You are herecontent / Panetta Looking at a New War in Syria Before the New War in Iran. 2012: FOUR MORE WARS!
Panetta Looking at a New War in Syria Before the New War in Iran. 2012: FOUR MORE WARS!
Leon Panetta, confirms that the military is “reviewing all possible additional steps that can be taken” to protect beleaguered Syrians from Assad’s brutality, “including potential military options if necessary.” Welcome to the next U.S. war.
In testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday morning, Panetta did not sound enthused about going to war in Syria. He did not describe it as a certainty, or even a likelihood, saying the Obama administration “is focusing on diplomatic and political approaches rather than a military intervention.” And he ruled out taking any action without a broad international coalition.
But for all the talk from President Obama about how “the tide of war is receding” — and the reduced budgetary growth for the Pentagon — the U.S. military will hardly be getting a breather while the Arab Awakening continues to reshape the Middle East. “Should we be called upon to defend U.S. interests,” testified Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “we will be ready.”
Unlike Gen. James Mattis, the commander of U.S. troops in the Middle East and South Asia, Panetta didn’t premise any potential intervention on ousting Assad. His goal instead is to protect Syrians from regime violence that he described as “increasingly dire and outrageous.” But the U.S.’ role in the Libya war last year indicates that once military action to protect a population from a repressive regime begins, it’s difficult to stop it short of overthrowing the regime itself.
Indeed, Panetta disclosed that the administration’s deliberations on the scope of a potential Syria intervention are “guided by our approach from Libya and elsewhere.” That is, the U.S. needs a “clear legal basis” for taking action, although Panetta did not say it would require approval from the United Nations Security Council, which blessed the Libya war. He would similarly want to limit its military contributions in coalition warfare, probably to air or sea power, drones, intelligence assets and logistical support. Dempsey said options actively under consideration by the administration include “a no-fly zone, maritime interdiction, humanitarian corridor [and] limited aerial strikes.”
Nor would a war be easy. Dempsey said Assad possesses “approximately five times more sophisticated air defenses than existed in Libya covering one-fifth of the terrain” and “about ten times more than we experienced in Serbia.” He also has chemical and biological weapons. Panetta said he “recognize[d] the limitation of military force, especially U.S. boots on the ground.”
While Dempsey did not give any policy advice, he did not sound like he thought war in Syria was wise. “It’s not about can we do it,” Dempsey told the panel. “It’s should we do it. And what are the opportunity costs?”
It’s possible to read Panetta’s remarks as a constraint on intervening. He said that the Syrian opposition is an x-factor; Assad’s military is formidable; and if a full-scale civil war breaks out, “an outside intervention in these conditions would not prevent that, but could expedite it and make it worse.” There’s also no international “consensus” against Assad: Russia and China recently vetoed a resolution rebuking him at the Security Council. If Panetta meant to frame those concerns as obstacles for intervention, he didn’t explain how the U.S. would clear them away.
Still, the Obama administration is now opening the door to yet another war in the Middle East, just months after ending the Iraq war and waging the eight-month war in Libya. And perhaps not just one. “Any government that indiscriminately kills its own people has lost its legitimacy,” Panetta said.
That line was not in Panetta’s prepared statement. But it might turn into a marker justifying the Obama administration’s emerging posture toward Mideast brutality.