dangerous for Syria, dangerous for the region, and dangerous for the world.”
The general said he’s planned, as directed, for a militarily significant strike that would deter the regime's further use of chemical weapons and degrade its military capability to use chemical weapons in the future.
“We've assembled target packages in line with those objectives,” he added. “We have both an initial target set and subsequent target sets should they become necessary.”
The strikes will disrupt the parts of Assad's forces directly related to the chemical attack of Aug. 21, Dempsey said, and they will degrade his means of chemical weapons delivery and degrade the assets he uses to threaten his neighbors and defend his regime.
“Collectively, such strikes will send Assad a deterrent message,” the general said, “demonstrating our ability to hold at risk the capabilities he values most, and to strike again if necessary.”
Dempsey said the limited nature of the strikes seeks to mitigate the potential for miscalculation and escalation and minimize collateral damage. “However,” he added, “we are postured to address a range of contingencies and we're prepared to support our friends in the region should Assad choose to retaliate.”
The chairman also assured the committee that the military is ready to act if called upon. “I don't have to tell you this, but the men and women of America's armed forces are exceptionally well trained and they are prepared,” he said. “I'm honored to represent them. If called to execute, your military will respond.”